Saturday, October 15, 2011

Interracial Friendship among Black Women and White Women

As a child growing up in St. Peters, St. Maarten (St. Martin), I was never aware of race among the girls in my neighborhood or my girlfriends at school. I suppose all children are usually unaware of race and racism, but I honestly have no recollection of race being as big of an issue as it is here in the United States. However, as I reflect on my childhood, I realized that my mother never had any white friends. Even the relationships with the Hispanics in my neighborhood, with whom my mother was always friendly, never went beyond being just neighbors. My mother worked as a housekeeper for a wealthy, white couple and on weekends she would take me to work with her. These "trips" with my mom were the only times I saw her interacting with a white woman...and she was in the position of a subservient servant.

I noticed that even after we moved to the states, my mother never had any white female friends or white friends in general. As a matter of fact, none of the adult females in my family have white girlfriends or girlfriends of any other race/culture. Of course, this could be due to cultural barriers like language and the fact that Haitians do not often form bonds of friendship outside of their family (the older Haitians in my family anyway). But if these deterrents did not exist, I doubt the situation would be any different. If I were in my mother’s shoes I probably would not be too open about embracing white women into my circle of friends either. It would be a constant reminder of my reprisal of the role of the quintessential “mammi”: hair tied, oversized flowered dress, always sweaty, overweight, taking care of “good ole white folk” (no disrespect intended). Without realizing it, I was subconciously internalizing this behavior from my mother.


During my last two years of elementary school and during middle school, most of my friends were non-blacks. But I was always closer with my black girl-friends even though my non-black girl-friends were generally more open and accepting of me. I kept my non-black friends at arms length even though they were the ones I had the most in common with and got along better with. I started to wonder if interracial friendships among women were as common as it seemed or whether we were just being friendly on the outside while we subconsciouscly kept any woman who did not look like us at a distance.

Television shows tell us each and every day that it is possible for white and black women to be friends. All the white women on primetime television shows seem to always have that one (usually out of place) black girlfriend and vice versa. On The New Adventures of Old Christine, the main character, Christine Campbell, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, has a black bestie, Barbara Baran, played by Wanda Sykes. On Rita Rocks, Nicole Sullivan stars as Rita Clemens, the white main character, who has a black best friend, Patty Mannix, played by Tisha Campbell-Martin. On Boy Meets World (one of the best shows ever), Topanga Lawrence, played by Danielle Fisher, forms an amicable relationship with Trina McGhee’s character, Angela Moore, who was black.

Shows aimed at younger audiences tell me that black girls and white girls can be friends, too. True Jackson, VP stars Keke Palmer as the title character (score! a black girl as the main character and the vice-president of a business at that) and her best friend, Lulu, played by Ashley Argota, is white. That’s So Raven starred Raven-Symone (another black girl as the main character!) as Raven Baxter and Anneliese van der Pol plays her token white bestie, Chelsea Daniels. Let us go as far as the animated series The Proud Family in which Penny Proud, the main character voiced by Kyla Pratt, also had a best friend who was white, Zoey Howzer, voiced by Soleil Moon Frye (along with her two other black besties and one Latina thrown in for diversity).

Reality, on the other hand, tells a different story. According to hooks, Friendships among black women and white women are not as common one might think (1995). Yes, folks, the television lied to us (get out of here!). However much the mainstream media tries to convince us, interracial friendships among black women and white women are not that easy to come by. Hopefully, the first thought that popped up in your head after reading that statement was not, “That’s not true! Some of my best friends are black/white!” It may be true that you have black/white friends, but are they truly your friends are merely familiar acquaintances? Can you and your black/white friend spend time together apart from the workplace? Can you and your black/white friend openly discuss racism? Can your black/white friend use your hairbrush... (just kidding! that was an inside joke for blacks)? A lot of the time there are unspoken boundary lines between friends of different races/cultures that will never be crossed.

There are a number of barriers that keep black women and white women from creating genuine bonds of friendship. A significant one is what we learned from our parents. As little girls, black women have always received warnings from their parent(s) about allowing white women/people into their lives (Blake-Beard, Scully, Turnbull, Hunt, Proudford, Porter, LaRoche, & Fanning, 2006). At a very early age, black women are taught to distrust white women and regard them with caution. This is why black women immediately put up their guards when approached by white women even when they are genuinely being friendly. Black women overanalyze the way white women look at them and the way white women talk to them. Black women are ready to pull the race card at the drop of a hat and a lot of the time they do have good reason, but not always. Likewise, white women are taught by their parents that black people are trouble (St. Jean & Feagin, 1998). From false perceptions in the media they believe black women are loose, uneducated, and that they all come from poor economic backgrounds, which is sure to breed drug addiction, prostitution and violence (really?).

