10 Ways to Tell if You Really have a Black Friend

In an age where conservatives are scrambling to find one person of color to validate themselves as “not with the rest of them,” the lines between true friendship and “that person you met that one time” has become blurred. I think I became the black friend to a white lady I talked to at the park the other day just by our kids playing in the same sandbox. The problem is that there are people who have done the work and are truly friends with people of color. Here are 10 ways that you can tell if your black friend is truly a friend or if you have some more work to do on your end.

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Tiffany Haddish (far left) and Rose Byrne (far right) played two best friends who were true friends in ‘Like a Boss’. They lived together and shared several aspects of their lives with one another, including a business. Byrne’s character was also not afraid to go after anyone who came for her black friend.

I am in a group where someone once called the barber their black friend, the person who validates their claims in racial arguments. Thing is, the barber exchanges his services for the other person’s money. His niceness in this regard is no more than customer service. This is not a friend. If you have to pay to get time with your friend, then she is not a friend. She is serving you.

Yes, this counts even in the age of the internet. There is nothing more intimate than breaking bread together and experiencing the food of another culture. Your black friends could burn a meatloaf as well as you can, but the intimacy of eating in their home says that you are welcome in the household. You are a friend.

This means, you don’t ask questions when your black girlfriends turn down an invite to your pool party, or they show up and won’t get their hair wet. You know what “ashy” means and how to fix it (and that the watery Bath and Body lotion will just get you talked about). You also know that it’s always shea butter over coconut oil, and you also now that we’re not talking about recipes. You know never to ask to touch her hair and to never EVER give the kid any glittery hair baubles. But, you do know she needs extra hands to take out her braids, and her kids get a rub of sunscreen alongside yours.

If that black person is truly your friend, your most precious thing in the world, your child, interacts with theirs regularly. The kids have played at your house and their house. Maybe you’ve had some sleepovers. There is no excuse for this one other than the fact that you or they have no kids. You are truly friends if your black friend trusts you with their kids and vice versa.

Now, you may not know them all. And, #blacktwitter is still a mysterious place for you. Just understanding that the differences exist and aren’t “ghetto,” but a part of the black culture shows that you’ve been learning from a black friend. You may know what “black girl magic” has to do with Grey’s Anatomy and why your black girlfriend may can an evil old man “Mister.”

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Jessica Chastain and Octavia Butler play a woman and her maid in the film. Although they do bond, the friendship does begin to manifest,

My kids call it my “black mama” speak and my sister calls it our “sista girl” talk. Whatever your black friend calls it, she has been comfortable enough to slide into it with you around. You will recognize it as a vernacular and tone change that is tinted with a little attitude and dipped in the urban dictionary. You will hear it mostly in times of high stress or emotion. If you hear the codeswitch during your own conversation, then you are truly friends.

This person will give you an honest, unadulterated answer, even if offensive to white people. Ask your black friend what white privilege is. Go ahead. Did the answer make you a bit uncomfortable? Did you tell her that sounds like racism? Did she fire back at you about how THAT was your privilege at work? These are the conversations you have when you have a real black friend. You two can talk about sensitive racial issues honestly, even if they do get uncomfortable.

I have a longtime white friend who is conservative. However, because we have other aspects of our friendship binding us together, politics did not end our relationship. Unlike a lot of people I did unfriend on social media, this friend knew when people representing her politics were out to get people who looked like me. She did not stand for it and often became a great ally in discussion with trolls (one of whom is a mutual friend I did have to ditch because the Trumpism was too toxic.) We still bitch about our kids and moan about our husbands. We also still talk about politics.

Your real black friend will tell you when your privilege is showing or when something you posted is a hair from being racist. She’s talked to you about gaslighting and recommended a few readings on it all. And you, while not completely okay with her observations, decide to give her the benefit of the doubt because she is the expert on blackness in the relationship. You may get mad, but you do consider her words and come back to the friendship. In the end, you have a lot to learn and she has a lot of experience to offer.

You two talk, text, visit, and communicate often and not just about race. You are friends who share about every aspect of your lives. Even if your husband and kids don’t get along, the two of you do. That’s what matters.

Before you go backing your claims on race by that one black friend you know, check the relationship and be sure that the person is indeed a friend. In this day and age when people are claiming fake friendships with people of color, it is also easy to get called out on the fraud.

Written by

Jonita Davis is a writer, film critic, and professor. She’s a member of NABJ, AAFCA, a Rotten Tomatoes critic, and an adjunct professor.

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