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This friendship existed in a vacuum. This would be perfect. She said that I segregate my friends and I was like, hmm, like my friend isn't racist, but she's not anti-racist. OK, it's fine that you are whoopings you can get your hair braided.
Like that's not a huge deal, but this is a huge deal. I don't want her to feel like it's a judgment coming from me necessarily.
I feel like the friendship has deteriorated.
I'm Shereen Marisol Merici, I'm Gene Demby and this is Code Switch from NPR.
This week's episode is from our regular series Ask Code Switch, where we try with experts to help our audience better navigate the various ways race and racism play out in our personal lives.
Yeah, think like Dear Abby, but we're like a whole lot more talk about historical context and structural forces.
And this week our theme is race and friendship.
And Jeanne was gives me a lot of things had to happen in the universe so that you and I could be friends here in the United States of America. Stars had to align. All kinds of stuff needed to happen. And when I say friends, you know, I mean actual friends, not just coworkers. We're friends. We talk, we text, we hang out. I went to your wedding. Were friends. We talk about things aside from work.
I'm not mad, though, that you and Nico flaked on me. And the last time you were here in D.C., a member.
I don't even remember when that was, you know how that is so many people to see.
Oh, so this is a flex.
And also, you gave us the tiniest window of availability. So it's not like you and K made it easy.
You're like, oh, we have 45 minutes on some random Monday, but now that were never allowed to go.
So I'm I'm sorry.
We should have actually done that because when will we see each other again? But you're right, though. Friendships, friendships like ours, they're not that common. I mean, at least according to the data. And by like ours, I mean interracial friendships are sometimes called cross racial friendships. For those of you who are new to Code Switch, I'm black. I hope that's obvious.
It's a green screen contains multitudes.
That is true. I do contain multitudes. I am Iranian and Puerto Rican. For those of you who are new. I said, oh, just about every episode.
Every episode. Yeah. But for so many Americans, making friendships with people of a different race is like, I don't know. It's like being on a Zoome call where no one has accidentally muted themselves and is talking and you can't hear them that, you know, it's just it just rarely happens. Oh, I see. I see where you're going.
I know that was that was rough. That was a lot. I just had to make people think really hard to get that we live in a crazy time with Dr. King.
And Mr. Mandela's dreams are coming true. Black people and white people and Asians and everybody hanging out together to have interracial posses. It's unbelievable what's going on that are believable. I believe all my black friends have a bunch of white.
All my white friends have one black friend, that part of Chris Rock stand up that you just heard was used in a Washington Post article from a few years back to highlight a pretty shocking statistic from a study done by Robert P. Jones, the Public Religion Research Institute.
Yeah, it's a study you bring up a lot. I do a lot of code switch meetings. And the takeaway from the study is basically white Americans have mostly white friends. Yep, 75 percent of white Americans have entirely white social networks know people of color at all. Zero, none. And black people are eight times more likely to have a white friend, but black people, social networks are pretty homogenous to the very low rates of interracial friendships for whites and blacks.
It's it's pretty alarming. Grace Cao is a Yale sociologist. Jean, she studies interracial relationships, both romantic and platonic. And she also found that white Americans and black Americans tend to have the fewest cross racial friendships. Her new book, The Company We Keep, came out in 2019. And to write it, she and her co-authors analyzed a huge data set from over 100 schools across the United States. And students were surveyed as adolescents in the mid 90s and then again as young adults in 2008.
What we say about this group of kids at this point in time is generalizable to the entire U.S. And for those of you are wondering right now why so much of this data seems like it's black and white, Grace's research actually includes multiracial people, Latino folks and Asians. And Grace found that Asians are more likely to have cross racial friendships.
It's a lot easier just by chance for an Asian kid to have a friend that's not Asian. I think that's an artifact of just being such a small number in the typical American school and also in the U.S. as a whole.
And the Latino students in the data set who are considered, quote unquote, white Hispanics were the most likely to have friends of another race.
But I want to remind you that, of course, they did not look good in terms of just the odds of having a friend.
Wait, wait, wait. What what I know. OK, so to use the government's language, white Hispanics are the most likely to have actual cross race friendships if they have a friend, if they have a friend.
