Photo Credit: Bradhoc, Creative Commons
Guest Post by Leroy Barber
Yesterday I talked to friend who is a white male middle-aged leader in the non-profit world and he confessed that in his inner circles there is no one who is black, and for that matter, no one of color. In his lament he was truly confessing and wanting to repent. He wants to start again.
The big question then is how. How does a white man in his 50s make new friends? It’s hard for anyone to look outside their social circles for new friends, and this is especially hard for middle-aged folks like me.
This is one of the most insidious things about racism in America. We are not friends, nor do we fully know how to engage with people outside our circles. This has caused injustice to burn out of control, racism to run rampant, and we are left paralyzed when it comes to practical ways to recover.
So how do you make friends, and friends with people of color, if you find yourself in the same place as this man? I think there are ways to start.
1) Read books written by people of color and discuss them
2) Routinely go shopping in a mall or store on the other side of town
3) Watch different TV shows
4) Listen to a different radio station
5) Go to a different coffee shop
6) Go see movies with a mostly black cast
7) Attend a black church routinely (once a month or quarter)
8) Give to an organization led by a person of color
9) Go see a play written and performed by people of color
10) Visit the African American museum close to you
11) Go to a sporting event with a person of color at your place of employment
12) Take your church small group to a protest or rally
13) Set up regular prayer time with a person of color
14) Put your kids in an activity where they will interact with children of color
Please don’t get me wrong, we have some very deep problems and concerns to get through as it pertains to racism and injustice and these things are by no means the answer. I do however believe they may at least move us a step closer in understanding, and create space for new friendships and relationships to emerge across existing lines. This is not meant to be a checklist—and any steps should be taken authentically, not mechanically or as a means to an end—but ideas to begin engaging from a different place.
Lastly, may I also offer a final piece of a advice. Working in a place where you are “serving” people of color is not necessarily the best way to establish a relationship. I have nothing against serving, but the power dynamics created don’t make space for friendship very easy.
Here are a few book suggestions if you want to check them out: The New Jim Crow, Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith, Race Matters, The Autobiography of Malcolm X and The Cross and the Lynching Tree.