What it’s really like being your one black friend
Lessons learned from a Lupe Fiasco concert
I had two friends I met via social media (in my late 20s) who were obsessed with Lupe Fiasco. They gushed over this man daily. I thought he was kinda cute, but I was nowhere near in the fandom arena that they were. One was a black woman, who was an essential part of promoting my first book and who I met in person at a social justice protest about a year or so later — super woke, relentlessly vegan and lived on the East Coast. The other was a white woman who lived in Tennessee and would randomly tweet out pro-Obama messages.
One of them clearly showed her dedication to Lupe Fiasco on a much larger scale. She found out he was performing at an Illinois college, and she wanted to see him live and in person. I paused and reminded her where she lived. She didn’t budge. She wanted me to come party with her at this concert and had already reserved a hotel room. We’d been cool for as long as the other girl; I told her she could cancel the hotel and take my couch if she wanted it. She agreed.
This seemed like it was going to be an enjoyable weekend to loudly rap along to all of one of my favorite Chicago rappers’ top songs, meet one of my social media friends in person (this is normal for someone like me, who had 50 pen pals in elementary school and randomly brought a college friend home for Thanksgiving), and be able to introduce her to the history of a then-105-year-old newspaper, the Chicago Defender, at their “The Legends Ball” the same weekend. What could possibly go wrong?
I was no stranger to being someone’s “only black friend.” It happened throughout college. But as a co-worker half-jokingly told me, being friends with me “is like having eight black friends all at once.” I am not the mouthpiece for all black people and have had plenty of disagreements with other black folks. We don’t all think with one brain.
But I am the friend who won’t let you sneak in slick comments about black people, casually say the n-word around me and will never not ever befriend a Trump supporter. Still though, my social circle has always been diverse. And considering the handful of times I’ve been someone’s starter kit black friend, they learned quite a lot about black culture, history, literature and what not to say.
In the case of the white woman from Tennessee, I hadn’t thought much of any of the above. Talking to her online was about like talking to the vegan sista from the East Coast — two very cool women who loved daydreaming about how they would “go to sleep in Paris and wake up in Tokyo, have dreams in New Orleans, fall in love in Chicago” — with Lupe Fiasco, that is.
But I knew something was off the minute the Tennessean stepped out of her car. Although her social media following would confirm she had plenty of black friends, I thought it odd that one of the first things she asked me while eyeing framed photos on my walls was, “So you don’t have any white friends?”