And what Grace told me was what alarmed her, maybe more than the fact that white and black students tended to have so few friends of a different race was the fact that kids who said they had no friends at all were disproportionately kids of color, black, Asian and Latina.
Well, there's just this real sense of isolation and not being accepted by kids at school.
That's a real problem. How awful is it to to have to go to school every day and not have a single friend?
And in case you're wondering, because I was according to Grace's research, white girls are the most likely to have friends followed by white boys.
I would say it's less than 10 percent of white girls that can't name a single friend at school. But for black, Hispanic and Asian males, it's it's more like 30 percent.
And do you have those numbers for black, Hispanic and Asian girls?
Yes, they're better, but they're not as good as the white girls. So for for black, Hispanic and Asian girls, it's more like 20 percent.
So why is the data breaking down this way? Well, Grace is a quantitative researcher. She's the person who says we're observing this phenomenon. Even though the country is getting more diverse, people still have homogenous social networks.
Let's see if the numbers bear that out. And Grace and her colleagues found that, yes, the numbers do bear that out.
They did find that the more diverse a school was, the more likely the kids surveyed would go on to have cross racial friendships as adults, even the ones who didn't have those kinds of friendships as kids.
Now, as for the why, I could guess, but, you know, like we don't actually, you know, there's a tradeoff, right? You can either talk to people and get really detailed information, but then you talk to 10 people or you can study 90000 people and you can't talk to any of them.
So unlike Grace, I am a qualitative researcher. That's Beverly Daniel Tatum. She's a psychologist and author of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria and Other Conversations about Race.
And so I have done lots of interviews with not nearly as many as she's got in terms of her numbers. Very impressive data set that she has. But friendship is largely determined by proximity. You know, you get to know the people who are nearby. For the black person who grows up in a largely black environment, it's not a surprise that that's their social network and how they spend their time outside of the workspace, you know, probably attending if they attend church, a historically black church.
The same would be true for a white person who grows up in a predominately white neighborhood or almost entirely white neighborhood, likely to have a very white social network.
But for those people who live in racially mixed communities and have that experience growing up, attending a diverse school, living in a racially mixed neighborhood, they are much more likely to have a diverse group of friends than those who have not had that experience. You know, you become comfortable in a mixed environment if that's what you've grown up in. And it doesn't seem odd to you.
Hmm. I'm very dramatically clearing my throat hashtag housing segregation in everything. Mm hmm.
I think it's going to come up a bit in this episode. Right. Just a hunch.
Well, it is in everything. And segregated neighborhoods means segregated schools. And when you're growing up, that's where you make most of your friends. That's where you're spending so much of your time. For more on that, I spoke with another expert on cross race friendships. Her name is Chindia Peka Smith. She's an associate professor at Assumption College and she teaches prospective educators and therapists, many of whom are white and will end up working with kids of color in the public school system.
Children will find each other across racial lines when they enjoy equal status, when they collaborate with one another on common goals, and when they are supported by authority. And that is not happening in schools today. First of all, schools are segregated across the nation, so they're absolutely set up inequitably.
Secondly, even in schools that are demographically racially diverse for those rare occasions when they are tracking happens in those schools so that students of color are overrepresented in lower academic tracks.
And then in those schools, students of color are more likely to be taught by less experienced white, middle class monolingual teachers. And those teachers often lack professional development on implicit racial bias.
So basically, you're saying even on the rare occasions in which students are going to putatively integrated schools, they're still being divvied up by race because of tracking.
And you've also got kids of color, black and Latino and native, being punished, you know, far more harshly for the same infractions. We've reported on this before, not to mention just curricula. That leaves them out entirely. That doesn't mention them at all.
Yeah. And Chindia told me, no wonder these students are marginalized and having a hard time making crossbreeds friendships, let alone any friendships.
When we have created a system of education that is racially equitable across the board, we're going to see children enjoying.
Cross race friendships at a much higher rate gene, taking it back to the bay for a second. I have that khutsong in my head. Strange arithmetic. Do you know that one? I don't.
I don't. Oh, it's so good. Tell. I feel like the answer to everything we talk about on clothes, which is flip the system when it all. Yes, but barring that, gene, you and I have some of the things that can lead to cross racial friendships.
