My First White Friend

My bookshelf is peppered with them: dusty books on racial reconciliation that often scream for me to clean and read them. They sit among my favorites: books on spiritual warfare and women’s discipleship, Nikki Giovanni poetry and all things James Baldwin. But the racial reconciliation books sit there, tucked away with little chance of speaking to me and helping me to integrate my life. They remind me of my relationships with the non-black women that I have known: With Stephie, Denise, Gina, Laura Kim, and Laila, I was excited about the connection, but then something happened and the newness became a thing of the past. My relationship with Stephie is the best example of this.

We met during a rehearsal for the Saks Fifth Avenue Teen Board fashion show we were in. She just started talking to me, and we hit it off. Stephie was funny and fashion conscious and our conversations flowed freely. To be honest, I thought she was a light-skinned black girl because she had dark curly hair and a deep tan. I don’t remember when I found out she was white, but it didn’t matter to me. We had bonded and Stephie became my first white friend. This was the summer of 1984.

For the next few months, we talked for hours on the phone and made plans for a sleepover that winter. Her mom agreed that I would spend the night at their home, but the elder’s conversations with me revealed a change of heart. She warned me that I would be the only black person at Stephie’s high school basketball game and told me that I would probably be uncomfortable. And she wanted to know what “special foods” I ate, expressing her inability to cook something other than what she was used to cooking. In spite of her attempts to deter me, I went to her home in her nearly all-white town.

The basketball game was snowed out, so Stephie and I hung out in her room and chatted like we did on the phone. This time she occasionally included her mom in the conversations. “Mom, look at her Guess Jeans. Aren’t they nice?” “Mom, she has a Coach purse.” I felt uncomfortable being on display, and that discomfort continued when at dinner her mom asked me what my parents did for a living and a host of other questions about my family and lifestyle. Breakfast the next morning was comfortable, but I felt antsy again when Stephie blurted out “You have a big house” as they pulled into my driveway after bringing me home. They met my family, glanced around the house and then went on their way. That was the last time I saw Stephie in a social setting. After our sleepover she would sneak to call me because “my mother said I couldn’t be your friend.” When her mother caught her sneaking to call me, all our contact ended, and though I have my suspicions, I am not quite sure why.

So like my books, for years I have shelved any potential relationships with non-black women. The pain of rejection has been too great. But those books have been screaming to be cleaned and read. And because I met Natalia Powers I might just do that. You’ll have to read the next post to find out who she is.

Copyright 2010 by Rhonda J. Smith


7 responses to “My First White Friend

  1. Rosemerry Allen

    Thank you Min. Rhonda – I’m sure others can relate to your story – I know I can. I can’t wait to hear more about Natalia Powers. I find her to be a fascinating woman of God. Your Black History month prospectives have been motivational, uplifting and inspiring for all people, and a great recognition of accomplishments and achievements of African Americans.

  2. This is juicy! I can’t wait to read the next episode even though I already know what happened. LOL

    Proud Hubby

  3. Nicole Washington

    Wow…that’s awesome. We have so many fears and hesitation to anything that we may have been hurt by, thought we were over or not sure how to process. I had an interesting conversation a few weeks ago with some co-workers and they were saying they pretty much don’t see what’s wrong with the division of racial socializing. I begged to differ. I can’t and never could understand why we as black people harbor some of the same feelings as those that are racist. Separation that keeps us comfortable and proteced or not trying to understand the unknown or different. We disguise it and say things like…well we have to start our own cause the white people won’t let us join theirs. I’m more on the lines of, where are the Martin Luther King Jr’s of today! Why are we fearful, why is it that we don’t show the true heart of the civil rights movement….equality. No race is better or worse. It’s alot of ghetto whites just as it is blacks. It’s a lot of professional blacks as there are whites. I don’t quite get why we have the Dove Awards and the Stellar Awards yet still we try to promote Christian love. If I didn’t know Christ, I’m not sure how quick I would be to believe what we preach.
    When I was a student at William Tyndale in the 2000-2001 school year, I encountered my 1st racist act so to speak or maybe I should say that I noticed. I came into class not feeling either way about being in a predominately white school, I was raised around whites, my cousins are mixed so I didn’t care one way or the other what “they” thought of me, if they were even thinking about me. One thing my mom taught me growing up, everyone’s issue can’t be yours, you’ll drive yourself crazy.
    So, I sat next to a white girl and she looked at me, fidgeted in her seat and moved. I was like wow, what was that? The Holy Spirit immediately showed me, my race. But instead of the mature approach I was highly offended, in my thinking I’m trying to figure out how anyone, had the nerve to mistreat someone because of their skin color. So later that semester a teacher who was very cool to me on so many different levels asked me if I had encountered any racism. I’m thinking ok, where did that come from? But I told him what happened earlier in the session and I guess I was heated cause he said, you have two choices, you either take it out on the rest of us white folks or you go make it right. I’m like, make what right?! She moved, not me it’s her problem not mine!! He said, “It is your problem cause you’re the one in the room yelling at me.”
    I had to pray on that one cause I was too heated to get it, and it hit me, if I’m heated, I’m effected, if I’m effected , I’m harboring unforgiveness and resentment. Which shocked me because I thought I had moved on, yet I suppressed it and not yet released it.
    I knew the young lady that moved from me was pregnant. She had been complaining of morning sickness and how scared she was. So the Lord said to get her the information I used when I was pregnant with my 1st son. At first I was hesitant scared, but I was reminded of my professors words. So I bought her the book, What to Expect When Your Expecting, saltine crackers and lemons. When I gave it to her in class, she looked at it and I told her everything was new and I just wanted to help, she said thanks, so I took that as an invitation, so I sat next to her and I asked her about moving the first day in class and to my surprise she blurted out, “I’ve never been around black people before, and I didn’t know what to do.” That opened up so much conversation about what she had heard, what she saw on TV, jokes made etc. However, we became good friends over the course of our class, she moved her seat back next to mine and I helped her in her early trimester of pregnancy. Unfortunately, we lost contact after William Tyndale closed, but I met alot of white people that were guess what….regular people, no different than me and my family and friends. One white girl had a drunk uncle, guess what so did I. One white guy had a crush on someone in class, guess what so did I. I bet if I pinched any race of any kind they would feel pain too.
    Now I’m NOT saying that the obvious is not there, yes racism still exist on both sides. But the reality is, in Christ we are to put off the old and walk in the newness of Christ by all means necessary and in EVERY area of our lives, especially our greatest fears cause love can’t operate properly if we don’t REJECT what holds us back from experiencing the joys of love and loving people, All people. If we don’t make those moves of reconciliation, fearlessness, and Christian love, we’ll never get past this “us- versus- them” mentality and that goes against the very thing we as Christians say we believe.
    Just my thought…thnks Minister Rhonda for always putting the challenging topics of our reality in front of us.
    God Bless

  4. musingsofastrongblackwoman

    Thanks, Babe. I wanted you all to be in suspense (LOL).

  5. musingsofastrongblackwoman

    I thank you, Sister Rosemerry. I’m glad you have been able to appreciate what God has placed on my heart. Thanks for reading.

  6. Thanks Rhonda! I was on the Saks Fifth Avenue Teen Board at their Fairlane location outside Detroit in 1982. I think the Teen Board was a cultural awakening for lots of people.

  7. musingsofastrongblackwoman

    Clarence, my Teen Board experience was also at Fairlane. And, yes, what a cultural awakening it was. Thanks for reading.

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