I've been trying to branch out to people that are not my race, ethnicity or background. After a semester of trying things out, I managed to make friends, but they feel like nodding acquaintances now. What do you think we can do to establish friendships in Richmond between different communities? Do we inherently gravitate towards those who look and act like us?
This is a really thought-provoking question. I’ve wrestled with this question for a minute, and I’d like to explain why before going into my response.
At the University of Richmond, it is easy to get trapped into what I will call social bubbles. For example, I’m a Black woman and a senior on campus. Most of the time, I find myself gravitating toward people of color – with a special focus on Black students – and seniors. It’s natural, and it’s expected.
I believe it becomes a problem, however, when we can’t get the bubble to pop.
As I said, it is natural to want to be friends with those who look and act like us – there is a reason I go to a church where people look like me, participate in clubs where people look like me and go to events where there are people like me. It is unacceptable, however, to believe that we can exist in the world today while only participating in those spheres.
And frankly, there’s much more to the world than that.
Before I move on, I have to add that people of color are sort of forced to participate in spheres where people do not look or act like them – we attend a predominately white institution – but I digress.
I applaud you for trying to branch out to people who do not share your race, ethnicity or background. There are not many people on this campus who I believe truly make an effort to do so. And that isn’t a dig, but after attending UR for four years, it’s what I see.
In order to create deeper relationships with people from different communities, I believe it takes work on both ends. I don’t necessarily believe in the notion that relationships should be exactly 50/50 – there are times when I struggle with classes or family and need a friend to lean on to be the 60% to my 40%. But both parties should at the very least always be prepared to take on whatever the role may be.
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I’m not sure who it is you’re trying to be friends with, but if I had to offer my advice, it would be to invest in activities and events that you may not have thought of attending or participating in before.
I offer this advice with an abundance of caution. Do not approach your Black friend asking to get fried chicken sometime, or asking if they’ve heard the latest album by a Black artist. I do think, however, it couldn’t hurt to suggest joining them at a party or meeting hosted by the Black Student Alliance. (I refer to Black people here only because it is the identity I hold closest – I encourage you to seek out other cultures as well.)
Of equal importance, I would not suggest asking your friend about all the happenings on campus relating to people from certain backgrounds. It is not a student of color’s responsibility to tell you why the names of each of the buildings were changed. It is not their responsibility to get you up to speed on the latest regarding microaggressions in the classroom.
While it doesn’t hurt to talk about it at times, I don’t exactly enjoy delving into “The People of Color Times” or “The Low-Income Post” in my free time.
I suggest mindfully educating yourself.
Lastly, these people you speak of from different backgrounds are still just people. I advise you to treat them how you would like to be treated. What is it that you look for in a friend? Be that to the person you want to be friends with, and I guarantee you’ll have a great relationship on your hands.
This was a really great question – one that I admit made me think about the way this campus is. I hope my response provokes thoughtful reflection on the friendships you’ve come across.
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