Like what? I went to diverse schools. I'm the product of a cross ethnic marriage. True.
So I've been putting in these reps since, I don't know, infancy.
They've been in the game forever.
I'm a little bit I grew up in a, you know, black neighborhood, went to black middle school, black elementary school. It's mostly black high school. Yeah. I mean. Well, we worked together to oh, that helps. Here's Beverly Daniel Tatum again. So when we talk about friendships that develop through work, those are also about proximity, right? You are seeing people every day. You're engaged in common tasks. But then the question is, do they cross boundaries outside of work?
All right. So we've established that you and I have a relationship that extends outside of work. Mm hmm. But, you know, there's a lot of people who like to claim, you know, that somebody they work with, they have a colleague, let's say, who for the purposes of saying that we have a diverse friend group, they promote their brown work colleague. It's a full time capital F friend. You know who you are. Yes.
They don't, like, raise inflation, you know.
Right. And you know that one possie friend is just the person that you have a 15 minute conversation with at the coffee maker. That's a little coffee machine.
Just or I don't know what is the the water cooler, whatever that thing is these days.
Anyway, when Beverly is talking about crossing boundaries outside of work, she's actually talking about spending quality time together, maybe talking about stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with work. And that's where she says things can get challenging.
And to help illustrate that point, we're going to hear now from a woman named Christene, she wrote to us about some tension that arose in one of her friendships that crossed that work boundary.
I think it really started after I had my bachelorette and I didn't invite her.
So Christena met her friend Sarah, who she's talking about right there when they were both at orientation for their new jobs as public defenders.
Crisan as black, Sarah became her first real white friend. Khorasani actually called Sarah one of her best friends, but she rarely invites her to do things with her close black friends, like she made a joke.
And she said that I segregate my friends.
And I was like, Hmm, you may have a point. And I've been thinking about it for a long time. For months now.
Cassana didn't grow up around white people. I never thought she would have a close friendship with someone white.
I think it was like a defense mechanism that like white people didn't want to be friends with me. And so for me I was like, well I don't want to be friends with them either.
And this attitude is very common and makes total sense, says Chinja Peka Smith.
When educators, especially white educators, see that children of color are coming together in the same race, friendships, white educators will panic and say, well, they're self segregating and they're expressing prejudice. They don't want to be with the white children.
What we find is that in spaces where there's racial inequity, that is a protective response. It is not about outgroup prejudice, it's about preservation in white children. Exclusive in group, same race friendships is correlated with outgroup prejudice. Well, OK, so she's saying that.
Black kids are huddling together at the school cafeteria table in order to for solidarity because they're ostracized otherwise and mostly white schools, right?
Yeah, but those whites only tables, which are most of the rest of the tables, that is white kids policing like their space for whiteness.
Yeah, but the black kids are the ones who are called self segregating, which I find very interesting. Oh, yeah.
Because because this is normal. Right. Exactly right. Right. Oh, man.
And you know, and Christene said it herself. She had black friends for most of her life to protect herself from being rejected. But somehow she managed to make friends with Sarah. They managed to beat the odds.
They got close as adults, very, very close. They were real friends. They hung out outside of work. But Sarah felt like there was still a boundary between them. Why did Cassana hang out with her separately from her other close friends who are black?
I think I became a little defensive and I said, Well, I haven't met any of your white friends either. And so and I was like, we should talk about this.
And it's moments like this, Gene, we're friends will start growing apart because so often that discussion never happens. Here's Beverly Daniel Tatum again.
There are situations that can cause tension in a relationship and you have to be willing to be able to talk about it.
There's a study that was done probably 20 years ago, maybe more at UC Berkeley by a sociologist named Troy Duster, who was interested in black white friendships in college.
And what he found was that both groups of students were interested in developing cross racial friendships, but they wanted to do it in different ways. The white students wanted to kind of just hang out together, let's, you know, go have pizza, have a beer.
The black students were more interested in engaging with white peers in a more structured environment. They wanted to have dialogue about race and social justice issues.
Meanwhile, the white students didn't really want to talk about race. They just wanted to hang.
