Is It Ever Okay to Tell a Sister to Go Kick Rocks?: Black Women and Friendship

 

This week I met a Black girl who doesn’t want to be my friend. Well, let me take that back. We didn’t meet this week. We met a couple of months ago, both of us newcomers to the university where I’m doing a postdoc. My custom in academic spaces is to make sure I meet and try to get to know every sister in the space, because there are so few of us. However, my interactions with this one particular sister have been inexplicably terse and strained. I had hoped we might be friends because we are both junior academics, new to this space, and we share the same alma mater, although by several years difference.

After attempting to get to know her through casual conversations that never seemed to quite work, I was hoping at a brunch over the weekend with a couple of other sister academics to make a connection with her. Instead, she continued with her terse, uneasy, awkward, social manner, all of which are forgivable offenses, particularly knowing that many academics tend to be awkward. But then, without warning, she made a rude, uncalled for, off-the-cuff remark to me, the contents of which I’ll leave unsaid.

I played it off, and changed the subject, but it was definitely off-putting. Ever the optimist especially when it comes to Black women and friendship, I still thought that perhaps what she said had come off the wrong way or that I had taken it the wrong way. So when I saw her at a holiday party this week, though I was a little wary, I made it a point to speak to her…though she had already looked at me and ignored me one time. But when she then gave me her customary half-hearted wave of acknowledgement (or dismissal depending on your vantage point), and  proceeded to have a lively conversation with the (white) colleague standing next to her, I had to accept, that for whatever reason, when it comes to me, at worst, she dislikes me or at best, is indifferent.  

Though her rejection and her rude remarks have stung, it is good to be at peace (or actively making peace) with the fact that every Black girl academic that I encounter won’t be my friend.

I’d be lying if  I didn’t wanna tell ol’ girl to #gokickrocks.  (And a few other things.)But that is generally not productive.

I think twelve year old me—the me that struggled to find Black girl friends, accused as I was of “acting white” and being a nerd (and thus uncool); the me that made the girls in the Baby-Sitters Club Series and the Sweet Valley Twins series my friends, because I identified with them, Black though they were not—would be both excited and surprised to find that 31 year old me has all the Black girlfriends I can stand (and more). Thirteen year old me would love to know that there are Black girls in the world who don’t make mistreatment the price for friendship.

 I was that girl who put up with being talked about and bullied, apologized first in fights I didn’t start, and hung around with girls who occasionally liked to make me the butt of mean jokes, just because they knew I was desperate to be liked. To be affirmed by girls who looked like me, girls who understood why I couldn’t get my perm wet in the swimming pool (and whose parents wouldn’t give my mama and me the side eye for insisting so), girls who knew what it meant to talk one way at school, and another at home; girls whose choice of adolescent crush were either the bad boys of Jodeci or the good boys of Boyz II Men.

The grown-up version of myself knows what my girl-self couldn’t know:

  • everybody won’t like you, and that ain’t your problem;
  • if you show yourself friendly, friends will come;
  • just because others have an issue with me, doesn’t mean I have an issue.

On most days, I still see Black women as part of a Divine Rah-Rah Sisterhood. I know it’s a fiction, but given the popularity of Girlfriends, Living Single, and their warped parallel universe counterparts Real Housewives of ATL and Basketball Wives, I’d say I’m not the only one invested in that fiction.

I still believe in Black women and friendship. For when we are in a healthy and loving place, it is Black women who are my air, who give me space to be, breathe life into me, when others would suffocate me into silence.

Black women have been my salvation. But we can’t save those, who don’t wanna be saved.

In relieving myself of the expectations that I befriend every Black woman, (especially ones with issues a mile wide and a soul deep) and relieving other Black women of those expectations, I create the room to receive the wonderful life sustaining friendships that I’m meant to have. And in choosing not to focus on the one sister who has treated me badly, I celebrate the wonderful sister scholars in this space who have embraced me with open arms and made my journey here a joy. I’m thankful for them.

In the face of this rejection, I don’t have to succumb the intra-misogyny that Black women inflict on each other.  Because in the face of all the Black women who have loved me, I simply know better.

So the first great commandment of my Black girl feminism remains, “Thy Shalt Love Thy Sister as Thyself,” but in being my sisters’ keepers I now take the time to know who my sisters are, and I make sure that the relationships I insist on keeping are in fact worth having. 

(Y’all know I occasionally like to leave a soundtrack, so I thought a throwback joint on friendship from some of the original Hip-Hop feminists was in order…enjoy!)

