It seems silly to say, but having a diverse group of friends is one of the most beneficial experiences an individual can have.
I, as a white man, have a narrowed view of the world. Opportunities exist for me that don’t exist for others purely because of my race and my gender, and if I surrounded myself with only other white men, my view of the world would likely stay narrow.
My group of friends consists of women, people of color and queer people – which allows me to hear stories and experiences from walks of life that I may otherwise not hear.
Recently in my group of friends the conversation of sexual assault has been brought up – a conversation that I, as a man, have never paid much attention to beyond seeing the countless headlines.
One of my friends shared that whenever she walks by a man in a parking lot by herself – be it day or night – she feels afraid. When downtown, a bathroom buddy system exists, which I never have to think about myself. However, I know now that the system exists because my friends don’t feel safe going alone.
Having conversations like this isn’t always comfortable. But they are necessary. Being friends with women has changed my view of men entirely and not for the better.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women will be raped at some point in their lives. On a college campus, 20 to 25 percent of women are likely to be victims of forced sex.
These statistics are scary enough – and unfortunately, it is reasonable that my female friends would be scared to go to the bathroom alone or walk by an unknown man by themselves.
Knowing the struggles of others allows one to become more compassionate and, ideally, wakes us up to the privileges we may have that others do not.
As a white person, I’m fully aware of my white privilege, but having friends who are people of color has made me realize the dangers of that privilege.
I, like every other white person, do not have to worry about racism. Every door is open for me; everyone is accepting of me.
NBC News reported that “64 percent [of Americans] said racism remains a major problem in our society. Thirty percent agreed that racism exists today, but it isn’t a major problem.”
Believing that racism isn’t a major problem is easy if you aren’t subject to it.
One of my friends has, on three separate occasions, faced racially charged hate speech–this is a fear that I never have to worry about. Another one of my friends stood on the street as a truck full of white men drove by, rolled down the window and shouted a racial slur at her.
This is, to put it lightly, incredibly unjust. It is also a struggle and a fear that no white person would likely pay any mind to if it were not something they had been exposed to– even in the secondhand manner that I was.
My experience as a gay man has even been different than that of my gay peers. I have a friend who, after coming out his freshman year of high school, was called into the assistant principal’s office and told to “tone it down.”
Knowing the struggles of others is a powerful thing. The topics of sexual assault, racism and homophobia are not conversations that people are willing to have with just anybody–which is why it is important to create safe spaces within groups of friends where these topics can be discussed in a judgment-free environment and why it is important to make friends with people who come from different walks of life.