It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.
“Only 3.7% of white brides and grooms have a black friend who is close enough to be in their wedding party. … Blacks are more likely to have a close white friend than whites are to have a close black friend, with 22.2% of blacks having at least one white bridesmaid or groomsman.” (Demography, “Friends For Better Or For Worse,” August, 2006)
Two months ago a reader posted a comment that’s been on my mind ever since. “I teach at a big university in a really ‘cool’ college town in Georgia,” she wrote. “It really is a cool town—if you’re white. If you’re black, like me, you find yourself being the only African-American professor in your entire college of 75 faculty members. And you can count on one hand the number of black female peers you have across the entire campus.”
“Of course, I’m open to friendships with women of other races and cultures, but it’s sometimes difficult to determine who among the white women I meet might be anti-racist enough to have a friendship of equals with a black woman. As you’ve pointed out on your blog, women tend to ‘friend’ women they have something in common with. If there’s no one who appears to have much in common with you, because of race and/or culture, joining book clubs and yoga classes and such doesn’t really work.”
I quote so much of this comment because I think the writer illustrates her dilemma more eloquently than I ever could. And for two months, I’ve been wondering how to properly address this. Well I have black friends, I thought. Until I remembered my wedding – it was almost 200 of the most important people in my life, right? There was one African-American man in attendance.
Since I hit my 20s and Matt and I started traveling the wedding circuit, every time—every single time—I go to an exchanging of vows, I find myself saying to Matt, “This isn’t a very diverse affair.” And every time—every single time—he replies, “How diverse would our wedding be?” That is, until we got married. And I’ll tell you how diverse our wedding turned out to be. Not at all.
It’s an upsetting truth. I could go on about my lack of close, non-white friends, but it’s not something I’m proud of. I’m not saying I want to run an affirmative action friend search. But yes, after my in-person rants about social justice, I’d like to be able to walk the walk.
All this reminds me of a brilliant article in GQ, “Will You Be My Black Friend?” It’s smart and funny. If you don’t believe me, ask Oprah and Chris Rock. They’re making a movie of it.
But anyway. The study cited above is especially interesting because it doesn’t use traditional survey responses to collect data. Instead it studies a random sample of wedding photos from the Internet. It’s pretty smart, really. “Wedding party are a realistic representation of close friendships…only the closest and most important of friends can be expected to be a bridesmaid or groomsman.” The crux of the study is that when people of both races respond to surveys, they report having more diverse friendships than they actually have. Wedding party photos, this study says, illuminate the truth.
Another 2006 study of race and friendship found that we’ve actually been making progress. “In 2004, 15% reported at least one confidant of another race, up from 9% in 1985.”
We still have a ways to go. What now? My commenter friend said, “Just something for you to consider as you move forward in your search. Conducting it in a town populated by other women like you is a real luxury that I wish I had.”
I’ve considered. I’ve taken a hard look at how my relationships reflect my values. This is a bigger conversation than just one post, but here’s a start. Do your friendships lack diversity? Can common interests like book club or yoga transcend racial differences? What’s the key to making interracial friendships, and why are we still struggling on that front? And what would you say in response to the brave commenter who laid it all on the line?