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Not Letting Race Define Friendships in a Racially Defined World

By: Karis Jecille

It was my sophomore year of college and I was lonely. I had a boyfriend who attended a school across the state, and a few friends who were busy with their own lives, but I, sitting in my on-campus apartment, was very, very lonely. I won’t lie, I was anti-social and closed-off. I went to class, went straight home, ate alone, and played video games alone. During the course of a day, I wouldn’t have to utter a single word.

I looked at my boyfriend, an Asian man, and saw how content he was with his life style choices. In his freshman year of college he had opted to join multiple race-based groups: Chinese Student Association, Asian Pre-Pharmacy Association, and an Asian Baptist Group.

When I asked why the groups he joined were all associated with race, he stated that being from our city, he had not had too many interactions with other Asian people and it was nice to be in the majority. I could empathize where he was coming from, but being from a large city where there are numerous other black people, I couldn’t say I felt that way personally.

One night, I told my boyfriend how lonely I was. His suggestion was to join “a black group”. Having no idea what he meant by that, I asked what exactly a “black group” was. From that moment he went on about how I could join a black group on campus because it’s always good to be around people like you, people you can be friends with and connect with.

While his intentions were good, his reasoning was not. Just because I am black, doesn’t mean that I automatically become friends with other black people in my vicinity. With him having come from a city where his race was in the minority and being part of racial-affiliated groups at his own college, I could understand where his recommendations were coming from, but the suggestion rubbed me the wrong way.

This had not been the first time someone suggested to me that I join a race-based group on campus. At orientation a group of smiling black women approached me and gave me a pamphlet for their organization after I confirmed that I was an incoming freshman.

The organization looked nice, it was for black students on campus, performed charity work, and went on trips. The girls looked kind and happy, everything that any incoming freshman would want from a group of people trying to persuade them to join their organization. Before they left, one girl said something that ultimately dissuaded me from joining.

She said “There aren’t too many of us on campus so when you join you will be able to find friends, maybe even a boyfriend”. Before they left, my mind was swirling with questions that I never mustered the courage to ask. “Will I not be able to make friends with non-black people?”, “Is this campus not receptive and open to black students?”, “Am I only expected to date and make friends with black other black people?”, “Will people in this group not like me if they find out my best friend and boyfriend are not black?” are just a few questions I had. I stuffed the pamphlet deep in my backpack and have never seen it again.

Both of these experiences have left a foul taste in my mouth about me joining race-affiliated groups. I didn’t want to be pigeonholed in a role solely based on the color of my skin. I didn’t want people to assume my likes and dislikes by my race. I wanted to be given my individuality. I am not saying joining these groups would cause that affect, rather the reasoning behind people suggesting these types of groups to me is how I feel they see me.

I love being black. I love my medium-to-dark brown skin color that absorbs the sun’s rays, I love my short hair that I deep condition with coconut oil and wrap in a silk scarf at night , I love my large lips that the world hates me for but tries to emulate, I love my dark almond eyes that look like voids, I love my big nose that I was made fun of in school for.

I continually try to understand systematic and subtle racism and try to change my everyday behavior so I can be part of a better, more inclusive society. I am pro-black, pro-POC unity and upliftment. I love me, and all those that share the same discriminations and stereotypes as I because of our skin color.

These are the commonalities on which a foundation of understanding is set, but these are not the commonalities on which to grow a friendship. I am a black woman, yes, but I am also an individual with a distinctive personality, just like every other black person. We shouldn’t be clumped together just because of our skin color without any other qualifying aspects of our personalities being observed.

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