10 ways to figure out if (s)he really has ‘a black friend’
Note: This may not apply for all black people, but it applies to enough
When I invited a Japanese friend of mine from college over for Thanksgiving, she immediately accepted the invitation. While I knew bare minimum about kinrōkanshahi (the Japanese version of Thanksgiving), she was also just as unfamiliar with an American Thanksgiving celebration — specifically an African-American Thanksgiving celebration. I could go into all the fun and memorable moments — including her runaway car on the way to Chicago — but one of the most entertaining moments for me was her reaction to collard greens. She loved those so much that she returned home to a 12 x 12 dorm to make pots of it until she got it right. If it was not clear before, it was aromatically clear to the rest of the dorm that my Japanese friend had a legitimate black friend (a couple actually, we both flew out for her grad school graduation).
I bring that story up because of the reaction to this “Most Popular Thanksgiving Sides” map on Twitter. One of the stand-outs was, “When did Mac and Cheese get added to the Thanksgiving menu??? [vomit emoji]” There was no way around it. I mentioned the obvious to the person tweeting it, “Well, that tells me you have no black friends.” She smiled and didn’t deny it. (It’s all love. I still follow her, and her tweets are regularly on point.) I’m not even saying all African-American folks have (baked, not boxed) macaroni and cheese at Thanksgiving. All I’m saying is in 39 years of sitting in front of black folks over the holidays, I have never not ever seen macaroni missing from the table. And no, it’s not a main course meal.
So the next time someone tells you they have a “black friend,” ask any questions below (some are light work, others get uncomfortable, the rest are done humoring the “black friend” plug) to solidify whether it’s true. Otherwise, this “friend” may really just be a random melanin-rich person in the breakroom or stuck sitting next to him/her at the company party.
THE LIGHT WORK “BLACK FRIEND” INVESTIGATION
Her hair looks so healthy. Do you know what oil she uses?
If this person has no idea what “oiling a scalp” means, then this “friend” is someone who has never been comfortable enough to be seen in a hair wrap or getting her hair done. You two are not friends. However, if this non-black person has actually greased a scalp, you know she’s in there. She didn’t need Solange’s song about why it’s not OK to touch black women’s hair; she already did it with a voluntary nod. My college roommate (white woman) used to grease my scalp all the time. The way she clumsily parted hair was worse than my brother trying to brush my ponytail though. Don’t take this chance.
I ran out of cocoa butter. Do you have any?
The only right answer is, “I don’t use it” never “What is that?” I should have run screaming out of the tattoo shop the minute a tattoo artist told me he had no clue what shea butter or cocoa butter was. Although he insisted he’d done plenty of tattoos on black people, he seemed perplexed by what in the world this moisturizer was. Unfortunately, I did not take the hint, and he proved just how little he knew about brown skin and blue paint. I was out $900 and ended up with five tattoos in the same spot, but you only need to teach me a lesson one time for me to never repeat the same mistake.
I’m making an Electric Slide playlist. What song do you think I should add?
Depending on the location, the dance may differ. Maybe they’d rather Wobble or Cupid Shuffle or Biker Shuffle or Casper Slide. But they know this dance and the songs that match it. When you ask, make sure to verify whether they’ve been to somebody’s black wedding, family reunion, backyard BBQ or even baby shower. Have they walked into the kitchen unannounced and know where the bathroom is of this “black friend’s” home? YouTube and company parties do not count. For their own sanity, everyone has to fake like they like each other at work. Co-workers and “friends” inviting you to their home and special occasions is another story entirely — not just for the dance-offs but meeting their relatives and other friends, too.
THE UNAFRAID-TO-GET-UNCOMFORTABLE “BLACK FRIEND” INVESTIGATION
I need to hire an Overton for my house. Any recommendations?
Do not tell the listener(s) you want a plumber. It’ll too easily let them get away with not acknowledging that they’ve never seen an episode of “Living Single.” You wouldn’t have to explain who Phoebe is, so don’t tell them who or what the handyman on the original version of “Friends” does. If they are too young to have watched the show between 1993 to 1998, that’s besides the point. There are Generation Yers right now who are watching “A Different World.” If you can get ahold of re-runs of one, you can get ahold of re-runs of the other (i.e. Hulu, Amazon Prime). Warren Littlefield certainly knows the first show well.
