How Hard are Interracial Friendships in 2013?

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Tanner Colby, author of "Some of My Best Friends Are Black" and Baratunde Thurston, author of "How to Be Black" in the WNYC studios.

How hard are interracial friendships in 2013? How important is having friends from across the color divide to solving racial issues? Baratunde Thurston, CEO of Cultivated Wit and author of How to Be Black; and Tanner Colby, author of Some of My Best Friends are Black preview their event this week with Soledad O'Brien, discussing race, identity, and the persistent color line.

Update: Video of the Conversation with Soledad O'Brien


Tanner Colby and Baratunde Thurston

Comments [50]

For blacksocialist from BKbay, this is a different Susan than the Susan from New York City.

I am, to use a term from Star-Trek - a pink skin or "white" as you probably would characterize me. The reason why I don't believe that race really exists as anything other than a "social" construct is because of my background in molecular biology. Nevertheless, the social has become more important than the biological.

Having lived and worked on three continents when I was doing international development work made me see how varied those "social constructs" can be and how strongly those social constructs based on appearance can be. As I was leaving my first 2 year experience overseas as a Peace Corps volunteer in then Zaire I was hanging out with an incoming volunteer. Only through our conversation did I realize that she saw herself as African American and that was when it first dawned on me that how the classification of skin color is really a social construct that is highly dependent on the culture. Of course the Zairois also saw the volunteer as "white American" even though that was not her socially defined identity. For a long time after I returned from that first trip, many African Americans did not look "black" to me and I only could discern their "socially defined identity" or what many prefer to call "race" by talking with them long enough to discovery how they viewed themselves.

Nov. 29 2013 12:27 PM
Paul from NYC

Becoming more aware of ANY kind of tribal affiliation - in order to move beyond tribes altogether - is another way forward for human beings seeking to accommodate and accept other human beings. We may not be able to avoid seeing the Other as "other" - but we should endeavor to contextualize that otherness in increasingly more neutral ways. For example, the Buddhist view about the nature of everything being emptiness might a good place to start for some.

Nov. 29 2013 12:18 PM
Angela from Crown Heights

I would say that the arts are another area where multiracial friendships and influences happen. I am a Black, Puerto Rican woman born & raised in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I am also an artist and because of my involvement in the arts I was & am exposed to so many different people.
I also thought growing up in NYC I've always saw myself as a citizen of the world. However I find that although we live so shoulder to shoulder with a variety of people, it seems like a minority that really circulate outside of their racial or economic circle.
I have gone through stages where I've questioned my friendships thinking that my attractions have to do with denying my own race, or "trying to be white" or glorifying the other. The point is that within our society these doubts persist but I wish for us to work towards going beyond these doubts and continue to engage with all people.

Nov. 29 2013 11:58 AM
Stephen from Manhattan

I cannot believe NO ONE has mentioned the arts as a means of connecting races. I know budgets for the arts have been cut to the bone but they still exist. Sports in high school are very exclusionary for all but the most talented athletes. Music is such an obvious vehicle for connecting, even if it's in a marching band. There's also choir, drama, art, photography, etc. People are more likely to connect if they find they have a shared interest.

Nov. 29 2013 11:54 AM
emely from uptown

I enjoy listening to you guys have this discussion and as how to end all starts in the home, then in the community then nationally. So like the civil rights movement us the people have to want the change first. Whether black or white stop the bs and start thinking about a colorblind world.

Sep. 05 2013 05:12 PM

Race is one of those third-rail issues, much like homosexuality and gender, for which stifling constraints of political and social correctness have long made any truly open and honest public discussion practically impossible.

Harboring ill-will toward /anyone/ simply because of the color of their skin, the place in which they were born or who their parents happened to have been is, of course, unjust and irrational. To /persecute/ on such basis, /unconscionable/. Since childhood, I've had enough /positive/ experiences with Blacks, Hispanics and people of any number of other races and ethnicities, and enough /less-than-positive/ experiences with /Whites/ to realize the fallacy of such sweeping, blanket attitudes. (And yes, I'm well aware that White Pride advocates do not consider my kind to qualify as "White", no matter how pale my own skin may be...)

But the politically-correct orthodoxy, no less doctrinaire or reflexive than just about anything on the other side, that prevails on race is hardly any better. Lowering standards, even in such critical areas as medicine and first-responders? (To take but one, particularly striking example) /That's/ a legitimate way to "level the playing field"? As if Blacks and Latinos are somehow immune from the very real risks to life and limb that being at the mercy of an under-qualified physician, nurse or firefighter poses? (An indignant refrain of George Galloway's, from his acclaimed debate with the late Christopher Hitchens comes to mind: "You want to talk about /"racist"/?! You want to talk about /"racist"/...") To say nothing of the suspicion that affirmative action inevitably causes /qualified/ Blacks to be placed under and any number of other problems.

