Are all your friends white?

Shahamat Uddin, Intersections Editor

Hanson Dai | Art Director

The Tulane Hullabaloo is a nonprofit newsroom that receives no funding from Tulane University. Consider subscribing today to support our mission.

As I was going into the first few weeks of my freshman year at Tulane, I held a piece of advice I had received from a junior very closely: make sure you are in a group chat by the end of the first two weeks. 

Wednesday, Sept. 4 officially marks two weeks since the Tulane Class of 2023 has moved into the Uptown campus. Within the first few days of first-years arriving at Tulane, group chats likely formed rapidly. Whether formed by a group of students who sat down together at the Commons for the first time or a group of peers that walked down to Campus Connection together, these group chats can feel like the group of friends with which you will spend the rest of your college career. 

Not getting into a group chat is a common nightmare. And the only thing worse is the feeling that the friends you have been hanging out with have made a group chat without you.

Now, these fears are much more salient for some students than others. At a predominantly white institution, Brown and Black students do not have the luxury to pick and choose friends from a larger population that looks like them. White students at Tulane can, by contrast, walk into their first dorm hall meeting and probably see a large group of people that share their lived white experiences

White students may quickly connect with each other about the mutual friends they have in cities like Westchester, New York, and Highland Park, Illinois, excitedly discuss the rush process of getting into Sigma Apple Pi and what outfits they can share that complement their pale skin tones.

Brown and Black students will look across their first dorm hall meeting, scanning the room for the one other person that looks like them, lucky if there even is one. They will have to wonder if there is a single other person from their city at Tulane with them and when asked if they will rush Greek life, consider whether they would be the first person of their race to be in that organization. 

Within the first few months at Tulane, loose friend groups will begin to form, and most of these friend groups will be racially homogenous. 

Does having all white friends make me racist? Well, if you are a white person, the answer is probably yes.

The most common defense for white people having all white friends is that people feel comfortable associating with people who are similar to them — interests, personalities, religions and, yes, races. It is easier to be with people to whom you can relate.

But why is it easier for white people to feel more comfortable around other white people? What do white people share with other white people that they do not with Brown and Black people? Long histories of genocide and oppression.

Excluding Brown and Black people from your close friend circles means that you can talk about race or, in most cases, not talk about race without having to hear firsthand the trauma and consequences your race has inflicted upon racial minority communities. Having all white friends means you can go through your daily life without ever having to really think about white supremacy or the consequences of its prevalence. And when you want to use your white privilege, you can simply cut out the Brown and Black people in your life.

I explicitly remember during my first semester at Tulane that a good portion of my white male friends were considering rushing fraternities. Also interested, I hoped to attend the different rush events and parties with them. Yet when the time came, none of them wanted to go with me. Finally, after having one of my friends reveal to me why, I learned that they believed bringing a Brown man to a rush event with them would decrease their own chance of receiving a bid. 

Having only white friends allows white people to uphold white supremacy in one of its most dangerous yet subtle forms: ignorance. These white people, however, are in good company.

The average white American has 91 white friends, 1 Black friend, 1 Latino friend, 1 Asian friend, 1 mixed race friend, 1 other race friend, and 3 friends of unknown race.

The Public Religion Research Institute’s data shows that a full 75% of whites have “entirely white social networks without any minority presence. A Reuters poll came out showing that 40% of white Americans have zero nonwhite friends, and only 20% of white Americans have five or more nonwhite friends. 

Considering the fact that close to 60% of white Americans can uphold white ignorance and, thereby, uphold white supremacy has startling implications about the state and future of racism in America. 

Yet, white people will be quick to comment on how common it is, both on Tulane’s campus and in society as a whole, for people of minority races to conglomerate and have friend groups that are exclusively of their own race. The reasoning here is two-fold. 

When white people have spent centuries oppressing people of minority races, racial caucusing is a means of self-preservation. Second, part of the reason people of minority races rely on each other for friendship is that white people never make the space for people who don’t look like them to feel welcome. And when they do? The numbers are usually fewer than two or three.

Being the only Brown or Black person in your friend group is a common experience on Tulane’s campus. During my second semester of freshman year, I was the only student of color in every single one of my classes. I walked into my first dorm hall meeting and there was not a single other South Asian man. Becoming friends with white people felt like my only option.

What did this look like? It looked liked being pulled into all my white friends’ Instagram posts to show off that they had a Brown friend. It looked like no messages for days in our group chat when I commented on how a professor was racist to me but then endless texts when I mentioned that my family friend who does Henna hand tattoos was in town. It was my friend group — and I wish I was lying — taking clothes from my closet to dress up as me on Halloween.

Does having all white friends make me racist? If you are white, then the answer is probably yes. But by no means is that an encouragement on my behalf for you to ask the Black girl in your lab class to be your best friend. 

Brown and Black people are not tokens, but humans who do not get to spend a day without thinking about and feeling the consequences of white supremacy. 

You do not go out and hand-pick the white people out of your classes, organizations and residencies with whom you want to be friends. It is natural. 

To take the first step of dismantling white supremacy within your close friend group, don’t ask, “Are all my friends white?” Consider a much better question posed by white writer Tanner Colby: “Have I become the type of individual that a Black or Brown person might choose to be friends with?”

Note: A previous version of this article included a piece of artwork that was drawn with out the consent of the people pictured. The people featured in the photo are in no way connected to the content of this article. The artwork has since been removed. The Hullabaloo apologizes for this mistake. 

Leave a Comment