Because of the racial context in which we're all living, if we want to have cross racial relationships, part of what makes them successful is our willingness and ability to learn how to talk about racism, even in the context of the friendship.
When we originally ran this episode, we did it as a collabo with the folks at WNYC s Death, Sex and Money podcast, and if you want to hear more from Cassana and Sarah and there's a lot more to their story, go look for that episode. It's called Between Friends Your Stories About Race and Friendship. This message comes from NPR sponsor Discover Sometimes food is more than just food, it's an integral part of the community. So this year, Discovery is giving five million dollars to support black owned restaurants to places like post office pies in Birmingham, Alabama, back in the day bakery in Savannah, Georgia, and hundreds more black owned restaurants in your local community all across the country.
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Jean Sherene, Code Switch. OK, so we're talking about friendship on this episode. And Cherine, you started off this whole episode with data from the Yale sociologist Greyscale. That's right. She's the quantitative researcher who found that Asian-Americans are more likely than black and white Americans to have friends outside their race. They're also more likely to go to predominantly white schools and live in predominantly white neighborhoods.
So if they're going to have friends, they kind of have to be interracial. Oh, what a coincidence. That is the exact situation that our next letter writer, Amy, found herself in.
I mean, I think I'm at a place right now where I think I'm a lot more comfortable in a room full of white people than a room full of Asian people. And like, what does that make me?
OK, so Amy is a junior at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. She's the daughter of Chinese immigrants. And she was raised in a really, really white suburb.
And that meant that I grew up, unfortunately, with very few friends of color, probably due to internalized racism, but also because there were very few people of color in my town, in my school district in general.
Can we talk a little bit more about probably due to internalized racism? Oh, listen, listen, listen.
So Amy told us that when she was really young, she rejected her mom's Chinese cooking like she actively avoided eating it. She was like, yo, I don't want to eat this or her mom, the Chinese food for everybody else. And I'm doing air quotes. American food for Amy.
Wow. That was really nice of her mom. My mom would never.
I know you go eat what I'm cooking. Are you going to starve in the high school?
That was really interesting, too, because Amy told us that she thought her high school was overwhelmingly white, but with some distance a couple of years out, she realized that it might not have been as white as she remembered.
So her younger sister went to the same high school and managed to make a bunch of friends of color. So Amy just kind of actively avoided and blotted out the people of color who were around her.
The few Asian friends I did have at the time were really hard friendships to do a lot of reasons that did not have to.
The phrase Amy also told us that she did not fit in with the other Asian girls in her high school because she was, in her words, loud and bad at math.
Not the words I would use. Yeah, yeah. But as we were talking about before, white friend circles are policed to maintain their whiteness.
And so Amy's friends are girls, which are mostly white, have been full of people, she said. Who tormented her?
They would make fun of my parents accents. They would call me Lingling. I remember my senior year of high school. I was officially labeled, but the token Asian friend by my friend group. And looking back, most of the bullying came from girls who were my friends, who were a part of my friend group and who I remained friends until we graduated high school.
That makes me mad. I'm sorry. Oh yeah.
I mean, it's just it's it's so now Amy's in college.
She's wrestling with all these big questions about her identity, which is what folks do in college.
But our social universe, it looks kind of the same. Hmm.
She kept pointing out that her friends are her rather dies, but they are just not making any space for her in conversations about race.
I have white friends who patronize me and talk over me when it comes to discussing politics, particularly when it comes to discussing race and politics and then being the one in charge of calling out microaggression is also exhausting. And they were just like, there's nothing OK, like why is like everything a problem for you? And it's just I mean, their friendship is important. Awesome. But it's hard when, like, this thing that means a lot to me feels like a burden to me.
Is the college that she goes to Super White. So it is a PWI, predominately white institution. It's also way more diverse than the suburb she grew up in in the Twin Cities. The Minneapolis area is diverse, but she hasn't really availed herself of those communities, but she's trying where she wants to try. In fact, she talked to some other students of color about how she was feeling about all of this stuff.
