The issue with all-white friend groups
Or, my grievances on friend homogeny
By Sylvia Rani
With my encounters with certain social circles of mutual friends, I’ve experienced a sneaky sense of isolation. It’s something that always lingered in the back of my mind, but I tended to deny it, dismissing it for social anxiety. For the longest time, I could not locate the source of this discomfort. Then one day, I decided to take a trip down the Instagram wormhole— diving into the past posts of those around whom I felt most uncomfortable. Scrolling through pictures of girl gangs at brunch and late college nights, I realized something which I can never forget: none of these people had a single friend of color. I felt a chill go down my spine as I scrolled past group photo upon group photo, completely absent of POC and filled with smiling white faces.
I know what this sounds like. I was hesitant to write this article because I know it is a challenging concept and can push people to become defensive. But the challenging nature of this issue doesn’t make it any less true or important.
Admittedly, one of the most notable facts to consider is that most white people in Minnesota grew up around other white people and formed their friend groups as such. And yet this is a central part of the problem. I don’t want to put blame on any single person; just like institutional racism, this issue is far greater than the individual. Minnesota as a state is usually thought of as being “super white” — which is true compared to other areas of the country. But I think this idea should be challenged. Minneapolis in particular is in fact very diverse, as home to the country’s largest population of Somalis and the largest Hmong population outside of Laos. 44 percent of people who live in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area are people of color. And yet our schools and institutions remain immensely divided, more so than other cities with similar demographics. A report published by the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity revealed that the Twin Cities are far more racially segregated than Portland and Seattle, a result of pervasive housing and education policies which prevent racial integration. These policies have real implications for how people of different ethnic groups interact, acting as barriers to an increasingly diverse society.
The issue of all-white friend groups represents something larger than any single person could address. However, that does not mean it absolves everyone from taking responsibility for the people they surround themselves with. As high school ties drift to memory and new relationships form, it’s important to ask questions about friend homogeny.
It begs the question of how to proceed. For starters, I should emphasize that I am by no means telling you, reader, to go out looking for some friends of color. Tokenism is equally, if not more damaging than having absolutely no friends of color. What I’m suggesting is awareness and holding yourself accountable to challenge your implicit biases. When you seek to form relationships, who do you reach out to? Do you surround yourself with people who look like you, to the exclusion of those who don’t? Again, the issue here isn’t that white people have white friends. It’s that these relationships are formed to the exclusion of others as a result of implicit bias. As with anything, change begins with awareness. Start by being aware and challenging your prejudice. A legacy of segregation will not go away on its own, so an integrated future depends on the choices made today.