Sep. 03 2013 06:18 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ Stephanie from Brooklyn

All your parents $ in Oberlin's coffers and not one original thought? C'mon, really? Jesus god kids are easy to brain wash these days... Yes, uhm, just so you know we would all love to live in a color blind paradise where there is no hate or judgement but that isn't going to happen any time soon.

I am not on the side of hate or prejudice but we have to be honest and open about more than just the dark side of American society, which is, frankly, more well known, we have to acknowledge the failure of the "Great Society" experiment that ended with the Clinton presidency and welfare reform. This was the death of progressiveness in its pure political form, afterwards it became a parlor game for effete media types with no force or impetus behind it.

You're just parroting ancient ideas for page views. You are a tool. You cannot pay, support, bribe or cajole people into action you have to threaten them. Sad but true. Welcome to the real world sweetheart.

Sep. 03 2013 05:56 PM

How about briging John Derbyshire, who had some things to say on this topic, into this conversation? Putting such a dissenting voice on the air, to be challenged and allowed to respond? Of course, I would have to be incredibly naive to harbor any illusions that the question could be anything more than rhetorical. But if WNYC were actually committed to the principals of free and open speech and true diversity of views and opinions, Mr. Derbyshire would be just one out of many independent, dissident, critical voices that would be aired.

Sep. 03 2013 04:04 PM
Stephanie from Brooklyn

Racism: Not Just Not Not Seeing Color

(from a fledgling blog)

Sep. 03 2013 02:00 PM
Chris from NYC

First, I find the idea of filling some kind of "affirmative action" quota for a racially balanced circle of friends, or having to count the number of friends with differently colored skin, ridiculous, as it seems like a kind of racism in itself.
People are people, and based on my own observations, babies and young children are those amongst us who universally truly GET it. Ignorant people categorize, segregate, discriminate, love or hate based solely upon the most obvious, superficial differences, as though we're not all human beings. We are taught racism, we are taught sexism, ageism, classism, we are taught to be selfish and greedy, and fearful of others. It all comes down to parenting and environment (including community). My hope is that within the next couple generations, the kind of ignorance which propagates racism will finally shuffle off the evolutionary coil.

Sep. 03 2013 01:52 PM

any relationship eventually faces occasions when barriers have to be overcome. with that in mind, the friendships in my life have been forged through common connections, interests, ambitions, and chemistry, but all of them have had to overcome barriers, many of which have been rooted in cultural misconceptions and prejudices. it sometimes creates great anxiety for both parties: unspoken assumptions, faux pas, misunderstood intentions, and i sometimes fear that friendships are lost in those critical moments.

i bought baratunde's book, so i was i keen to hear what was being discussed today.

i'm from northern europe, living in urban america. i'm married to an american of mixed cultural heritage (she frequently refers to herself as brown). i feel fortunate to have friends from a broad cultural spectrum, which includes race, but i get annoyed at having to use that term - it's too broad and not useful. how is that someone from india has anything in common with someone from korea, other than to say that they are both asian? it's no more useful than saying that turks and icelanders are both european and therefore must be similar.

over the course of our marriage, we've encountered a lot of racism, some overt, a lot of it inadvertent, coming from both sides of the family and friends. not really angry about it, but it definitely creates a lot of challenges.

getting back to the barriers, here's an example: many friends who are black have told me about the subtle ways that they must overcome barriers in social environments that i would have perceived as non-hostile. the way some of my friends choose to dress for certain situations, so that their clothes function as a social cue that's intended to put non-black people at ease, is one such example. that this occurs has really opened my eyes. it's a skill set, a survival instinct. i sometimes wonder if i do the same when in places where i know i will be in the racial minority. well, no matter what, the context is always going to be very different (because of the color of my skin) but i'm also totally ignorant of what cues i may be giving off by my choice of clothes and how they might affect a particular audience. i'm impressed by my friends situational savoir-faire, but i'm also troubled by the stress that this can cause them.

as the relationships have developed, i've tried really hard to be aware of these barriers and to help dismantle them on a one-to-one level. it's hard work and i often feel like it's messy. i'm not complaining, because the effort is well worth it, even if there's a lot of uncertainty by how we measure success.

from all of this, i frequently wish that we could remember that we are all struggling to overcome barriers as we work towards a world that is better connected through deeper relationships. remembering that sometimes helps reduce a bit of tension and adds a bit of levity. certainly, that is one of the knock-on effects of baratunde's book.

