Confessions of ‘The Black Friend’

Ruth Onyirimba

For much of my adolescence I carried a secret, a clandestine thought that haunted me almost everywhere I went. Even some of my relationships had become harder and harder for me in certain circumstances, and there was no way of escape, no matter where I turned.

My secret was simply that I absolutely could not stand being “The Black Friend.” These are a few of my confessions.

I remember the days when I would be greeted a bit differently than (literally) everyone else in my friend groups. Friendly waves became peace signs, “Hello” became “Whaddup,” “How are you” became “What it do” and every time someone nicknamed me “Girlfrienddddd,” something inside of me would die a slow, ethnic death.

Back in the day, when the jerk, the dougie and the cat daddy were the new dances on the block, I would reluctantly spend hours per week giving some of my friends one-on-one dance classes. On one hand, it was truly flattering to know that people looked at me and automatically believed that I was blessed with the gift of rhythm. But on the other hand, what if I didn’t add up? What if I couldn’t dance as well as everyone assumed I could? This continues to be an area of stress, especially in the midst of the current “Hit The Quan” era.

What’s more, I was never very fluent in urban vernacular. Although I can appreciate the beauty and importance of a unique manner of speaking, I hated being used as a 24-hour human translator. To be completely honest, I used to spend hours a day looking at flashcards of vocabulary words that I copied off of SAT study guides just for fun, paying little to no attention to “street slang.”

And above anything else, I never, never intended to let people think that a friendship with me equated to automatic exemption from the possibility of saying or doing something racist or prejudiced.

I find it fair to say that very few of my friends at Quinnipiac are culprits of these acts. However, on a more serious note, it’s a burden at any stage in life to know—or to even have to think—that even one of your friends accepts you solely because of the stereotypes that surround you. Even now, in the era of the “sassy gay friend,” this is a nasty habit that we as a society have kept alive and well.

To conclude, I would like to remind us all that human beings should not be used as accessories to make us look more  “hip” and tolerant.

Friend, human beings are people—people with different cultures, different experiences and plenty to teach one another.