 

crunktastic

28 thoughts on “Is It Ever Okay to Tell a Sister to Go Kick Rocks?: Black Women and Friendship

  1. I really love this post and the line that stood out for me is “Thirteen year old me would love to know that there are Black girls in the world who don’t make mistreatment the price for friendship.” For so many women, mistreating other women is supposedly some new cultural social norm but I refuse to give in because much like you “I now take the time to know who my sisters are, and I make sure that the relationships I insist on keeping are in fact worth having.” Thank you for blessing me to day with these truly evocative and penetrating words of wisdom.

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I think a lot of women feel obligated to be on one side of the continuum or the other: either befriend all other women or be catty and competitive.

    Everybody, even Black women, aren’t going to click, connect and get along with each other, much less be friends. I really think that’s a lot to expect. It’s reasonable to expect civility, general support and even an ally, but I don’t believe that it’s misogyny if another Black woman doesn’t want to be your friend. It just means that different people have different personalities that can come into conflict, different temperaments, experiences, interests, etc. Black Womanhood is a big umbrella and while we all have that in common there’s a lot of differences among us, some of which might not be able to be overcome enough to develop bonds of friendship.

    Personally, I’m not initially gregarious and don’t connect immediately, and I tend to be somewhat reserved with everyone, whether they are Black women or not, until I feel comfortable so I’m sure my way has been interpreted as being standoffish when that is not my intent nor is it how I am. That’s not being hostile, but it’s getting to know who I really connect with and not expecting every Black woman, or anyone to be my BFF. Cause I know from experience that is not going to happen.

    I think this is a life lesson. We can be supportive of each other without being each other’s “friends”.

    • I love your reply Rana! I’m the same way. I’m not very gregarious and it takes time for me to warm up to people as well. My friendships usually start organically.

      I loved this post Crunk! <3 I felt lucky as a young girl growing up in New York/Harlem. I had some of the most amazing girlfriends (I still do) We loved everything from Billy Idol to Luther Vandross. I don't have many friends, but the few I do have I cherish.

  3. I love this article because we are conversating about some things that need to be talked about. I have found that in the academic realm, I was a non-traditional student. I understood my role because I was more experienced and worked full-time in the field of study trying to obtain the letters behind my name. Therefore in this realm though we are sisters, we are threats and competition for future endeavors, especially since there are so few ‘sista’s’ in this realm of education. She on the other hand is missing out on the experience of having your shoulder to cry on when and/if they tell her you are Black and will always remain Black.

  4. black women tend to get ignored in white spaces. I wonder how much of that led to this woman’s standoffish-ness (made up a word! lol). In any event, I am glad you let her be – all this person would’ve done is make you feel miserable around her!

  5. This was a great post, especially because you start out by talking about academia (which can be a mean-spirited place, even at the best of times). I started to think about my own recent experience with a sista. We hung out to the point that I thought were good friends. I told her some of my secrets. We were friends for a couple of years. Then one day, she dropped me like a hot rock with no explanation. Just cold stopped speaking to me. When I asked her if I said or did something wrong (sometimes my mouth does get me in trouble that way) she said that nothing was wrong. And that was it.

    The sista in your post could be afraid to befriend you for fear of “how it might look” to white eyes. Not that it should matter, but sometimes when we start to pair off, they think we are conspiring an uprising or something.

    Love your blog…

  6. I guess I read this differently. First, it’s well-written and very engaging, and the premise is, of course, a great one. But the essay itself seems to devolve into an effort to assuage your own hurt feelings by essentially calling the girl out. Your judgment of her behavior — that she is “terse”, “awkward” and “rude” is off-putting and I, frankly, found myself wondering whether you had been introspective enough to ask yourself whether *you* had come across as any of those things you accused her of, and perhaps that might have led to her wanting to distance herself from you? Sometimes, even unwittingly, we send out vibes that make people not want to connect with us.

    If your answer is no, and you are the bee’s knees and it’s her loss not to be “friends” with you, so be it. You said you’d be lying if you didn’t want to tell the girl to “go kick rocks”. Seems to me that she beat you to it. If her “friendship” mattered so much, did you tell her how you felt about her “rude” remark, or ask why your interactions seemed so awkward? Your posture seems to continually be that you were “giving” her a chance and it sounds like she flat out wasn’t interested — or that maybe she peeped your engagement of her as patronizing and took a pass.

    Maybe you need to really examine your own motives? Is it possible that you are projecting behavior/issues onto her that were not there? Because inside or outside of academia, we’ve all had uncomfortable, awkward interactions with other Black women that leave you wondering “what happened?” or wondering why you can’t connect to someone with whom you seem to have much in common. But you know what? That’s life. It happens. Heck, it happens within our own families-which is, frankly, even more hurtful than a Black woman who is essentially a stranger. I completely understand your point and you sound like a great person (I’d hang out with you!) but, respectfully, I’m not sure this example really provides the leverage to examine/deconstruct when, where or why this happens, or what it “means” in the larger context of Black female relationships.