Sep. 03 2013 01:39 PM

On one hand, the segment is heavily bs flavored. Sorry for not feeling white guilt, as an immigrant living in brooklyn and working in the bronx.
One could argue that "liberal" white guilt is relatively harmless if not beneficial. i beg to differ. Its the reason why we had to have Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations. its the reason why we cant have a progressive candidate with a no-nonsense crime policy in the current elections. Why, why can't we have universal pre-k AND safe streets!?
And in the long run, demographics is destiny, so my passionately politically correct white friends may relax, whites are an increasingly decreasing minority... .

Sep. 03 2013 12:41 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ A Jewish Person from NYC

I'm not arguing with your points or your history but I just want to point out that I have heard the exact opposite (Jews are a race) from 90% of the Jews I've known well enough to say what they think about that and Israel and the whole shebang and trust me that's a lot of Jews. I have no dog in the race personally.

Sep. 03 2013 12:16 PM
A Jewish Person from NYC

To say that Jews are a race is to align yourself with Nazi-era German ass thinking.
It's a religion, there are African people who practice Judaism and Europeans practice Judaism and from everywhere else and they are all Jews. Jews are NOT a race. You can convert to become a Jew if you feel you have a Jewish soul.
To say Jews are a Race is anti-semitic. Jews may be an ethnicity (Sephardic/Ashkenazi) in some cases but never a Race of people.
Never Forget: The Nazi doctors already conducted those tests that proved as much.

Sep. 03 2013 12:13 PM
adrienne from UWS

There are about 150 different kinds of people here in New York City. Are Af-Ams have any of those friends? Why are Af-Am people always a grieved, and see themselves in such a victim position? What is their responsablity here? I believe this particular idea about race is completely false among people and white pandering and the idea that racism is everywhere keeps blacks in their place.

When Obama was elected here, there was only celebration, as well as through out the country, why the singular episode about those people in San Fransico?

Just to prove a "Poor Us" point in the midst of such good will? Give me a break

Sep. 03 2013 12:10 PM
Jessica from Brooklyn

I'm a white woman with many diverse friend groups and friends of color, but I find that most of my closest friends are white. It's hard to acknowledge that core life experiences shaped by our identities still deeply impact our relationships, even as adults. At the same time, all of my friends, including those of color, are upper-middle class, whereas I grew up working class. I often feel isolated because very few of my friends, if any, really share my experience of struggling to acculturate to an upper-middle class lifestyle. Cross-class relationships, in my experience, are even harder to cultivate than cross-race relationships.

Sep. 03 2013 12:08 PM
thatgirl from manhattan

Amy from Manhattan - Baratunde has always laughed at the term "post-racial," wherever I've read or listened to him. So no.

And who knew "Jewish" was a race? Here I was mistaking it for a religion all these years.

Sep. 03 2013 12:03 PM
Jane from The Office

Jane from the Office would say:
White friends usually have an angry White friends who hates blacks or a dangerous family member, just my experience. I know I know, I am a racist.

I don't have many friends. I work in a very diverse environment with lots of Afr.Am and Caribbean people. We are not friends, but we talk and I get their perspectives on stuff. I also went to CUNY and most of the people around me were either black or Asian and I got to hang out and talk to my CUNY colleagues back then - but no friendships materialized from it.

Sep. 03 2013 12:02 PM
RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey

I'm black. What ticks me off most easily is people who don't know me presuming anything about me or my background without taking a little time to find out who I am.

Rush Limbaugh talking in his faux 'street' voice is as offensive as Michael Steele use of 'ebonics'. We all know that is not the place from which their experience emanates.

I answered a phone call from my brother-in-law once and he said "You sound white." My response to him at the time, "What the f*ck does that mean?".

I've also dated women who said "You don't act black." Same response. My behavior doesn't match your expectation....perhaps you ought to change your expectation.

Sep. 03 2013 12:00 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

We're so lame.

- Homer Simpson

Talking about "race" typically means accepting that the progressive agenda is truthful and viable. Friends don't force friends to believe what they believe, they accept their "friendship" on its own merits. Everything else is fake posturing. Like this segment.