Another Asian girl who grew up in suburban Minnesota, a suburb like me, suggested that I start talking to all my friends because that's what they did in high school. And I was super confused and surprised and shocked by the suggestion because it's just never really occurred to me before. But my dilemma is, is there are healthy middle ground. Am I sell out my race? Can I keep on being friends with white people and still retain my identity? And am I allowed to be friends with people who are also sometimes oppressor's?
Hmm, right. And also just want to say to Amy, like she should know that she came out of these white suburbs, which not accidentally white suburbs. Right. They are segregated white suburbs for a reason. She came out of that place with the exact universe of ideas and skepticisms about brown people and people of color that those places are meant to reproduce. You know what I mean? Yeah, just because she's brown doesn't mean she would not have internalized any of that any less than all the white people who do that all the time.
Luckily, we found an expert who thinks about stories just like this a lot.
Amy is a very typical story. Whose voice is that? Oh, yeah. My name is David Int.
David Int is English professor at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. And I'm also a professor in. Asian-American studies, comparative literature and women's studies, and you are the author of I am the author of a new book Jean co-authored with my dear friend Shani Hahn, who is a New York based psychotherapist. It's called Racial Melancholia Racial Dissociation on the Social and Psychic Lives of Asian-Americans Dam.
David Áng is doing all the things he has, all the WOAK job, all the work to help you teach in Jamaican American studies, too. But David and his co-author Jinhee, their book, Racial Melancholia Racial Dissociation, is a collection of case histories and commentaries about Asian-American college students that David and he have encountered in their work because Asian-American college students, they say, have a particular set of anxieties and concerns not dissimilar to the dilemma that Amy brings up here.
In her letter to Code Switch and so in their work, David and Jinhee are addressing those anxieties sociologically and psychologically.
I do the structural critique. She tends to the symptoms.
All right. So racial melancholia and racial dissociation, let's get into those two things.
Yes, a little a little wonky. So we're going to explain sort of come here for me, too, because I'm like, what? David said that way back in 1917, Sigmund Freud wrote this essay in reaction to World War One, it was called Mourning and Melancholia. Freud said that there's this thing called morning mourning, which is normal. You lose something, lose a boyfriend, lose a girlfriend, lose a parent. You mourn it, you get over it, you move on.
But there's this other thing called melancholia to melancholia for him is never ending. It's for him, pathological. And it's a mourning without end. And so two decades ago, David and Shin, he coined this idea. They call it racial melancholia. It's about this ongoing mourning as it comes to identity processes like immigration and assimilation, which are never complete.
They put immigrants and Asian-Americans along a continuum where that can never quite mörner get over the losses of homeland, of of language, of culture. So this is what I've been suffering with my entire life. There is a word for it, there's two words for it, racial melancholia.
I want to say it with a Spanish accent using Sarino.
What about racial dissociation?
OK, so dissociation is when people are having experiences that don't line up with the way they're explaining those experiences themselves. So if you're having an experience that is racialized, but you don't have the vocabulary to talk about that experience being about race or racism, or you don't believe that that experience is about race or racism, you get caught up in this weird bind.
David calls this the conundrum of colorblindness.
And you already see this with Amy in her first paragraph of the letter she sent you.
She says that she has internalized racism and that's part of the reason why she didn't really have many friends in high school who were Asian American.
And then she says they were very difficult friendships, but they weren't due to race. So it's it's a strange contradiction. Hmm.
Amy didn't tell us what made the few friendships she had with other Asian-American kids so tough, but also she said that her white friends were her tormentors.
Right. So clearly, she can handle difficult relationships. Exactly.
When she says my friends were also my bullies, that part really kind of broke my heart, because if you really consider someone a good friend, they should not be your bullies.
And the bond she's in is that she's isolating herself from all the brown people who might be able to validate the way she feels about all the stuff when she talks to her white friends.
They have no idea what she's talking about and they talk over her. And when she talks about race and her experiences, they disbelieve it. And then when she talks to her friends of color, they seem too radical for her. And again, that is the contradiction.
Just to zoom out a little bit more, Davis said that to understand what Amy is going through specifically, we have to zoom out to the larger context of Asian-American folks in American life. David says that Asian-American folks have toggled between inclusion and exclusion as model minorities. And it's a very complicated history, but the thing about Model Minority said, is that we should remember is that it is entirely provisional. You can be, you know, a nonblack person of color who might be allowed some proximity to whiteness, you know, as long as you don't shake the table or point out the problems with that arrangement.
