Some of My Best Friends Are White

When the Lena Dunham-created show Girls became a hit for HBO, one of the complaints was the show’s lack of diversity despite being set in ethnically diverse New York City.

Well, as it turned out, Dunham admitted (in a more eloquent way than I’m about to put it) that she didn’t write in black characters because she wrote about herself, and she essentially lives in a white world.

Apparently, statistics bear out that she’s not alone. But at least she was honest.

According to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll, 40 percent of white Americans have no nonwhite friends. For nonwhites, 25 percent only hung out with members of their own race. This means that when that old chestnut “but some of my best friends are black” gets trotted out, about 40 percent of those folks are producing imaginary black friends.

Whom do we have to thank for this disappointing lack of diversity? It’s the apparent mixed bag that was integration. Sure, things have changed a lot. I can totally use the same toilet as everyone else. Yet many black kids go to mostly black schools, thanks to “white flight.” Sunday remains one of the most segregated days of the week, since most whites go to church with other whites, and the same goes for people of other races. Entire cities are still known for being segregated despite efforts at integration.

Girls still isn’t very diverse. In fact, a lot of TV shows aren’t. And New York City, for all its ethnic diversity, is one of the most segregated cities in the United States. So who’s surprised that 40 percent of white people are living in a monochrome world?

For all the chatter about how America is running out of white people, white people remain 77.9 percent of the population. That’s more than 240 million people out of a country of a little over 313 million. It’s only mathematics that some of them would stay safely tucked away in the many, many mostly white enclaves of the U.S. and nary a brown face would be met — unless I moved there to take a small-town newspaper job.

Hi. Have we met? I’m Danielle Belton, a professional token. I was the person most likely to meet that 40 percent, since I was the only black person at my first three office jobs. After a brief stint as the only black person in an office in St. Louis, Mo., I went off to be the only black person in a newsroom in Midland, Texas, and Bakersfield, Calif. For some with whom I worked, I was a friendly curiosity, so I had to endure my fair share of dumb questions about hair and whether or not black people could tan.

Thanks to the glaring 40 percent, being a token is a burden that you can survive only if you go through all the stages of token grief. First there’s denial. (“I can’t be the first black person they’ve hired in three years here. Oh, wait, that person only lasted three months?”) Then anger. (“The next time someone asks me if I’m mixed with something, I’m going to answer, ‘Yeah, with slave master.’ “) Bargaining. (“I guess the Beatles weren’t necessarily thieves of black music for their entire oeuvre, so it’s OK for me to like ‘Rocky Raccoon.’ “) Depression. (“I actually tried to explain a Dave Chappelle joke to my co-worker. I’ve turned into the damned ‘Blackness Ambassador.’ “) And finally acceptance.