How not to have a Black friend

Cross cultural relationships can be a wonderful thing; hell I think they are so wonderful that I married a white guy! Honestly though, there are times when cross cultural relationships can be landmines where one party says or does something that is so outrageous that frankly it endangers the relationship. In honor of Black History Month and a speaking engagement I have tomorrow on Maine’s Public Radio Station (MPBN)  where I along with several others will be discussing what it means to be Black in Maine, today’s post feels quite timely.

I have spoken many times about my greatest challenge of living in Maine, my inability to make friends. No, not acquaintances, friends; people that I really feel I can reach out to if I am in need of a fellow human. The sad truth is I have made very few friends in my decade here and that will probably be the reason I eventually leave Maine. Living here is pretty damn lonely.

Admittedly Mainers appear to be very private people who while pleasant enough, just don’t welcome newcomers into their midst. I get it, I really do. Yet what about the others who like me are from away? Well, I find that too many times, well-meaning people inevitably say or do something that reminds me that they have little experience with people of difference and at this stage in my life; I don’t want to be anyone’s Black friend. Sorry. I did that in high school and I am not doing it again.

In the past several months, there have been signs that this blogging/writing thing might have some real growth potential for being something other than my private thought dump. Obviously, I have been excited, hell; writing has always been a dream of mine. Now I admit maybe I have been too eager to share good news with my” friends”, but isn’t that what we do? We share our ups and downs with friends. On more than one occasion, I have been met with responses that frankly left me shaking my head. People who are really sweet and nice who truly believe they are open minded and that they really aren’t bigots have basically told me “I guess being Black is working well for you.” The implication being that I am a talentless hack and the only reason that anyone pays any attention to anything I am saying is because I am Black. The first time it happened, I brushed it off and gave the person the benefit of the doubt but after a few more very similar exchanges, my spidey sense was alerted.

Hold up! Are you implying that the only reason that I have received any opportunities is because I am Black? Are you actually taking out the much talked about race card and using it on me?  Do you even know what you are saying?

This may seem like a funny conversation considering that the name of this space is ‘Black Girl in Maine’ but that is what I am. Yet what many people who have only known me a few years don’t know is that prior to the realization that I needed to move to Maine, I was in the process of applying to graduate school to with the goal of earning a Ph.D. in African-American studies. That’s what I studied at the undergraduate level and it was only after physically moving to Maine and after I had applied to several graduate programs in the Boston area and was accepted that I realized that distance wise there was no way I could go to an intense graduate program two states over. So, I went to career choice number two which considering that I had already been working in the non-profit sector and I made lemonade out of lemons. When life throws a roadblock up, you either plan out a new route or go back home and going back wasn’t an option.

My passion for African-American studies has never waned and for me to find myself occasionally serving as one of the voices of Black Maine while odd (after all, I am not from Maine, I just live here) is something that I am happy to do.

However to have it implied that it’s only my Blackness that has helped things along is silly at best and quite insulting at worse.  For starters there are 17,000 other Black people in Maine and we are not a monolith and to imply otherwise is to show one’s ignorance. Black folks in Maine are pretty damn diverse; there are Black Mainers with deep roots and history in Maine such as the Talbots. There are the many immigrants and refugees from a variety of African countries who have chosen to make Maine their home and a slew of folks like myself from all over who have chosen to make Maine home.  In this moment, my voice may be one of the Black voices heard often but I don’t speak for anyone other than myself at the end of the day.

Talk of race is always hard but the walls of that great “ism” known as racism will never be broken down if we allow ourselves to hold to stereotypes and assumptions.  If we allow our eyes to never be opened and go back to our comfortable and familiar space that may actually be offensive to others, we can be assured that nothing will change in our personal world…and if you know me, you probably won’t be on my friend list no matter what you tell yourself.

Note: I apologize if my tone comes across as harsh, but I don’t apologize for how I feel. No one likes to feel that they are being othered or seen as less than.

14 thoughts on “How not to have a Black friend

  1. I am in your wheelhouse. Working in construction for the past 15 years, you don’t see a lot of us. I have even gone so far as to attack people on the street looking for a hairdresser. As I have gotten older, I am finding it a little more difficult to gravitate to people and vice versa the way I used to. I have been call extremely afrocentric, and too sensitive. I look forward to reading your posts because it’s nice to know, I am not alone. Keep writing and I will keep reading.

