Saturday Symposium: Friendships and Diversity

Good morning, everyone. We’re finally caught up on comment responses again and will continue to work on email responses today. We’re always glad to hear from you.

Here’s our new Saturday Symposium question:

How this works: It’s very simple. We ask a multi-part question related to a topic we’ve blogged about during the past week or are considering blogging about in the near future, and you, our readers, share your responses in the comments section. Feel free to be open, reflective, and vulnerable…and to challenge us. But as always, be mindful of the comment policy that ends each of our posts. Usually, we respond fairly quickly to each comment, but in order to give you time to think, come back, add more later if you want, and discuss with other readers, we will wait until after Monday to respond to comments on Saturday Symposium questions.

This week’s Saturday Symposium question: This week, Lindsey wrote a post on the difference it makes when people are open to having diverse groups of friends. This post focused specifically on how much more common it is for straight, cisgender people to have LGBT friends than it is for white people to have black friends. We are now asking you: what factors have an effect on who makes up your closest circle of friends? How do you think diversity within friend groups impacts our ability to understand experiences different from our own? Is there anything a person can do to avoid unintentionally limiting one’s circle of friends to those who have similar backgrounds? Does openness to developing friendships with diverse groups of people necessarily mean pursuing “token” friendships?

We look forward to reading your responses. If you’re concerned about having your comment publicly associated with your name, please consider using the Contact Us page to submit your comment. We can post it under a pseudonym (i.e. John says, “your comment”) or summarize your comment in our own words (i.e. One person observed…). Participating in this kind of public dialogue can be risky, and we want to do what we can to protect you even if that means we preserve your anonymity. Have a wonderful weekend!


Sarah and Lindsey

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8 thoughts on “Saturday Symposium: Friendships and Diversity

  1. Not to sound trite, but I am friends with the people I like and that I relate well to, and I’m not friends with people I don’t like or don’t relate well to. It’s not *because* they’re gay or black or white or whatever, it’s simply not a factor. I just happen to be friends with some people and not with others. My friends do happen to be quite diverse, but I didn’t “pursue” it. It just worked out this way.

    To your last question, “pursuing” diverse relationships does, I think, lead to “token relationships.” I didn’t “pursue” gay friends, but I have found that I have them, I didn’t “pursue” friends from different political or socio-economic environments, but I’ve found that I have them. I didn’t “pursue” conservative Christian friends, but I grew up in that and I (quite naturally) have them. And I see value in that. But it was never a goal of mine to have diverse relationships. To be fair, there a lots of people I *don’t* like in virtually every category of diversity you can dream up, too. So at some level, diversity has nothing to do with it – at least not for me.

    For me, I think that just as I don’t “pursue” relationships based on diversity, neither do I “avoid” relationships based on diversity. If I meet someone and we click, then we’ll likely become friends. If we don’t click, we likely won’t. I have no motives behind it.

    • Thanks for your perspective. One thing we’ve noticed is that when we hang out in new venues, we often meet new people. If we’re always in the same neighborhoods doing the same things, then we’re going to know a subset of people. Switching it up can do a lot to introduce us to new people without it being centered on “Please be my friend” in the odd tokenism sort of way.

  2. As a follow-up, I would say that if ALL my friends were “just like me,” thought like me, etc. then there would be something wrong and I suppose I should “pursue diversity.” But even then, don’t be “pretend friends” with a gay person just so I can have a gay friend. Do you get what I mean? There is value in diversity. And maybe I should partially recant my previous post – if you have NO diversity in your relationships, perhaps it would be a good idea to “pursue” diversity. Disingenuous diverse relationships may, in fact, lead to genuine ones, and even if they didn’t, would be better than no diverse relationships at all. At least you’d be trying to grow.

  3. In Lindsey’s original post, Ivy in her comment brings up a very important point regarding the impact of ethnic/racial (and income/class) segregation on the ability of people to have friendships outside their own ethnicity in the US. An Anglo living essentially as the minority in a segregated area is closer to at least one aspect of some African American and Latino peoples’ experiences of living and working in what is often a dominant segregated Anglo culture. They can have a cultural bilingualism that can be hard for many Anglos to appreciate. My own experience falls somewhere in the middle of this. I am Anglo and grew up and still live in a very racially/ethnically diverse metropolitan area, but it is also highly segregated racially and class-wise. Like Lindsey, I found college to be a respite from this (in my mind) limitation and took the opportunity to make friends from many sorts of diverse backgrounds. But in the context of race it was still from within a predominantly Anglo culture that these friendships existed and exist. My partner is Latina, and grew up in a highly segregated Latino neighborhood. It was the process over time of being integrated into her family in our visits to her old neighborhood that was a shoe on the other foot experience for me. There were unconscious stereotypes to overcome, and I consequently have an inkling of what it’s like to be the token. How a racial minority experience differs from a gender or sexual minority experience is such a complex topic and one that interests me quite a bit.

    • Thanks Kacy for sharing your experience! There’s a lot of pressure for many racial and ethnic minorities to pass as white. Sarah’s sister has done some fascinating research on how dialects and accents can affect hiring practices. So many things can act to preserve segregated social structures, and those of us who manage to cross the boundaries can become tokens in our own right.

  4. Pursuing diversity….I don’t think its wise to go out with the intention to befriend a person of color/different religion/different socioeconomic background (if you try too hard…even with the best intention you can compromise yourself or your beliefs and just put the other person in a really awkward position where they might not want to be seen with you)
    Its more about realizing in various situations x y or z could be a possible friend because we both really like this kind of music or share a love for dessert thats borderline obsession, I like his or hers sense of humor
    And recognizing biases against a group of people and not letting it decide who you can’t be friends with.
    I have lived in predominantly white areas and gone to predominantly white schools but somehow I have and had friends who aren’t or who are more liberal or more conservative then myself.

    also I wish people would stop pulling out a card like well im blank so I know everything about this (or atleaat scale it back) because it just stops dialogue and I know in the past I could have learned more from a person if conversation wasn’t dead ended even if I had said something really stupid

  5. One of my best friends from highschool went to my mostly white school for a year (and hes black) MOST people remembered and still remember him not because he was really funny or outgoing but because he is black.
    Its really amusing to see someone he doesnt even remember from highschool try to talk to him with a fake smile…because they know him as the black guy
    So sometimes people see diversifying as an opportunity to have a token aquitance or friend to showcase as well im not racist or im not homophobic or antijewish
    When nothing is actually known about this person….

    • It’s amazing how when you have one black friend, the only thing people remember is your friend’s color. There’s definite value in seeing some of the social structures for what they are because then you have valuable context for interactions.

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