And that's true in the macro sense and the larger societal sense.
But you can see up close how it plays out for somebody like Amy, this idea of Amy being able to align with her white friends to be an honorary white, to be a model minority, to be adjunct to whiteness.
That is a long, long history.
And real quick, David pointed out that the doctrine of colorblindness, that, you know, race doesn't matter, that we shouldn't talk about it, blah, blah, blah, that really set in in the 1990s, about a generation or so out from the civil rights movement. Right. And it meant that a lot of younger people who grew up after that time just do not have the vocabulary to talk about inequity and injustice.
And so the students who David and his co-author Shinichi's say they're talking to and meeting with, they're struggling with sometimes debilitating anxiety, specifically because they've essentially been denied the language to articulate these things that are happening to them and shaping their lives because colorblindness makes them dissociated exactly who they are.
That's a lot like melancholy and grief and alienation as a consequence of structural racism.
There's there's a lot I feel like the government should all pay for us to have their lesson on when it put that on your platforms.
So did David have any advice for Amy?
Well, one thing she says she has going for her is that right now she is in college, like for a few reasons. That's a really big boon to her, like for at least a little while longer. She's in a place with a critical mass of people of color. David pointed out that people who live in homogenous spaces and then go to reasonably diverse colleges don't suddenly have diverse friendships after college. Right.
So there's a good chance that this is the most and last diverse space she may find herself in.
Take advantage, Amy.
And that's important because David was like, look, there's no way you can get around being around brown people and Asian people specifically if you want to have Brown and Asian friends. Hmm.
And because she's on a college campus, she also has access to counseling, which I wish I had taken advantage of when I was in school.
The big caveat, David said, was that whoever she talks to needs to have some cultural competency. Definitely right. Because if they don't know any of this history and if they don't know anything about the history of race in America, as he put it, about the problem of culture, about the problems of language, about Asian-American immigration, about the idea of being a model minority, Amy might end up reenacting the same dynamics in the clinic that she's experiencing outside of the clinic.
But David said she might find the space she needs to work through some of her feelings in the classroom.
So I think that there is a lot of times a false idea that ethnic studies programs, Asian-American studies classes, African-American studies classes, that these are all me classes.
It's about me, me, me and, you know, my victimization.
It's not it's actually about trying to understand the longer histories that get us to the racial conflicts that are around us, all around us today. And my job in the classroom is to provide the students with a history, but also a critical vocabulary, not just to understand their own life experiences, but how to contextualize those life experiences into a much longer history.
And part of the way in which the clinic and the classroom come together is that in both of those spaces, these students are trying to regenerate the story for themselves.
And if they can regenerate it, either in the clinic or in the classroom, that can often be a very healing process.
It definitely can.
I am a product of those classes and I can say it was definitely very healing for me and Amy Outproduce, who just wanted to tell you that you don't have to stop kicking in with your white friends because they're way more reasons as to. But you definitely do not need to kick it with people who treat you poorly. Just remember that. So maybe you need to stop taking of that.
Perhaps. Yes, perhaps.
All right, so far on this episode, we've been talking a lot about the ways that race can be a point of tension in interracial or cross racial friendships. But of course, that can also be the case when two people share a racial identity. Let me tell you.
Our next letter is about that exactly, and for that, we are bringing in our Code Switch teammate, lead the no, let's good lead. All right, Leo, what's the situation?
OK, so this letter came from a woman named Sarah in New York.
Dear Code Switch. I once had a co-worker who quickly became a friend outside of work. She's black and I'm half black, half white. And we quickly bonded over a passion for racial and gender equality.
Sarah says this friendship with her co-worker flourished instantly, like when a couple starts dating attached at the hip. I spent time with her kids who called me auntie, and she and I frequently had lunches, coffees, happy hours and dinners, and I invited her to my wedding.
So these two are super close. And one of the things they're both dealing with is this manager at work who Sara described as being abusive.