  2. How not to have a Maine friend. This:
    “Note: I apologize if my tone comes across as harsh, but I don’t apologize for how I feel. No one likes to feel that they are being othered or seen as less than.”

    It would help if you had some idea that we already have a culture and have not just been waiting for you to bring us one from Chicago. You aren’t the first person from away to think that you’ve stepped into a big void when you crossed the bridge at Kittery, but it would help if you showed some appreciation of and willingness to learn about us and our culture, background, and history, rather than just being ticked off that we don’t know as much about yours as you think we should.

    Also, it seems that you’ve rarely been north of Portland; there’s a lot more to Maine than York & Cumberland counties, but geez, oblivious! Please at least take some time to read about Franco history here and talk to some elders. They could tell you some stories and you’d understand some things better. Ask the Talbots about Little Canada in Augusta for goodness sake!

    I think we tend to mostly take people as they come, but you are clearly not willing to take us as we come and it’s hard to befriend someone like that. “No one likes to feel that they are being othered or seen as less than.”

    I’ve enjoyed reading you, but it’s just become too frustrating. I keep waiting for a breakthrough, but you’ve lived here quite a while and I don’t think you are ever going to “get” Maine until you can break out of your own trap of stereotypes and expectations. I hope I’m wrong and I wish you the best.

  3. Lynn, your comment does a wonderful job of explaining “why all the black kids sit together in the lunch room”. There is a book by the same name you might want to read it. You also might want to learn the meaning of the terms “micro-aggression” and “racial isolation”.

    1. Born Mainer here, white, and I’m wondering what the harsh part is, or why some people appear to take it personally.

  4. This is a great, complex post. I think it is harder as we get older to make real friends — it is almost a new skill. Friends, in the past,(college, immediate post college pre-kids/ early work years were formed via proximity, but in the more adult times (with kids, new locations and yes, of course, different cultures, backgrounds), it becomes even harder to make enough time (and proximity) to cement learning enough about each other to become close friends.

    I once had a VP imply that if I stayed in a job I was leaving, I would do well because I was a woman! Not because I had just implemented a huge system on time and w/o errors that made him look very, very good, but because I was a woman. Steam out of ears so I know the feeling you have.

    I think that people do have trouble crossing the boundaries of understanding across color boundaries, especially if they haven’t been exposed to it in their lives. Even when they want to and believe they have, may make stupid comments that imply a lack of understanding and full empathy.

    I love how your BGIM has worked for you — you’ve worked hard, you are a great writer and you are honest and you put yourself out there in ways that are startling, sensitive and funny. It’s helped me to understand your perspective about being a minority in a white, very new England state. It’s an important discussion of differences that are hard to necessarily “get” without hearing about it over and over. So I applaud your success — not because you are black but because you have written about who you are, which necessarily encompasses your black skin and background, but also that you had a child at a young age, that you married a white man, that you lost your mother when you were young, that your father is ailing and that you grew up in Chicago with all that urban life brings to who you are.

    Bravo. Keep up the good works and words. I’m a committed reader and I hope you publish a bunch of books!

    1. Thank you so much Terry. Yes, the point I was attempting to make was very much like when a man makes an assumption about a woman in a professional setting. It is demeaning and assumptive. Again, thank you!

      1. In the programming world there are very few females and it’s not infrequent for people to say things to me like “oh, you must do well in this space because you’re the only girl here” and “you just have luck in this space because you have boobs.” It’s usually females themselves that say these things to me, which makes me insane!

        So while I have absolutely no understanding of what it would be like to be one of only 17,000 black people in an ENTIRE state (holy cow!), I do realize how misguided and careless people are with their assumptions. It’s clear that you are a talented writer, a strong woman, and the opinions you share on this blog help a great many folk. You’re doing great work! And yeah, good friends are hard to come by. Let’s get coffee sometime. ;-)

  5. BGIM, I love everything about this. Micro-aggressions wear us down and eventually we have to stand up and shout!

    Lynn, I don’t really see BGIM as bashing Maine. Bashing a few Mainers who, in ignorance, make off the wall? Yes. But the entire state? I just don’t see it.

  6. Where do I begin with a response to this post. I could say so, so much, but I’m just going to get a few things off my chest about comments a poster made.