Ashley Graham is doing her thing in modeling, right? It’s nice to see plus-size models out there.
You are absolutely correct that Ashley Graham is doing a great job as a plus-size model. However, even Ashley Graham is aware that there have been equally talented brown-skinned models who should have gotten as much shine for their own voluptuous curves. If this person only brings up Graham, Jennifer Lopez and/or Kim Kardashian as paving the fashion game, she has never hung out with a real-life Tyra Banks after Victoria’s Secret — or anybody Rihanna is hiring for Fenty x Savage. She may know Lizzo’s “Good As Hell,” but that’s where it ends when it comes to having any idea of black model references — or black beauty overall. (I cringed when an editor wanted me to edit a full story around Graham as the first-ever, plus-size fashion icon. Needless to say, we also had it out about the longevity of the Black Lives Matter movement.)
Would (s)he call him/herself your “black friend”?
Referring back to Thanksgiving with my Japanese friend, my brother’s wife called me out for referring to my college buddy as my “Japanese friend.” She said I wouldn’t call a “black friend” that. I nodded, thinking this was a valid point. So I stopped introducing her that way, only for my friend to bring up Japan several times or to watch the awkward way her own family members asked, “So, um, where are you from?” In my case, it wasn’t to just stunt on the crowd and go, “Ha! I know Japanese people! Boom!” There’s a world of difference between bringing it up to discuss relevant cultural points (at the time, we were discussing kinrōkanshahi and what the difference is) versus just describing physical features. The same goes for someone saying they have a “black friend.” Unless it’s relevant to the conversation — and not a relative you have no control over — know when this person is being the Mark Meadows of the crew.
THE DONE-HUMORING-YOU “BLACK FRIEND” INVESTIGATION
Have you ever had to have The Talk with your kids?
This wouldn’t normally be a discussion to bring up in casual conversation. But in 2020, there are a lot of Randall-Kate conversations going on. (“This Is Us” is such an amazing show.) You already know that white parents don’t usually have to have this conversation. But that doesn’t mean they don’t know what it is. Some white folks are using their artistic talents to show how much they understand — years before Trump was in the White House.
But really what you’re looking for is for someone to not bat an eye if you bring up The Talk — because they’ve been there before and had to have a hard discussion with that “black friend.” If it trails off into “I don’t see color” or “everybody is so politically correct,” you’ve gotten your answer. This person only “sees color” when it means they can use their friend to prove just how not racist they are. It’s convenient but ineffective.
It’s a shame how the FBI treated MLK, isn’t it?
I have lost count of the number of times a “black friend” story has been followed up with a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quote. They’re almost hand-in-hand and a dull mic drop after the “content of their character” speech. Somehow the one-sided rivalry with the Federal Bureau of Investigation is clean overlooked. But don’t elaborate. Just ask the question and let the “friend of a black friend” discuss how much they know about how this peaceful protester was treated. Or, does the MLK history lesson just summarize that one paragraph in history books?
What are your plans on Columbus Day?
Trick question. If this person still believes Columbus “discovered America” with natives already there, be skeptical of anything else (s)he says. It’s Indigenous People’s Day and nothing else. This is the same explorer who thought the Bahamas was Spain, Cuba was China and Hispaniola was Japan. Anyone who is still feeding into Columbus earning this holiday no doubt believes Africans were “workers” who traveled on a “cruise” and their captivators were “nice to them.” (They also cannot wait to tell you that Africans owned slaves, too, but conveniently leave out it was more like indentured work before the Portuguese got involved and not even slightly as horrific as what U.S. slavery is. Or, that in later centuries, freed slaves used it as a transaction to get their family members and friends out of slavery.) But while places like Ghana are owning up to the slave trade before the French Revolution, there are still U.S. states who want slave trade history removed from history books — all while gloriously celebrating the holiday for an explorer responsible for spreading 30 diseases, wiping out more than 236K indigenous people and killing 25 million people in five years.
I’m trying to figure out my plans for Juneteenth. What’d you and your friend do last year?
If this person doesn’t know what Juneteenth is, just walk away. Not only has the token black friend not done a good job of keeping this person up to speed, but it’s probably Diamond and Silk. And those two are ahead of schedule planning for Columbus Day anyway.
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