Opinions, Column

Realizations on Having Race-Based Friendships

Coming into Boston College, I thought one of the most difficult challenges would be making white friends. As a Korean-American who grew up in an almost entirely Asian community, I had not been in a very diverse pool. And whenever anyone from my hometown left the nest, those left behind wondered how they would fare as a minority in college: Would they be able to assimilate and have a “normal” group of friends? Or would they end up categorized as the Asian nerds, who only associated with each other? It was a silent question, a criterion that permeated my shared headspace of my community.

The main reason why I felt I needed some white friends was that having only Asian friends could actually hinder me from making friends of other backgrounds: In the past, I have experienced many racist conclusions about minorities who stick together.

“Do you speak English?” asked a Caucasian lady in a museum stairwell. I was in New York with my seven closest friends, and the question left us speechless—which did not really assist in convincing the woman that we could all speak perfect English.

Though such quips are much rarer here at BC, moments like these are familiar memories to minorities. No one sees an all-white friend group and passes such judgments. In fact, no one thinks anything at all because white people do not need to make excuses for hanging out with only other white people. On the other hand, as authors Gerald and Marianne Corey say in “I Never Knew I Had a Choice”, “when a group of black teens sit together in the cafeteria, school administrators want to understand why this is so and how this can be prevented.” This view that minorities only stick together as a “coping mechanism” contributes to the incorrect idea that people of color only spend time with other people of color because something has gone wrong.

The primary issue of focusing solely on making “white friends” is that it idolizes the Caucasian race. In doing so, it makes me feel that I am second-rate, that I could never be at the top of the social chain because I am Asian. Despite these red flags, this pressure is normalized and even embraced by my community. “Have you made any white friends?” my mother asks during one of our phone calls. “White people!” reads a Snapchat caption from a high school acquaintance, flaunting the fact that she had Caucasian friends.

In the beginning of the year, when I entered a classroom or participated in a residence hall activity, I found myself once again shifting over to the Asians, deciding to sit with those I saw as familiar, even though I barely knew them. And at the end of the day, I would feel this gnawing worry in my mind. I was driven by the fear that, if I chose an Asian crowd from the get-go, I would automatically be considered the kind of girl with whom white students did not associate. And so I began studying in the lounge rather than in my room, or staying up a bit later, so that I could meet the Caucasian people in my residence hall. These little actions, though driven by a want to socialize more often, were also motivated by that small part in the back of my mind that told me this was what I needed to do.

One night my friends and I stayed up to watch The Princess Diaries, and I looked around the room to size up the demographic—a habit I had begun to develop after coming to BC. In a rare turn of events, it was 50:50 Asian and Caucasian. I felt this strange pride in myself, as if I had accomplished something astounding. As the night went on, like any other night, I made conversation and we all talked about how our days went. The conversations we had were just as pleasant and regular as the ones I had with my Asian friends. There was nothing at all otherworldly or particular about these new friends I had made. And I was never expecting there to be. I knew that just as there was not something in my Asian-ness that made me inherently undesirable, there was nothing in their Caucasian-ness that made them as special as I saw them in my head. It was only a delusion that told me I needed this race—this validation.

I chased after “white friends” to fit a mold, to fulfill a goal I thought I had set for myself, but one that my community had actually set for me. There was nothing wrong with wanting to meet new people of different backgrounds, or with seeking a more diverse friend group. It was just that my obsession with this idea of a “white friend” was turning this innocent motivation into something twisted.

By my second semester at Boston College, I have learned to gradually let go of this obsession. I am still not perfect at it, and I doubt I ever will be. Just recognizing this mentality in the first place, however, has helped me to prevent it as much as possible. So far, I have enjoyed spending time with the friends that I have chosen, and I do feel that being around them enables me to become a more active participant in my community. Those aspects—whether or not I enjoy their company, whether or not we make each other better people—are the ones I choose to focus on, because they are the ones that I have realized actually matter.

January 21, 2019