    • I know the value of having Black women as friends because I didn’t always have them. I offered her my friendship in the spirit of…friendship. Period. That is what I hope others will take away from the piece. Thanks for reading.

    • You might have missed the bit where crunktastic said the person made a rude comment and continuously sends half-hearted vibes toward her.

    • Sabrina, it seems that you believe that when we are rejected or mistreated, we should look inside to see what we could have done to cause the hurt. That’s a very heavy load to carry through life. I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I thought that all the ways I’d been mistreated or rejected were somehow my fault. Introspection is definitely valuable for the purposes of mending relationships when someone has been hurt, but it is wasted on situations of inexplicable rejection. If the other person has already made a decision to reject offers of friendship, further introspection is just unnecessary policing. Crunktastic had already been introspective when she wrote this post: what she came up with was that she’s a good person, a valuable friend to many, and ultimately worthy of the chance that this person (for her own reasons) decided not to give. I concur.

    • Sabrina, I agree with your reading of this article. :D

      There’s a lot going on regarding expectations and what happens when someone doesn’t follow the script that we have already written.

      To the OP, you have my sympathies. The academy can be a very lonely place and wanting to build a healthy support structure is very important. But… you can’t get butthurt over someone choosing not to be apart of that. Especially when all you’ve told everyone is that the only thing that the two of you have/had in common was that you were both Black Women and are/were in the same geographical area.

      So I’m sitting here wondering if you even have actual criteria for someone being a part of your “sister-circle” support network or is being a Black woman in the academy all that is required? That maybe a bigger issue than someone not returning your friendship overture.

      • I have a wonderful sister circle, beginning with the folks who are members of the CFC. So I’m not hurting for friends. Not even at my new institution. But the idea that I can’t be bothered by someone who offered an unfair assessment of me when I had been nothing but nice to her is ridiculous.

        Like I said, I reached out to the sister, to get to know her, to befriend her, in the same ways that I and the other junior academics were doing with each other at various networking events. There’s nothing suspect or questionable about it. I didn’t curtail my efforts until she made a needlessly rude statement to me. (And yes, I asked another colleague–whom I also only recently have gotten to know– who was at the brunch her impressions. She, too, thought the comment was rude, uncalled for, and inaccurate.) And I don’t need to defend that position. Folks can believe me or not believe me. I didn’t have a chance to get to know the sister in order to know if there was any other common ground besides the few tidbits that I have learned about her in passing.

        It is disturbing to me that folks actually think I need to defend my motives and actions here. Friendship is in a sad state of affairs if folks don’t believe you when you say you offered it out of a pure spirit and feel slightly hurt because it was rejected. But I think that folks wanted me to find something wrong with myself to justify this rejection; well, I reject that logic when it comes to love relationships and single Black women (that’s Tyler Perry and Steve Harvey’s domain), and I reject it when it comes to platonic relationships as well. Just because she has an issue with me (which she communicated in her remark) doesn’t mean I have an issue. Period. I don’t have to accept people’s assessments of me, just because they have the right to make them.

        I value the friendships I have; I’m sorry this sister and I didn’t connect; I think her rude remark was uncalled for; I used this blog as a way to share my thoughts on this and prior experiences, and now, I’m moving on with my life.

        Peace.

      • You can be hurt (even “butthurt,” whatever that is) when someone choses not to be your friend without giving you a chance. It hurt when you were four. It will hurt when you’re seventy. The difference is emotional intelligence. A four year old doesn’t know to assess the situation, look inside and find nothing lacking. A thirty year old does. I’m not sure why anyone would come on this site, of all places, to argue otherwise.

  7. Ask yourself, why am I really trying so hard? I have found you have to back off and give people their space. Black or not we do not all have the same experiences, and while we can idenify as “sisters” you cannot force friendship.

  8. I am so glad I’m not the only black chick who grew up being black but being accused of acting white. I mean I grew up reading Goosebumps and Sweet Valley High and Sweet Valley Twins. And I can count on one hand the number of Black friends that I have ever had in my life and I’m looking on the other side of 30.

    I’ve just never seemed to click with Black females. And its not for a lack of trying. While I’m a outgoing person I’m more of a man’s woman. And there aren’t a lot of women like that I can get along with.

    I dont think just because we are black we have to be friends. It would be nice to present a united front on issues and things like that, but my basis of friendship isn’t based on your skin tone.

  9. Thank you for writing this. In elementary and high school (both in white suburbia, transplanted there through an urban-suburban program), I was always made fun of by my fellow black students for “acting white.” But I always forgave their mistreatment because I desperately wanted to feel connected to “my people” going so far as to let one of Black girls take credit for an assignment I did. I regret that to this day. And it was so bad that I would have to leave school early or not go at all. I found it very hard to want to be around other Black people, especially women, for these reasons. Luckily though I found other Black women in college who I could relate to.

