This week I met a Black girl who doesn’t want to be my friend. Well, let me take that back. We didn’t meet this week. We met a couple of months ago, both of us newcomers to the university where I’m doing a postdoc. My custom in academic spaces is to make sure I meet and try to get to know every sister in the space, because there are so few of us. However, my interactions with this one particular sister have been inexplicably terse and strained. I had hoped we might be friends because we are both junior academics, new to this space, and we share the same alma mater, although by several years difference.
After attempting to get to know her through casual conversations that never seemed to quite work, I was hoping at a brunch over the weekend with a couple of other sister academics to make a connection with her. Instead, she continued with her terse, uneasy, awkward, social manner, all of which are forgivable offenses, particularly knowing that many academics tend to be awkward. But then, without warning, she made a rude, uncalled for, off-the-cuff remark to me, the contents of which I’ll leave unsaid.
I played it off, and changed the subject, but it was definitely off-putting. Ever the optimist especially when it comes to Black women and friendship, I still thought that perhaps what she said had come off the wrong way or that I had taken it the wrong way. So when I saw her at a holiday party this week, though I was a little wary, I made it a point to speak to her…though she had already looked at me and ignored me one time. But when she then gave me her customary half-hearted wave of acknowledgement (or dismissal depending on your vantage point), and proceeded to have a lively conversation with the (white) colleague standing next to her, I had to accept, that for whatever reason, when it comes to me, at worst, she dislikes me or at best, is indifferent.
Though her rejection and her rude remarks have stung, it is good to be at peace (or actively making peace) with the fact that every Black girl academic that I encounter won’t be my friend.
I’d be lying if I didn’t wanna tell ol’ girl to #gokickrocks. (And a few other things.)But that is generally not productive.
I think twelve year old me—the me that struggled to find Black girl friends, accused as I was of “acting white” and being a nerd (and thus uncool); the me that made the girls in the Baby-Sitters Club Series and the Sweet Valley Twins series my friends, because I identified with them, Black though they were not—would be both excited and surprised to find that 31 year old me has all the Black girlfriends I can stand (and more). Thirteen year old me would love to know that there are Black girls in the world who don’t make mistreatment the price for friendship.
I was that girl who put up with being talked about and bullied, apologized first in fights I didn’t start, and hung around with girls who occasionally liked to make me the butt of mean jokes, just because they knew I was desperate to be liked. To be affirmed by girls who looked like me, girls who understood why I couldn’t get my perm wet in the swimming pool (and whose parents wouldn’t give my mama and me the side eye for insisting so), girls who knew what it meant to talk one way at school, and another at home; girls whose choice of adolescent crush were either the bad boys of Jodeci or the good boys of Boyz II Men.
The grown-up version of myself knows what my girl-self couldn’t know:
- everybody won’t like you, and that ain’t your problem;
- if you show yourself friendly, friends will come;
- just because others have an issue with me, doesn’t mean I have an issue.
On most days, I still see Black women as part of a Divine Rah-Rah Sisterhood. I know it’s a fiction, but given the popularity of Girlfriends, Living Single, and their warped parallel universe counterparts Real Housewives of ATL and Basketball Wives, I’d say I’m not the only one invested in that fiction.
I still believe in Black women and friendship. For when we are in a healthy and loving place, it is Black women who are my air, who give me space to be, breathe life into me, when others would suffocate me into silence.
Black women have been my salvation. But we can’t save those, who don’t wanna be saved.
In relieving myself of the expectations that I befriend every Black woman, (especially ones with issues a mile wide and a soul deep) and relieving other Black women of those expectations, I create the room to receive the wonderful life sustaining friendships that I’m meant to have. And in choosing not to focus on the one sister who has treated me badly, I celebrate the wonderful sister scholars in this space who have embraced me with open arms and made my journey here a joy. I’m thankful for them.
In the face of this rejection, I don’t have to succumb the intra-misogyny that Black women inflict on each other. Because in the face of all the Black women who have loved me, I simply know better.
So the first great commandment of my Black girl feminism remains, “Thy Shalt Love Thy Sister as Thyself,” but in being my sisters’ keepers I now take the time to know who my sisters are, and I make sure that the relationships I insist on keeping are in fact worth having.
(Y’all know I occasionally like to leave a soundtrack, so I thought a throwback joint on friendship from some of the original Hip-Hop feminists was in order…enjoy!)