    First, I want to believe that Lynn above probably “knows” as much about BGIM as most us do. When personal blogs are written such as this, we rely on the author’s words, the text, as we look at it on a screen. We miss an element of the face to face (probably the reason why I’m a lot more comfortable being a let’s-talk-in-person-so-I-can-look-you-in-the-eye communicator); we miss the human-ness of it all. I have never gotten the feeling from reading BGIM’s posts that she’s speaking anything but her truth and being authentic. Frankly, she would have been busted a long time ago if she was trying to pull the wool over any of our eyes. She’s one of 17,000, right? She’s probably not hard to root out. She may write about things that make us shift in our seats uncomfortably at times, but that’s what works for her — she not trying sugarcoat anything.

    Second, I’ve never read her posts to be that he hates or dislikes Mainers or Maine — heck, she’s raising her small child (with her husband) in your state, isn’t she? Obviously, there are things she likes, perhaps even loves, about being there — but, she has some (valid, in her own mind) frustrations. Your statement that because she’s been living there (Maine) for “quite a while” means that she should “get it” is baffling to me. I know of people living in New York who’ve lived here longer than they’ve lived in their “old country” or their “old state” and still don’t “get it”. Yes, believe it or not, even as an adult, living a city of 8+ million people, you can still feel like you don’t know what’s going on, why things happen and feel lonely. (Shocking!)

    Third, Lynn, it is crystal clear that you’ve had a bone to pick with BGIM for a while. This is glaringly evident from your first sentence in your last paragraph. Thankfully, you’ve made your feelings clear to her and all who read her blog, so now she, like us, know where you stand. I guess since you probably thought she made statements that hurt your feelings on behalf of the great state of Maine, you were going to hurt hers from the second paragraph to the end. This sentence of yours was the kicker, and thankfully, you said it very early on (para 2, 1st sentence): “It would help if you had some idea that we already have a culture and have not just been waiting for you to bring us one from Chicago.” Ouch. Wow, sensitive much? I guess it’s one of those things where if I subsitute Chicago with some other city (Boston, LA, NY, Miami, Dallas, etc.) people have rubbed you the wrong way about their comments about 23rd state.

    I’m just curious, although I’m sure she (and all of us) appreciates the historical leads you’ve given her in the third paragraph, what would that have done for her in the moment during what she thought were racially insensitive comments being made, especially from those she thought of as “friends”? Don’t know about you, but it has become harder and harder for this old bird to make new friends. Thank you Terry (above) for making the statements you made about adulthood and friendships; you said it better than I could.

    P.S. BGIM, you are officially on notice that you have one less possibility of a friend in Maine.

  7. Hello, Heard you today on MPBN….great show. Will check out your blog soon. BTW/ you have a very good speaking voice….ever thought about a career in radio?

  8. There is a lot of subtle racism in our society. The Avenue Q song “Everyone is a Little Bit Racist” is much more true than any of us want to believe.

    I love reading your writing and wish you all future success. And I think you can do more African American studies work even without the graduate work.

    I keep thinking I should go for a Ph.D, but look at the job market in academia and think it would just be wasted time.

    Keep writing and publishing your unique voice. I really appreciate it.

  9. With respect, I’d like to second, ditto and say Amen to Mr. Davis-Quinn and all the supportive comments.
    This post and comments had me speechless too. I think your honesty and bravery is stunning. It quiets some of us for a moment as it sinks in and we reflect.

  10. BGIM! Hello! Your presentation on MSNBC’s MHP show last fall was my introduction to you and your blog. I’ve been reading your work for just under 6 months and find it fascinating, compelling, very personal and with a point of view…all the things one hopes from a good blog.

    And I feel your pain! I was a BGIM too, only the “M” was Massachusetts on the New Hampshire border! Born and raised, went to a high school of 2,500 students, 40 of us were “non-White,” that included everybody, Latino, French Canadian and Black…I feel your pain!

    My experience was mostly positive with a few big bumps in the road, but I believe I came out unscathed. I did however, just complete a Phd and was led to a dissertation on Blacks in New England. Hmmm, wonder were that came from?

    Keep writing, don’t abandon your post because a few are struggling to understand an experience unlike their own. It’s o.k. Some cultures are open to people with new experiences, alternative ideas and some are not. That is their own personal work to do, not yours. Keep writing!! And if you do, I’ll keep reading!

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