  10. Ditto on all the comments about the price paid for a sense of belonging..while in a strange land. I think that academia is a particularly fraught landscape because of the kinds of work/labor that it takes to sustain. University life has been the place where I have had my closest (2) sister-comadre relationships and the MOST painful encounters of my 56 year old life. And make no mistake I have done dirt with the side-eye as I have had it done unto me! Fundamentals prevail: unkindness only makes more unkindness. AND I THINK YOU ARE FANTASTIC PROFESSORA!

  11. Pingback: Debunking the Single Black Female Myth « Interrace Magazine

  12. I empathize with your post, though for me racial identification has come only of late. The rents are from W. Africa and growing up in DC I was surrounded by other kids of nonAmerican parents. Difference was the norm; in polygamous extended fams, folks are different. Int’l community shielded us from much of mainstream reality. We were teased by Black & White kids for being foreign, smart, etc. That’s besides the point. The point is we didn’t know we’d someday need community with very particular kinds of women and men–for our hearts & souls.

    Honestly, we didn’t “know” about race until we were much older. It was in grad school & since we’ve learned what “blackness,” “brownness,” and “gender” mean/have meant historically. So wasn’t the first doctorate in my family. But on the day I passed my defense something new sunk in. It wasn’t just personal milestone, accomplishing my goal. A colleague congratulated me saying only 3% of U.S. phd’s are black & female. I was speechless. Even my mentor shielded me from being boxed in ethnically, allowed me to “be myself” without boundaries.

    Then comes reality. As I moved into post-doc life, I discovered isolation. Your presence is experienced by others as an anomaly. And, if you’ve always been the odd one out it’s hard to discover you’re still “homeless.” I too reached out to the few young sisters on campus, and we are very few. Less than one had. Got a clear message, you’re on your own. The older Black women, great but they’re busy… and retiring. It’s hard not to expect connection with someone who looks like you when you’re living on a veritable island.

  13. I feel your pain in trying to reach out and being rejected. Just like “some money is not to be made” (as my Daddy would say), some folks are not meant to be your friend. There are a variety of reasons, but the bottom line is ‘she just wasn’t the one’. Although we’d like to think that we pick our friends – we don’t. Ppl. come into our lives for a reason or a season. She wasn’t right for you right now – she may never be. Seems like it’s her loss, not yours. Also seems like she has some issues to deal with. Let her be. You seem to be in a secure place (both personally & professionally) while she is not. I suspect she is afraid of befriending those that look like her in fear that it may alienate her future professional endeavors. Little does she know! Let her be. Keep on pushing on doing what you do. Trust me, she will remember you years from now….when it’s too late.

  14. It’s silly to think that you need to get along with every other female of your race. I understand the urge, but people don’t always mesh, regardless of race.

  15. I understand this. I’m a black female and Its impossible for me to make many black female friends as well. I only have a select few I call “Sister” The rest are people I just chit chat with. Not all of us are snappy and rude. When I see black females do it, I want to ask them why are they acting like that. But you know being around black people 24/7 I can tell you why. Its basically how we are raised and brought up. Some of us are brought up around other snappy black females who are rude. You know what that isn’t an excuse for that type of behavior. People should grow up and treat others with respect and be decent with them. Is it okay to tell a sister to go kick rocks? Yes. Because if she’s being a bitch, and you’re trying to be friendly and respectful. Then you have to tell that bitch to kick rocks…Maybe play in traffic. Especially if she gets big headed and disrespect you. I can tell you Black females come diverse. You just happen to bump into a crowd of the same kind.

  16. Thank you for this post. I have a slight twist on the subject. I am employed by a major southern university as an administrative assistant and I work for an amazing group of forward thinking folks in a department that does great work. Much of the work of this department involves discussions around race, class and gender (mostly due to the politics of department heads). We hosted an ongoing discussion on race with about 20 faculty and grad students a couple of years ago and I was fortunate enough to be able to sit in on these conversations because of my role as administrative support. Of the 20 participants 2 were black men and 4 black women. I was absolutely dumb founded when these 6 people would walk into the room and did not speak to me. As a matter of fact 1 of the males and 1 of the females never spoke to me over the course of 5 or 6 gatherings. Because I was so incredibly disturbed by this, I would intentionally position myself in the room so that they would have to walk by me to enter and still, no acknowledgement. Not even a nod of the head. While I am not an academic, I was raised by a mother who attended an ivy league university while raising me so I have probably spent more time in the academy then most of the folks who attended that discussion. It is unfortunate that these women (and men) will never know how horribly offensive they are as they go about teaching black history, feminist theory and race. But you know what, I still love you anyway.

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