Sep. 03 2013 12:00 PM
thatgirl from manhattan

Jim from NJ - DiTomaso's work is a solid read, and points up the lie that sees corporate America crow about "embracing diversity," yet hiring only those within their immediate social milieu, such that diversity never happens (applying, at once, to both color and sexual diversity).

Sep. 03 2013 11:59 AM
Amy from Manhattan

According to his online self-description, Baratunde Thurston is from the future! I have to know: this future he comes from--i-is it postracial yet?

But back in the present, I try to be aware of racial/ethnic issues. The main thing I've learned about racism is that there's always more to it. I just heard a caller say a 1st-generation Hispanic person isn't likely to be friends w/a middle-class white person. I'm white (well, OK, Jewish), & I have 2 friends from the Dominican Republic & 1 from Costa Rica who live in my building. It probably helps that I speak Spanish, but they all speak English too.

Sep. 03 2013 11:58 AM
blacksocialist from BKbaby

susan - tell that to white people....

Sep. 03 2013 11:58 AM
The Truth from Becky

This is NUTS end this ignorant segment!! Please!!

Sep. 03 2013 11:58 AM
Elizabeth Saenger from Mamaroenck, NY

I'm a 71 year old white woman who grew up in the segregated South. All my life, my attitudes were positive, etc., but close friendships with black women I met at work have endured for decades and have changed me profoundly. I remember, some 40 years ago, the transition. Suddenly I just didn't want to be any place where I thought my black friends wouldn't feel comfortable. I am much closer to these friends, and they to me, than I ma to my own sisters or other white friends.

Sep. 03 2013 11:58 AM
Susan from NYC

There's only one tribe and one race guys. It's called THE HUMAN RACE!

Sep. 03 2013 11:56 AM
John A

I just got off my front step from meeting with my Jehovah's Witnesses visitors. I haven't turned them away in 15 years even though theres both a religious and race difference. The lead visitor is a good friend to whom I have given free computer help and computers. There is also a group of poor in Yonkers who I help.

Sep. 03 2013 11:55 AM
Mallory from Hamden

My colleague - who is black - was married to a man who didn't work for years, and she called him an entrepreneur. Once his father died, she called him a Trust fund baby....

we all reinvent ourselves!

Sep. 03 2013 11:55 AM
john from office.

Thatgirl, a racist forged from hard experience in the public schools system of brooklyn and New York. Sorry, there is always the crazy family member and the angry friend. I dont like getting robbed, mugged or beatup.

Sep. 03 2013 11:54 AM
blacksocialist from BKbay

Susan - you must be white with a statement like that. black folk, especially the men, are always identified as black, maybe not from you, but from a large number of whites. and as a black man, I don't want to be identified as colorless, because my experience in this country has been affected by my race and gender.

Sep. 03 2013 11:53 AM
Leah from Locust Valley, NY

I grew up in the Wingate section of Brooklyn. White flight occurred at mach speed, but my parents reinforced the idea that anyone who could afford to live next door to us, would be welcomed. My mother's best friend was black. I attended Wingate HS, where honors kids were allowed to leave school before lunch period, since it was an extremely actionable time -- 1975. My mother was a public school teacher in the neighborhood. During my school years, I had many black friends. I can't wait to leave Long Island, where segregation is front and center. When we are involved in activities with others, and share a moment or extended interests, race never comes into play for me. I'm also a teacher, and every person I meet is viewed as an opportunity to learn.

Sep. 03 2013 11:53 AM

ok time to turn this off...the old i am black with white friends, I am white with black friends bs has taken over....

Sep. 03 2013 11:52 AM
Susan from nyc

I am tired of the media and politicians perpetuating the racial gap. I have several friends of color. I don't think of them as black or brown or any color. I think of them as human beings on the planet earth just like me. As human beings we all have our differences and our similarities. Where we are different we learn from each other. We celebrate our differences and our similarities. If everyone sees everyone else as just human we would have far fewrr problems in the world than we have today.

Sep. 03 2013 11:50 AM
jim from NJ

Rutgers Professor Nancy DiTamaso's recent book, How Social Networks Drive Black Unemployemnt, is also intertesting addition to the topic. I used to think that these topics as being ancillary to the main issue: Blacks in almost every measurable way have a harder life that whites.
Topics such as why don't Black and Whites socilaize more, and even the issue of race itself as a social construct which really has no application to human beings, as all well and good, and true, but not having an immeidate impact on racial injustice. Now, I see it's not an exclusive proposition.