He targeted women of color, getting angry when we scheduled doctor's appointments, blaming us for our white male counterparts, mistakes, unwarranted threats of termination and pay reduction. But slowly, over time, he began to leave me alone, whereas he doubled down on treating my coworker horribly.
Oh, yeah. So this all came to a head one day at a company wide meeting when this manager praised Sarah for a project she had recently done.
And my co-worker, understandably at her wit's end, sent me a string of text telling me that his praise meant nothing and I should watch out for him. Then she explained that there were two types of black employees at the company, ones with integrity like her to set a good example for her kids and complicit slaves on the plantation like me. Wow. She went in.
She did, yeah. And Sara said that she was completely humiliated and also totally thrown off by those messages.
Understandably, she didn't know where they were coming from, especially because she says she had gotten so many threats herself from this manager and had consistently stood up and called him out for his racism and sexism. So she asked her coworker to talk to see if there had been some sort of misunderstanding.
I told her that she'd really hurt my feelings and she said I was wrong to accuse her of doing so. And then I was stirring up drama. She declined to come to my wedding, and I never succeeded in convincing her that I wasn't a traitor to the race. I told her I needed to step away from the friendship and she sent me a text with many exclamation points about how this was all in my head. And then she blocked me on Facebook.
Then I blocked her on everything else. I still feel insecure about being a traitorous, tragic mulatto, but has chipped away at my racial imposter syndrome with the help of family and other friends. I hope this story resonates with someone, Sarah.
So it feels like, OK, this is a question about race, but also. There's other stuff going on here, too. Oh, yeah, there's a lot of guys I mean, there's definitely race and racism. Maybe some color is workplace harassment. So I called in someone to help sort through this.
Her name is Dr. Joy and Braford. I am a licensed psychologist in Georgia and the creator of therapy for Black Girls in the platform is really designed to take mental health topics and make them very relevant, inaccessible to black women and girls.
Joy has a weekly podcast where she talks about mental health issues. She also creates a directory of therapists in the U.S. and Canada who she says do great clinical work with black women and girls. And she said in her clinical practice, the number one thing that people want to talk about is work.
But I think outside of that, you know, we'd likely spend quite a bit of time with our friends. And so, you know, tension and other concerns with our friends comes up quite a bit in therapy.
This situation with Sarah and our friend has to do with both friendship and work. Yeah, exactly.
And Joyce said that even though this kind of story wound up manifesting as a friendship issue, it really stemmed from being in a toxic workplace because it sounds like the boss is just awful.
And so there's a lot going on there. And it sounds like what the friend has done is misplaced the anger that she rightfully feels towards this boss and put it on to her former friend.
Sara's friend probably couldn't freak out at her boss. Right. But she probably felt like she had to freak out at someone. Oh, definitely. If she's the kind of person like I am, she can't keep stuff bottled up inside. And I just want to take this moment to apologize to anyone that I have done this to. I humbly at work. I apologize.
I will not comment on that. I'm sorry, Leah, but Sara is also in a position where she's likely to take her friend's comments very seriously.
And that's one because she cares a lot about racial justice.
But it's also partly because, as she said, she was somewhat sensitive already about her racial status by saying, you know, she told me she used the phrase racial imposter syndrome for a reason and kind of embarrassed to say that my first gut reaction was to go find some other black people to tell me that I'm a good black person.
You know, you said you are humiliated. Like, was there a part of you that was worried, like she could be right? Or like she was like. Pointing to something that you hadn't like seen about yourself, oh, sure. And then I immediately started like flipping back in my mind, like. Like, in what way could I be? You know, I guess in her metaphor, like sucking up to the plantation owner, here's Joy again.
People who identify as biracial often do struggle with this kind of making sense of both of their worlds kind of pieces. And so it sounds like, you know, this is something that was like a sensitive spot for Sarah already. And I think that that is also something, you know, if she's going to work with a therapist would be something to talk with a therapist about. You know, like is this showing up in other places in her life?
One element that could be at play here when it comes to work is also that lighter skinned black women, whether they're biracial or not, do get treated preferentially. Hmm. That's according to a woman named Yafran Wilder, who studied colorism for more than 20 years. And she said that lots of black folks actually tend to be mostly friends with people who have similar skin tones. Hmm. And when they do have friendships that cross those lines, they rarely, if ever, talk about the colorism that they're experiencing.
