By Brittney Cooper
A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, which found that 40 percent of white people and 25 percent of nonwhite people have no friends of the opposite race, caused me to reflect deeply on the friendship segregation that has characterized my own life.
These days most of my close friends are black. No. Let me be honest. All my close friends are black. One of my BFFs likes to joke that all of my white friends were grandfathered in before 1998, the year I graduated high school.
In third grade, during the Presidential election of 1988, my grandmother asked me whom I was voting for. To her utter dismay, I proudly announced “Bush!” unsuspectingly mimicking the overwhelming choice that my young classmates had made during the class “election.” She looked at me, shook her head forcefully and said, “Naw, Girl! Dukakis!” It would be many years before I understood that the difference in political orientations was just one of the many substantive differences between me and my classmates.
I had only begun to have white friends the year prior when I found myself newly “tracked” into the higher-achieving second grade class based on superior reading ability. Scattered into a predominantly white classroom among only a handful of black students left me desperately wanting to culturally fit in and sound like my peers, especially since the vast majority of black children I knew stayed concentrated in the “B” and “C” tracks. My awkward attempts to fit in resulted in me being teased mercilessly by my black peers, who from then on through the better part of high school both accused and found me guilty of “talking too proper,” “acting white” and, perhaps most egregious of all, “thinking I was white.”
I was grateful for the friendship of a white girl in my class, Amanda. I’m not sure why we were drawn to each other, but more and more, we became each other’s primary playmates during recess. By fourth grade, Amanda and I were joined at the hip, so much so that our teacher, a Black lady named Mrs. Gaulden, still my all-time favorite teacher, called us Ebony and Ivory after the famous song. Amanda directed the classroom production of “Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott,” starring yours truly as Rosa Parks.