I have learned a lot of really important things from my white friends. They remind me of the universal nature of joy and sorrow. They help me to see the bigger picture. They challenge my intellectual faculties and stimulate my curiosity. They have taught me the art of of appreciation. They have uncovered my sense of personal power. They have taught me how to use power in a manner that is mutually beneficial. They have shown me support -- even when they "don't get it." They have given me the experience of pure goodness, again and again. They have believed in me and taught me how to believe in myself.
But I have also learned a lot of irrelevant things from my white friends. And although the learning appears to be irrelevant, this insider knowledge has come in quite handy, particularly in social situations. Often, I have had the opportunity to share this knowledge with other people of color, and doing so helped them to feel at ease in diverse social settings. Providing them with this information also increased my credibility as a true diversity diva. So now, for the first time in my professional career, I share this valuable information, gleaned over many years of socializing with white people, with my readers:
1. Yes, that meat is cooked. Really? Yes, indeedy, it is. How do I know? Many years ago, I attended a party hosted by white friends who served roast beef beautifully laid out on a platter with a basket of mini rolls next to the beef. None of the beef on that platter came anywhere near close to what I experienced as cooked. In fact, growing up I was lead to believe that if you ate meat that was pink, you would die. Didn't white people know that the pink on that meat was blood? In our household, we even fried baloney (that would be bologna to those who are not familiar with the lunch meat). My mom still has the childhood letter from my sister sent from Girl Scout camp where she complained that they were serving her "raw baloney." Well, all of my white friends ate the beef and lived to the next day and beyond; so the next time I saw one of those platters of beef, I tried it. Lo and behold, I live to say that it actually tasted pretty good.
2. You can go to a party at the designated time on the invitation. When I tell my white friends to come over at 7:00 p.m., they arrive somewhere between 6:55 p.m. and 7:10 p.m. My friends of color...well...the party starts, for them, when they get there. Thanks to my white friends, I don't have any first-hour anxiety wondering whether or not anyone is going to show up.
3. Unlike soul music which is expressive and R & B that you can bust a move to, country music is all about the story. Its true enjoyment comes from listening to the lyrics and connecting the message to your life. So, recently I listened to one of the top country songs. Now when I get on a plane, I check out the guy in seat 7A, who, due to a recent breakup, is "getting drunk on a plane" and planning to buy drinks for everyone. Now that is something to dance about.
4. Thanks to my friend Jill, I now know there are more creative ways to enjoy a bagel than just toasting it and adding butter or jelly. Bagels are best enjoyed by pulling out all of the doughy middle and filling the inside crust with cream cheese and lox and onions and capers and cucumbers and tomatoes. Who knew?
5. I have learned to interpret dress codes by race. Planning to attend an evening event at a college, I asked the host, who was black, what the attire was for the event. She responded, "wear something you would wear to church." Uh... I don't think so. I'm Catholic and a member of an all-white parish, which means that I can pretty much roll out of bed and put on my bra under my pajamas and be good to go. Church clothes to my black friend meant dark suits and ties for men and dressy suits or dresses for women. Alternatively, when a friend who was white invited me to an evening celebration at a party center, she described the dress code as informal. When we arrived, there were folks in jeans... good quality jeans, but nonetheless denim. As my mother described it, in her opinion, folks looked like they were going grocery shopping.
6. Vacations are about experiencing the city or enjoying the outdoors and less about the quality of the room accommodations. However, I have a rule of thumb about room accommodations on vacation. The room has to be equal to or better than my bedroom, which means that room better be pretty nice. It is even better when the room service menu is extensive. Not so for my white friends. Clean floors, no bugs and a frame with a decent mattress works for them. Better to spend the money on sea kayaking, volcano hiking, swimming with dolphins, gliding down treacherous mountains on skis, walking rocky trails and other adrenaline-pumping activities.
7. Barbecue is a cooking method and not the name of the meat. I grew up in a household where barbecue meant ribs with chicken as a side. Hot dogs and hamburgers (to be served as appetizers) were put on the grill after the barbecue (i.e. ribs and chicken) was done while the charcoal was still hot. As a teen after attending a number of barbecues hosted by white friends, I figured out the definition of barbecue. However, my mother still insists that barbecue is synonymous with ribs. Imagine her frustration when we attended a barbecue party and there was no...um... barbecue! "How is this a barbecue?" She asked me. "They are putting salmon on the grill?"
Have other examples? Please share. As my irrelevant things list of learning expands, so does my social capital.