Some of My (Virtual) Best Friends Are Black

15 Feb

One night during the last run of American Idol (honestly, the first season that I watched), my eleven year old daughter, Leni, plunked herself down on the couch beside me.

“Oh, I hope we didn’t miss Jacob,”  she said, “You’ll want to see him.  He’s black.”

“Why do you think I want to see him because he’s black?” I challenged her.

“Because all of your friends on Facebook are black, every single one of them,” she giggled.

“Well, yeah, a lot of them are, but not all of them,” I said.  I didn’t tell her how when I’m on my Facebook page, I scroll down to see the window that features photos of a random selection of ten of my friends and count how many are black, and how happy I am when at least half are.  (Sometimes I cheat, and count Latino friends, and change it to a “friends of color” count.)

Her comment got me thinking, though.  On Facebook I do have a lot of black friends but in my so called “real life,” I can count my black friends on one hand.    I don’t have a lot of black friends that I have over for dinner, go to the movies or shopping with, or call on the phone often to talk, or should I say text, because who really talks on the phone anymore?   Anyway, two of those friends are sisters, so it seems like they shouldn’t really count as two.

Most of my black Facebook friends are people I went to high school with in Waterbury, Connecticut.  The rest are new friends made through friend requests by people who I didn’t know, or know so well personally, but who saw my posts on one of their friend’s page and friended me.  I remember this when I start thinking that I  underhandedly tried to friend as many black people as I could so that when I started my blog, I’d have a built-in audience.  The fact that black people friend requested me relieves the guilt.  And, makes me feel honored, too, that I appear to be a cool white lady that warrants their request.

But, what of this virtual/real life imbalance?  Granted, geographic distance counts for a lot of it.  I live in Rhode Island, the sisters live in Connecticut and New York.  Many of my black FB friends  still live in Connecticut; some have scattered all over the country to live their adult lives elsewhere.

In real life, I finally figured out that I am moving in a much less black circle than I did in my teens and early twenties.  In my senior year in high school–my school had a 40% black student body–I dated my first black boyfriend.  Well, Cape Verdean, actually, but I counted him as black.  And, once I started having boyfriends who were black, the circle of entering into black life opened itself up to me.  I danced at black clubs, attended family dinners, and got to know my mates’ parents and siblings.  In my early twenties I lived in Boston and worked for a year at a black-owned beauty salon.  I remember becoming good friends with a co-worker, a shy, black girl named Kim, because we were the two youngest, most naive members of the otherwise spicy team of hairdressers.

When I moved from Boston to New York City, I worked side-by-side with many black co-workers, for two homeless services organizations.  I loved our conversations throughout the day, because it felt like an extension from high school.  I was of course flattered when one day a black co-worker declared me an “Honorary Black Person.”

And, then, in my mid-twenties, I started dating more white guys again, and it’s like the black hole of blackness shrunk.  After New York, I lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma for a few years, and felt the pain of a more segregated way of life.  Now,  I work two jobs, one in an Adult Education Center that while extremely diverse, with many Hispanic and Latino, African and Asian students, does not have a large African American staff or student body.  The other job is at a psychiatric hospital where the majority of the staff seems to be white.

The circle is not the same.

The part about why this mattered and still does, and why I loved having black people in my life and still do, I think, might always remain one of those things that can’t be verbalized, even though it’s  the reason I started this blog–to try and put the why into words.  Perhaps, it will come to me in time.

So, what do I do in the meantime?   I can’t watch Jacob on American Idol anymore, he was voted off the night we watched him, and the season is long over. What I can be grateful for are all my virtual Facebook friends, and this space that has given me a new way to connect with the many black people who used to be in my life, and allowed me to make new friends along the way.  And while maybe I have to give more thought to why I don’t have more “real-life” black friends, I know my FBBBF’s, my Facebook Black Best Friends, are only a click away.

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