Sep. 03 2013 11:49 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

I have interracial and interspecies friendships and even an intercultural marriage, but I don't have them because they are interracial or intercultural or even interspecies, but because they are people with whom I have things in common, which should really be the basis of any friendship/relationship (apart from actual blood relations). As a matter of fact, many of my friendships wind up being based more on Zodiac signs (I get along best with Virgos).

None of us really defines our friends based on their race or species as much as common interests, decent manners, religious, moral or ethical standards, etc.

Sep. 03 2013 11:47 AM
Melinda from NYC

Thinking about it now.. most of my friends are black or latino. Over the decades, many of my best friends (male and female) have been black. I am white. I think this is mostly because I don't see people as their skin color, but who they are as a person.

Sep. 03 2013 11:47 AM

I just heard the caller who commented that she met friends from other races through attending private school, and I had a similar experience.

Ironically, I made friends from other races and religions, due to the fact that I attended private schools for my entire schooling. I grew up in a very white, upper middle class Catholic/Protestant Nassau County suburb.

My brothers and cousins all attended the local public school system, where they had no fellow students from other races (perhaps one Asian kid), other religions or other socio-economic strata.

Sep. 03 2013 11:47 AM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

Discussions about race is almost always cast/framed in one-direction, that is prejudice & discrimination is always from whites against blacks. True, that for centuries, it was whites (but remember, a tiny minority of whites) mostly who owned the power structure. But prejudice and discrimination against whites by some blacks also exists. (This is often manifested in retail interactions -- by a hostile bus driver or token booth clerk, or at the checkout line in a supermarket, to take somewhat common examples.)

All that proves is that anyone is capable of prejudice and acting out on it. Human is human.

But it is rarely if ever brought up in the media.

Sep. 03 2013 11:43 AM
The Truth from Becky

What do segments like this accomplish? People are who they are, they believe what they believe, certain people will not change in our lifetime. I personally associate with "like minds" of all races.

Sep. 03 2013 11:43 AM
thatgirl from manhattan

John from the Office: Yes--you're definitely a racist, and you're part of a generation of those not comfortable dropping long-held aspersions, even when they prove to be far less than universal. It's rather like being comfortable with one's ignorance.

Sep. 03 2013 11:43 AM
antonio from baySide

I believe the problem is understanding perspective. Most people in general are too busy keeping their heads above water, they have no time to understand each other And what I mean by understanding is history. And of course there's the social construct of race. It doesn't exist, but everyone loves to rally around what ever privilege one gets from it...

Sep. 03 2013 11:42 AM
CK from Yorktown

Good conversation and call ins. The thing is that you have to be together in some common effort (sports, school, work) to find friends. School did that for me. Work does so now. I think its' more the reason that education really needs to be a focus.

Sep. 03 2013 11:42 AM
Alyson from Brooklyn

I really enjoyed both books. As an Af-Am that grew up in predominately black neighborhood and went to predominately white schools I related to Thurston's book. Colby's book really explained a lot of this dynamic for me such as the oreo/ black lunch table problem that I faced in most of my life. I was an outsider at that table with very little to talk about with my fellow black classmates. Even in NYC, I have come across this problem with the black people I know and spent my latter 20s trying to move out of it. Once I moved toward interracial friendships I found a place where I fit.

Sep. 03 2013 11:42 AM
Aanne from Park Slope

Wish I had more white friends and I am white oh well.

Sep. 03 2013 11:40 AM
Steve from Rockville Centre, NY

I'm white and have had very few black friends outside of work and school. It's not race to me, it's culture. It's the same way that I'm not friends with hispanic immigrants or wall street bankers. We all find our "tribe".

Sep. 03 2013 11:40 AM
thatgirl from manhattan

For anyone remotely interested in the subject, do read Baratunde's work. It's brilliantly-written, and the sociological is rarely put in such a plain-spoken, entertaining fashion. Love him!

Sep. 03 2013 11:39 AM
Roy from Queens

I think the whole interracial relationship issue depends on sharing an experience. Does a white male who has graduated from an Ivy League college have anything in common with an African-American male who doesn't have a high school diploma? No. In my case, I'm an African-American male who can't relate
to most African-American males.

Sep. 03 2013 11:37 AM

race inflaming segment

Sep. 03 2013 11:37 AM
john from office

Black friends usually have an angry black friends who hates whites or a dangerous family member, just my experience. I know I know, I am a racist.

Sep. 03 2013 11:37 AM
Dan from Inwood

I wish I had more black friends. I work in technical theatre & dance & not many people of color work in this field.

In high school (in Maryland) my best friend was black & our favorite comedian was Eddie Murphy.

Sep. 03 2013 11:28 AM

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