“Black Best Friend: A Manifesto”

“What is shocking about Me and Earl and the Dying Girl isn’t the fact that the non-white male characters are used as vessels to prop up the white male character. It’s that this plot device is used so often it’s easy to not even realize it.
The character of Earl is just the newest addition to the most glamorous club in Black Hollywood: The Black Best Friends. “BBF” to those in the know. For years, Hollywood has used the BBF to appease their weak understanding of diversity in film…
How many people in the world knew that in 1998, Dave Chappelle played the best friend of Tom Hanks in the Nora Ephron film You’ve Got Mail? 10? 12? If you came to Dave Chappelle himself and asked him, would he know he was in this film? And yet, there he is as BBF to Tom Hanks’s Joe Fox, pursuer of dame Kathleen Kelly played by Meg Ryan. It’s not even clear if anyone in the film uses Chappelle’s character’s name. Might as well have just called him “Black Best Friend.”

I think there is a certain class of friends, in the American imagination, that are really just accessories/providers. The gay best friend, who provides fashion and lifestyle guidance and self-esteem boosts and free entertainment and a buffer against worrying that you are homophobic. The impoverished or dying friend, who provides perspective on your life, scrappy survival and self-care tips, opportunities to feel charitable and receive gratitude, and buffer against worrying that you are sheltered. And, the BBF (or, now, other darker-than-white-skin person) who kinda combines the roles above and also provides new cultural knowledge and experiences and a buffer against worrying if you are racist.

Every middle class white person is entitled to at least one of these. And it’s an all around great deal — especially because you, as the protagonist, never actually help these people — you never dive into a secondary position to their stories, understand their whole being, start buying their favorite tea so that you can make them a cup whenever they come over. You don’t exist for them, they exist for you. They are not REAL friends like the reciprocal friendships you have with other people.

And I mean this outside of media; I mean this in real life. I mean this on how people can think about friendships and how certain relationships only have these toxic models — and how a lot of people follow models without even being aware of it. How people in the token-friend-categories can internalize these shows and movies as much as anyone else, and understand that we have to provide these services in order to be valuable people.

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