Since the brutal murder of George Floyd, the 46-year-old Black man who was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer in May, my Black female friendships have become more important than ever. I can never find the right words to articulate how seeing the death of a Black person makes me feel but leaning on my friends for support has provided me with some sort of hope that a world could one day exist where I don’t have to.
My first Black female friendship played a significant role in my life. She was a South African and Nigerian girl called Zandi who I met at primary school when I was 7 years old. We were two out of a small minority of Black students in a predominantly south Asian school, so our Blackness really stood out. Though I don’t remember us speaking about race back then, it played a big role in our friendship. We bonded over braids, cane rows and jollof rice, three things which affirmed me and my identity. We had a bond that was different from everyone else, and it was one which we carried into adulthood.
When I went to university, I came to lean on my group of Black girlfriends — we spoke about the constant microaggressions we faced, feeling out of place in seminars or the situationships we had with boys. All of those conversations made me feel seen. It was difficult, after all, being a group of Black women at a predominantly white university.
Over the years I have forged many other friendships with many more Black women, all of whom have been my lifelines during the coronavirus crisis. Living in a constant state of unknown while being aware that Black people are four times more likely than white people to die from the virus has heightened my anxiety. My friendship group became fearful that our friends and family were at risk and frustrated that people weren’t taking this seriously. We supported each other through the highs and lows, constantly checking in on each other via arranged Netflix Parties, phone calls and FaceTime game nights.
I looked for anything to take my mind off things: going for walks, reading more and learning new recipes. But it was Sky Comedy’s Insecure that provided much-needed escapism. The show, created by Issa Rae, follows a group of young African Americans navigating life in Los Angeles. The previous three seasons focused on the flourishing friendship between Issa and Molly (Yvonne Orji) but this season highlighted the underlying tension between the two and we watched them grow apart.
Whether you agree with Issa or Molly (I’m team Issa), the portrayal of Black female friendships on screen helped me navigate my own friendships better. When Issa was moving mad, it forced me to question my own behaviour and ask whether I’ve been a good friend. When the show tackled interracial dating through Molly and her Asian American love interest Andrew (Alexander Hodge), her friends encouraged her to step outside of her comfort zone. On the surface this might look like a non-issue but as a Black woman, the complexity of dating a man outside your race and having to explain your experience is hard and Insecure gave me a blueprint for how to handle this in my own life.
I May Destroy You, Michaela Coel’s incredible BBC series, has been another source of comfort during this time for me and my friends. In the series we watch Arabella (Coel) make sense of her sexual assault, but we also see the special bond she has with her best friend Terry (Weruche Opia). Watching their friendship blossom from secondary school into adulthood, weathering the intricacies of life along the way, fostered in me a sense of fierce loyalty to my own friendships, the unique obstacles they have had to surmount playing out on screen in front of me. Seeing Black female friendships on TV, especially during this difficult time, has allowed us to feel validated, to feel seen. It’s reinforced the importance of Black sisterhood. The fact that both Insecure and I May Destroy You feature dark-skinned women in leading roles was incredibly welcome, too.
The last few months have been exhausting and the recent Black Lives Matter protests, and the surrounding discourse, have been traumatising. But my Black friends automatically understand the pain I feel. We’ve spent the past few weeks sharing anecdotes in the group chat about the racism we’ve faced, talking for hours on the phone and watching movies on Zoom. The pain, the laughs, the joy, the sadness that comes with being a Black woman – they all just get it. Lockdown has forced us to have deep conversations about our experiences as Black women and how we see ourselves in the world and my friendship group has provided an open space for critique, healing and joy.
While the basis of friendships may seem simple, dealing with racism and misogyny as Black women is part of our everyday life. The frequency with which we have to contend with issues of race automatically adds a political edge to our friendships. I don’t always want to talk about race but when I do, it’s unbelievably reassuring to have a group of women who know exactly what I’m talking about and how I’m feeling. No-one will ever understand me more than another Black woman.
I will always be grateful for my Black sisters, they’ve got me through the last few months and I know they’ll keep me going no matter what happens.
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