Yeah. So we don't know, obviously, exactly what was going on in this friend's head, but it's very possible that the friend may have been experiencing worse treatment from her boss and been incredibly frustrated, but felt like there was no good way to express that frustration and no one to talk to. Of course, that doesn't mean it was right for her to call Sara a complicit slave on the plantation.
That was she just pulled up the sink like so little. And also just like because they're friends, she probably might have known that that was the thing that would make several of the worse, you know.
Yeah, yeah. Good point. But still, it sounds like this friend was in a very stressful situation. And when people are really stressed, they don't always act in exactly the ways that they would be most proud of.
So, Leah, do these two go anywhere from here? I mean, is there a way to salvage this relationship?
Well, OK, so Joy said that in situations like this, there are a couple of steps you can take. And there are also a couple of things to remember. The first thing is you can't save a friendship by yourself.
Is there a level of reciprocity in the friendship? So are you kind of giving and taking in the relationship as much as the other person is also giving in taking?
When I spoke to Sara, she said she had reached out to her friend a bunch of times and a bunch of different ways. But each time the friend just kind of brushed it off and said that Sara was being dramatic, that I just know what that's like.
Oh, did Joy also said that when someone wrongs you, they need to apologize for sure.
But you also have to be honest with yourself about whether you can actually get over what they did.
Even when someone apologizes, we are by no means required to let them back into our lives, even if we accept the apology. So I think that that's the difficult part for people, too, is that they think, OK, well, I can apologize and try to make this thing better and then we can kind of pick up where we left off in the friendship when the truth of it is that the other person is entitled to see this hurt me too much and I don't think that I want to resume the relationship, Joyce says.
Lastly, it's crucial to acknowledge that losing a friendship is very, very painful and can be comparable to breaking up with a romantic partner.
There isn't often a script for what happens when a friendship breaks up, but it can be the same kind of devastation and maybe sometimes even more devastating to lose somebody who has been a really close friend to you. And so I think sometimes there can be the tendency for other people in our lives to maybe minimize the pain of losing a friend. But it can really be a very traumatic laws. And you would likely experience a grief reaction to the loss of this kind of a relationship, just like you would anything else.
Yeah, I just want to simple quick, like talking through these questions, like reminds you of all the ways that the rules of friendships are, like, much more implicit than they are for like romantic relationships. Like there might be like you you probably have some things that are like big bright lines for whether your partner did something out of bounds or whether your parent did something that was out of bounds. Right. But for friendships, we don't know how to talk about, like the things we expect of our friends and the things we need to change to keep our friendship to life.
You know what I mean? Yeah, Joe, I was saying we have no real, like, script for how to fight with our friends, how to even, like, say you did this minor thing that hurt me. So, like, when something big comes up, we have no idea what to do. Yeah. In Sarah's case, she wound up talking things over with her friends and family and stepping away from that friendship. And she said she did give herself time to grieve almost a year and a half.
And ultimately, she hopes that sharing this story will be helpful to other people.
I just think people would feel a lot better if we talked a little bit more openly about friendship, break ups and about stuff that's really quite embarrassing like this, because if you come out of the interaction and you feel righteous, you know, that's an easy story to tell. But we don't really want to come out and say like this was human. Alienating and still really embarrassed about it. You know, what this makes me think about is it makes me think about what David said about melancholia.
And just like if you don't have that time to grieve, if you don't mourn these friendships and you don't know how to mourn them, you can be suffering, trying to figure out what went wrong for forever.
For now. Mm hmm. Some of the most, like long lasting periods of sadness in my life, have been around friendships.
They just sort of disappeared. You know, I mean, it was weird to talk about them like that, like until much later. And I appreciate that they were like some of the most important and intense friendships, you know, relationships I had. Well, good luck, sir, and good luck.
Well, thanks, Leah. You gave me definitely a lot to think about. Oh, thank you.
Time for some friendship counseling.
Honestly, I feel like we stopped getting friendship counseling, like after elementary school. You guys are friends. You're going to sit down here. Are you going to like me after elementary school?
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