The biggest lie I ever heard was that if someone makes an offensive joke and you want to call them out on it, simply pretend you don’t understand, ask them to explain it, and watch them struggle. I remember being in my junior or senior year of high school and getting on my path to wokeness. One of the people at my desk group in class had made a really racist joke about black people and my ultra nervous black bodied self had a sudden boost of courage. I was ready to speak out.
“I don’t get it,” I said. “Why is the joke funny?”
“Of course you get it, Olivia,” they replied.
“No. Please explain it to me,” I tried once more.
“Well, black people like to commit crimes,” they said in a very matter of fact tone. And then they laughed and a few other people at my table chuckled and then I then I forced myself to chuckle too, even though my face felt hot and I could feel myself begin to sweat. Inside I was embarrassed and very, very angry. On the outside, though, I was the respectable black friend, backtracking after almost killing everyone’s vibe. These were my friends, and I didn’t want to lose them.
While that story may have seemed like one about racism, it’s actually about how I didn’t have many friends in high school. Though, I still anecdotally refer to these people as my friends and genuinely believed them to be at the time, in hindsight, it’s very odd when your white friends tell your black self that they believe that people who look like you are “welfare queens” or people who “like to commit crimes.” Of course, this was always followed by a caveat that I was cool, because “Olivia’s not like the other black people. I’m blacker than her,” except for when they wanted to say the n-word, at which point I became the blackest woman on the planet.
The problem wasn’t necessarily an issue that a lot of the people I hung out with at school expressed discriminatory opinions about people who look like me – though that definitely was a major part of it. The main problem was that they were people that I literally only saw in school or at school functions. When I was at home during the weekends or breaks, my mom would often ask me about calling my friends or hanging out with them. In reality, I didn’t even have a lot of their phone numbers to meet up with them if I wanted to.
For the most part, the only reason I went out of the house was to do something with my parents. And I thought this was very normal. I knew a lot of the people I talked to at school did things together without me outside of school. They would talk about it at lunch or tell me how much fun they had over the weekend, but I had no clue how to jump in on these events or initiate my own. Then, when I did have people invite me to things, I never really knew how to follow up. Of course, it makes no sense that I thought that this was a very normal way to live my life, but the only other solution was admitting that I didn’t have friends and that I was upset about it.
Because I didn’t have good friendships, I never had many opportunities for disclosure. When something traumatic happened in my life, like my parents almost losing their house or wondering if I would be able to afford to go to college, I couldn’t ever tell anyone how I was really feeling. I had to keep these things as secrets, because it never felt safe to disclose to anyone at any time. I would get very stressed out and desperately wish that someone would ask me what was going on, while simultaneously being so afraid that people would notice and want me to tell them. I couldn’t even keep a diary or a journal, because I was too afraid to expose my thoughts, even if I was the only person who would read them.
As a result, I also did a very bad job of keeping the friendships that I did have from before this time. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t as close to those people anymore or why our relationship had changed. So instead of responding to the times when they reached out to me or even asked for my help, I phased them out, because I was too afraid to be around them again. I didn’t know how to be their friend.
Isolation is dangerous, because it makes you become accustomed to things that aren’t normal. It wasn’t normal that many friends made me feel uncomfortable because I’m black. It wasn’t normal that many of my friends didn’t seem interested in seeing me outside of school. It wasn’t normal that I would go to bed most days wondering whether or not the people I was around actually liked me. It wasn’t normal that I didn’t feel comfortable keeping up with my old friends. It wasn’t normal that I never felt safe enough to tell the people around me about my life. Most importantly, it was not normal that I genuinely believed that I was not allowed to share my thoughts or feelings with others.
Though I didn’t have many quality friends, thankfully I was not completely isolated. In these moments of isolation, I began blogging, though I never told anyone except my parents. I got to show off my creative side and make terrible fashion posts that I was incredibly proud of. I got to talk about some of the things I was too afraid to tell anyone at school that I liked, such as anime and One Direction. I made online friends who I could share some of my secret thoughts with and hear there’s too.
Then, I went to college where I met new in-person friends. We go out to restaurants together. We take pictures together. We sit on our laptops and watch TV together. We go on “just because” outings together. We even have a groupchat that I don’t even keep on mute. I tell them when I’m feeling stressed or down or happy and I’m definitely going to do some ultra hard ugly crying when we part ways after graduating (though this time I’m planning to keep in touch)!
I still keep a lot of things to myself, much more than I should, but it’s comforting to know that there are people wanting and willing to listen when I do choose to share. Ultimately, it’s nice to know that I’m not alone and that there are people invested in making sure that I never have to feel that way again. With my friends I can be the best version of myself and learn how to become Liv 2.0. I can take on my fears with them, come to them for guidance, and learn how to be a better friend. After many years of isolation, I feel refreshed, rejuvenated, hydrated, and full of much hope.
It is the process through which we seek connection and wish for other to feel connected that we become better people. As such, this post is for everyone who is a friend, is learning to be a friend, or is seeking a friend.
Thanks for reading!
Until next time, have an awesome rest of your day and an amazing rest of your week!