Don’t you just love Facebook? A place where you can connect with your friends, share articles about issues you feel are important, vent about people or situations, Facebook has become integrated in the American culture just as talking pictures or color television. Whereas birth announcements, engagements, and weddings were first announced in the paper, instantly we can scroll through our timelines and be updated on the latest news within our communities and the lives of our friends. An even wider spectrum is uncovered as we can also see how we are connected to others. New acquaintances can be vetted by seeing what friends are shared mutually. As articles, statements or events are shared, comments are posted and it is that time one is able to see, at least to a degree, who your friends…call friend.
The latter possesses an interesting question to all people: How well do you know your friends? For years, relationships are built upon shared experiences, shared secrets, shared conversations, shared ideologies, and shared interests. Through the passage of time, the bond between individuals strengthens as the strands of these relationships are tested and tried. However, through Facebook (and other social media networks) one can see what happens after these shared experiences are over and individuals begin the same process with other individuals. Thus, one can see the thoughts, ideas, experiences and at times secrets shared by your “Friends of Friends.”
Have you ever had the experience of scrolling through your timeline and seeing a shared post, article, or video you did not expect to see posted from a friend? Perhaps, you shared a post yourself and was shocked by the reaction you received from your friends or “Friends of Friends.” Facebook has exposed the differences within relationships, whether religious, political, racial, ideological, or what have you, that had previously been hidden or politely ignored for the sake of pleasant company or conversation. What happens when you discover that your “Friend of a Friend” is a racist?
I’ve been faced with this many times. I am a proud Southerner (5th generation Texan), I’m a proud African American Man (My Great-Great Grand Parents were slaves), I am a proud Veteran (September 11th happened while I was in Basic Training) and I am a proud Progressive (Registered Democrat).
My upbringing has allowed me to have interface with people who believe, worship and vote differently from the way I do. Thinking back to my days in Kerens Elementary, I am often reminded of the words spoken daily by my kindergarten teacher, “Play nice and keep your hands and feet to yourselves.” I try daily to adopt this principle in my adult life, succeeding better some days rather than others, but for the most part, we all are forced to work with, interact with, and at times live with people who share opposing views. Everyday the art of compromise is seen on the bus, train, in traffic, on elevators, in work spaces, in church pews, in classrooms, in restaurants, in every place but congress it seems. The tension has become less evident in urban centers where a heavily populated group of diverse people are forced to interact with each other. The expansion of social media and the internet has made tensions less apparent in rural areas where diversity and necessary interaction between divers people may not be as frequent or optional.
What do you do when a difference of opinion crosses over to apparent hatred, bigotry or racism…by the “Friend of a Friend?” When is the relationship of the “Friend” taken into account? Where do you begin when analyzing the strength of the shared strands within your relationship? How do you resolve the inner turmoil, resentment and dissatisfaction? The What, When, Where and How have been presented to me on many occasions. Minorities and members of the majority are faced with these instances, and forced to self consciously react…often times reluctantly because of friendship. Who wants to lose a friend right?
The 21st century demands that we answer these questions out right.
Understanding what racism is, whether fueled by either hatred or bigotry, and acknowledging it when seen is a start. Black’s Law Dictionary defines racism as, “A set of policies that is exhibited by a person or persons toward a group of people of a different race. Often antagonistic and confronting. The assumption of lower intelligence and importance given to a person because of their racial characteristics.” Regardless of how “close” you may be with a friend, when you have been left feeling you have experienced racism, the safe space lies within yourself to express your discomfort and to know a racist does not own the right to feel “comfortable” when this mindset goes against the constitutional rights of the whole. One can even view it as utilitarianism…the greatest good for the greatest number. In this case, that good is equality, and that number is America.
When is the relationship of the friend taken into account? Immediately. As the strands within a relationship are tested, one must meet each test head on. One strand does not have to end a relationship, but it can certainly define a relationship. Relationships, friendships, are based upon boundaries. These boundaries are also where you can test the strength of these strands. If you make your boundaries known, the way those boundaries are respected then can define the future of that relationship.
The hardest part of these interactions come when one is faced with the inner turmoil of experiencing racism through a different medium, from a person with a reference. We choose our music, jobs, food, health regiments often times at the recommendation of a friend. Friends have introduced friends that resulted in marriage while others often ask for a reference when applying for a job. Social media and the connections of mutual friends have played an important role in making the world smaller, more connected, and in many ways more enlightened. Understanding no two relationships are alike, one often expects that the bond and strands shared between an individual would be commonly shared with others, and although different, never crossing the line of racism, bigotry or hate. Unfortunately, this age old dilemma has plagued mankind for ages.
No one wants to lose a friend, but in the course of friendship, one must never lose oneself. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best I believe, “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”
Above was an example of a statement made to me by a “Friend of a Friend” that was followed by many other hateful attacks. I stated my discomfort, set my boundaries, my Friend removed those attacking racist posts, and reaffirmed my belief that friends do not have to agree on everything (especially politics) but can definitely agree racism and hatred have no place within our boundaries of friendship.