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The Black Best Friend, a guest post by Joya Goffney

I was a girl wearing striped socks up to my knees, oversized headphones blasting screamo music, reading The Color Purple in a gym full of sweaty, talking student bodies during a school-wide free day. He was a boy who might have been sweaty from playing basketball or maybe fatigued from playing too many video games in the computer room—I can’t remember which, but he was more the basketball type.

It was nearing the end of our free day, and I don’t remember how he got my attention, but when I looked up, I fell out of a world of abuse and tragedy and into his amused brown eyes. He looked at me like I was adorable. I slipped one phone off my ear, but I still couldn’t really hear him. He was pointing to a textbook sitting on the bleachers beside me. So I handed it to him, still in a daze, still listening to Underoath. Then, further amused, he pointed to the binder that had been sitting under his textbook. Oh, he wanted that too.

But I was so out of it, and we were surrounded by chaos. What he must have thought of me—so caught up in my book that for the first time ever I wasn’t being overly attentive and nice. What I must have looked like to him—the type of girl to read during a free day, when there were plenty of basketballs up for grabs, boys to flirt with, and games to play. While my friends were all chillin’ outside, I was in the gym, reading about Black women who hadn’t any rights and hardly any voice… because maybe that’s how I felt, too.

My best friends were hanging out with a particular sect of upperclassmen who were alternative, and who thought I wasn’t like the other Black kids at our school, and because of this, thought I could laugh along to their Black jokes. I never spoke up when they laughed at my race. And my friends never really spoke up, either. I fell silent. My friends turned a blind eye and continued to expose me to those upperclassmen who made me feel so small. So, instead, I was in the gym, reading about Celie’s trauma, listening to hard rock, and falling into the eyes of a sweet boy who I thought could see me.

I handed him his binder. He might have said thank you, but I don’t remember saying you’re welcome. It was all implied. We were both so comfortable, and the exchange was so mundane, but the atmosphere had been charged. He wasn’t my obsession at the time, but I didn’t not have a crush on him. In reality, my casual crush on him was probably the most enduring of them all. He was so consistently cute and nice and there.

But, while I was a Black girl with short hair and glasses and white friends who nicknamed me Brownie, he was a white boy who liked to say the N-word when he got drunk at parties. I almost forgot that part of their story, because it had started out so sweet, and he had started out so sweet. I never thought he was capable of forming his lips around that word, but alas, I walked through the front door of his house with two of my Black friends. The party was in full-swing and overwhelmingly white. And the first thing out of his mouth was, “Hey, look! The n*****s are here” —hard R and everything.

The snap back into reality when you realize a non-Black friend isn’t a true ally and doesn’t have your back is more than disappointing—it’s reinforcement of fear that is always at the back of your mind. As Black people mingle with non-Black people, there’s an inkling of distrust, a waiting to be disappointed, a preparedness to distance ourselves from those who prove to be against us. Because it has happened time and time again, while navigating white spaces.

I was The Black Best Friend. I was the body they pointed to when they claimed to not be racist. I was the extra in my own movie. I was the one they called last, often the one they left out, the name tacked on at the end—an afterthought. I was a pet, a secretary, an experiment. So, it’s difficult to trust new white friends. Even after months of cordial meetings, even after we’ve laughed together and gone out together, because new white friends can switch up at the drop of a hat, and suddenly decide to feel differently about Black people. They have that choice. They can choose to care.

Quinn Jackson, of my debut novel Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry, has a painful snap back into reality when she watches her best friends degrade her humanity. She’s so jarred by the experience that she silences herself, refusing to explain to her white friends why she no longer wants to be around them. This is the kind of jarring experience that births distrust—not only for white people as a whole, but for her white friends, individually.

Recently, I spoke with an amazing, talented individual about how I chose to end my book, and it really made me think about who deserves to be forgiven. So, despite how Quinn decides to handle her situation, it is not her responsibility to soothe white guilt, educate white people of their privilege, or to learn to trust them again. It’s her responsibility, my responsibility, and your responsibility to not allow the disappointment to continuously cause pain and to rise against it by seeking joy.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Forrest Red

Joya Goffney grew up in New Waverly, a small town in East Texas. In high school, she challenged herself with to-do lists full of risk-taking items like ‘hug a random boy’ and ‘eat a cricket,’ which inspired her debut novel, Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry. With a passion for Black social psychology, she moved out of the countryside to attend the University of Texas in Austin, where she still resides. Learn more at https://www.joyagoffney.com and follow along on Twitter @Joya_Goffney and Instagram @Joya.Goffney.

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