Another reason why it is difficult for black women and white women to become close friends is the resentment black women may have for white women because they are granted more advantages in society due to their skin color and to the accepted idea that they have fewer burdens to carry (St. Jean & Feagin, 1998). Black women have to deal with racism from white women and white men, sexism from white men, and sexism from black men (Blake-Beard et al., 2006). Black women naturally assume that white women do not face any obstacles in their lives and everything is handed to them on a silver platter. For instance, when black teens become pregnant, they are looked down upon and blamed for the pregnancy. Not to mention it reinforces the idea that black women are loose. When white teens become pregnant they get syndicated television shows, Teen Mom and 16 & Pregnant on Music Television (MTV) to show their struggles as young mothers. Everyone sympathized with Sarah Palin when her teenaged daughter, Bristol Palin, became pregnant during her 2008 election campaign for Vice President. Palin was portrayed as a strong mother for standing by her daughter’s side. If one of First Lady Michelle Obama’s daughters should ever become pregnant as a teenager (knock on wood quick!), she would be chastised. What may anger black women even more about white women is their failure to realize and/or admit the privileged status that their skin color gives them (hooks, 1995; St. Jean & Feagin, 1998).

Living in a society in which white women are the ideal images of beauty black women have strived to embody their look. Although a sensitive topic for black women, the white standard of beauty as the only standard of beauty is a major barrier to friendship. It is difficult for black women to befriend white women when all their lives they have been told that their features were not “sufficiently white” (Collins, 2009). Can you not imagine the silent resentment? For years, black women have turned to straightening combs, relaxers, and artificial hair to achieve the look of “whiteness” (hooks, 1995). Black women who look more "white," with light skin tones, light-colored eyes, and straight or curly hair, are deemed more beautiful than black women with dark skin tones, dark-colored eyes, and natural hair textures. Black women suffer from self-esteem issues due to internalized racism (hooks, 1995).

Include some black men’s preference for white women in the equation and black women’s self-esteem sink even lower while their resentment for white women rises. Interracial relationships/marriages among black men and white women may be the most problematic barrier to black women and white women forging deep friendships. There are black women who genuinely think that white women are stealing all the eligible, or “good,” black men (St. Jean & Feagin, 1998). What may be seen as a personal preference for some black men to white women is viewed as a threat to black women. This misguided perception is based on upon the highly publicized marriages of black athletes to white women (St. Jean & Feagin, 1998). To see black men with white women in their own backyards only serves as evidence that the “good” black men are indeed being stolen. I will not even mention all the black women who date/marry outside of their race.

Another underlying issue is when sexist, black men claim that white women are easier to handle than black women (I hate it when I hear me say this). Rapper, Slim Thug (why I am using a rapper as an example out of all people I do not know), was penned on an online blog post for VIBE magazine and it may have been one of the stupidest articles I have ever read. In the blog post Slim Thug discusses how black women have to be more supportive of their black men saying,


“It’s hard to find us [successful black men] so Black women have to bow down and let it be known that they gotta start working hard...”


“Bow down”? To whom? Then he talks about his brother, who is in a relationship with a white woman,


“I have a brother that dates a White woman and he always fucking with me about it saying, “Y’all [black men who date black women] gotta go through all that shit [but] my White woman is fine. She don’t give me no problems, she do whatever I say and y’all gotta go do all that arguing and fighting and worry about all this other shit.”


Apparently sexism is a big part of the “Thug” family. What really takes the cake is when he says,


“White women treat they man like a King and Black women feel like they ain’t gotta do that shit. Black women need to stand by their man more. Don’t always put the pressure of if I’m fucking with you, you gotta buy me this and that.”


The rapper then goes on to speak about how black men need to “step up” as well, but I could not even focus on it because of how angry I was...mostly at the bad grammar (read the full post here). Please take note that what Slim Thug and his brother are looking for in a woman is someone docile and submissive who will cater to all their needs (race is not the issue here). Hearing insulting statements like these from black men about white women only serves to cause black women to resent white women more. White women should be pissed that they are viewed in this manner (I am mad for you, especially because there are docile, black women out there, too).

There are other barriers to black women and white women creating honest friendship, including class differences and cultural differences. It is unfortunate because in a society built upon institutionalized racism, the dominant group never realize that they harbor and perpetuate racist values and racist thinking. The oppressed group as well as exhibit racist thinking amongst themselves because they have internalized the behavior from their oppressors. I am pleased to be part of a generation which sees interracial and inter-cultural friendship as the norm. I have never been one to act as if race and culture do not exist. Rather, I like to embrace these differences and celebrate them. I like to discuss racism with my friends whether they are white, black, or anything in between and beyond. It is with open dialogue that we come to terms with racism and discrimination in order to unify and evolve, not by brushing it under the rug.

P.S. I know this is low, but how many women (and even men) would like to join me in teaching Slim Thug and his brother a lesson about how “supportive” women can really be (because they have officially been added to my “Guys I Would Like to Kick in the Balls” list)? Any takers?





References

Blake-Beard, S., Scully, M.A., Turnbull, S., Hunt, L., Proudford, K.L., Porter, J.L., LaRoche, G., & Fanning, K. (2006). The Ties that Bind and Separate Black and White Women. In M.F. Karsten (Ed.), Gender, Race, and Ethnicity in the Workplace: Issues and Challenges for Today’s Organizations, (Vol. 1, pp. 179-204). Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers.

Collins, G. (2009). Civil Rights. In When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women, from 1960 to Present, (pp. 106-148 ). New York, New York: Little Brown Company.

hooks, b. (1995). Killing Rage: Ending Racism. Markham, Ontario: Fitzhenry & Whiteside.

St. Jean, Y. & Feagin, J.R. (1998). Distancing White Women. In Double Burden: Black Women and Everyday Racism, (pp. 123-150). Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe.

0 comments:

Post a Comment