Strange Fruit: Interracial Friendship in America, or, “Some of My Best Friends…”

How multi-racial is your circle of friends? Are any of your close friends of a different race than yours? Not the lady who works down the hall from your office or the dad you chat with while waiting for your kid to get out of school. Someone who’s been to your house or invited you over for dinner.

 

A recent poll by Reuters found that the many white people – 40% – have no friends outside their race. We on Strange Fruit figure this is probably no surprise to black folks. Among people of color, 25% of respondents said they didn’t have friends outside their race.

We wanted to talk more about the reasons why this might be the case, and what historical and demographic factors created the situation. So we spoke to Tanner Colby, author of Some of My Best Friends Are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America.

Tanner realized while volunteering for Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008 that he actually had no black friends. So he went on a cross-country research trip to examine interracial friendship, and on this week’s show, he shared his findings with us.

At the end of the show, we turned our focus inward to talk about some of our own experiences of interracial friendships (and speaking of personal narratives, we’d be remiss if we didn’t point you to Friend to the Show Dr. Brittney Cooper’s Salon piece, The Politics of Being Friends with White People).

In our Juicy Fruit segment this week, we of course had to address the Miley Cyrus Situation. While our hosts disagreed – Dr. Story has no time for Miley and Jaison thinks she’s actually poking fun at ideas of race in music – it did lead to a larger conversation on the ways artists take on and cast off cultural and racial signifiers. We’ve seen it with white artists like Justin Timerblake, who started out poppy then moved into a more R&B aesthetic. We’ve also seen it with artists of color like J-Lo and Mariah Carey.

Do non-white artists have to adopt a “mainstream” (read: white) sound to get a foot in the door, and can later be more real with their work? And why do white artists seem to use black culture when they want to seem more mature, sexual, or distant from their bubble-gum pop beginnings?

Laura Ellis

Laura is the producer of Strange Fruit, a weekly talk show focusing on race and gender, and produces other news & feature programming.

@funambulator

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