Diverse Friend Groups
Based on 2019’s numbers from the US Census Bureau, about 49% of our country’s population under the age of 16 is white. From there, the numbers reflect that youth in America are about 25% Latinx or Hispanic, 13% Black, and 10% Asian, Alaskan Natives, Native Americans, and other races. So, if you’re looking at your friend group, and you’re not seeing this kind of diversity… it may be time to consider that you’re in a bit of a racial bubble that isn’t reflective of our country’s actual diversity.
How to Ensure Your Friend Group Is Diverse
I understand that just because the United States is racially diverse, it doesn’t mean you’re necessarily surrounded by that diversity on a daily basis. Your house, school, church, and workplace may be in an area that’s dominated by only one of these racial groups, and when you’re under 18, you haven’t had a lot of choice in these matters. If you’re interested in prioritizing diversity in your friend group now, it’s likely going to mean intentionally stepping outside of your comfort zone, trying new activities and places, and even involving your parents for support. But it will be worth it! Studies have repeatedly shown that increased diversity is ultimately beneficial to everyone involved because it exposes us to more than one worldview, challenges our innate biases, and teaches us to practice empathy.
Self-reflection and Avoiding Tokenization
Before you start walking up to folks who don’t look like you and saying, “Hey! Wanna be friends?” it’s important to reflect on why you’re interested in diversifying your friend group. The last thing you want to do is tokenize someone of a different race than you are, using them to make yourself look diverse rather than forming a deep, meaningful relationship with them as a person.
Tokenization has been a huge problem in the Diversity and Inclusion world for years, from workplaces to universities. It essentially dehumanizes people of a different ethnicity by using them to represent diversity that’s not actually genuine. If you want a more diverse friend group because you don’t want to be accused of being racist or because you want to look “like a good ally,” you have some internal work to do. As scholar Peggy McIntosh says, doing that internal work “is not about blame, shame, guilt, or whether one is a “nice person.” It’s about observing, realizing, thinking systemically and personally.” You may have a few things to learn or unlearn about how race has shaped your life, and that’s okay!
Intentionality Within Your Environment
If, however, you’re interested in diversifying your friend group because you don’t think it reflects the diversity in your community, because you feel like everyone in your life has the same background and opinions, or because you simply want some new friends, there are plenty of ways to go about creating opportunities for the organic growth of more diverse friendships. All it takes is a little bit of intention.
First, you need to look at your usual environments. Does diversity exist at your school, church, place of work, or neighborhood? If so, great! Why, then, doesn’t your friend group already reflect that?
Is it because you and all your friends are in film club, and everyone in film club looks the same? Is it because you’re on the basketball team, and everyone on the team is the same race or color? It’s time to start diversifying your activities. You don’t have to quit film club or basketball, but look around you… where is the diversity happening? In the cafeteria? At Starbucks before school starts every morning? In the theatre department or debate team? Consider changing up where you hang out or joining a new club. You may discover a new passion or interest on top of making a new friend or two.
Looking Outside Your Usual Environment
If your typical stomping grounds don’t offer any diversity for you to get involved with, you’re going to have to do some detective work. Research schools, churches, and neighborhood organizations that aren’t predominantly one race. Even better, find organizations with a mission to do exactly what you’re trying to do! Look for organizations like New Hope Academy who are successfully living out their mission of creating diverse spaces, and either ask your parents if you can attend or volunteer to help out. If your family goes to church, ask them to consider changing churches in favor of one that has a more diverse congregation. If you’ve traditionally played a sport for your school’s team, look into transferring to a club team that includes players from multiple neighborhoods. If you’re on track to attend college, pay close attention to which schools you apply to and whether their student & faculty populations reflect the country’s diverse demographics. There are diverse spaces out there, eager to welcome new folks of all kinds, as long as you’re willing to put in the time and effort to find them.
Making Friends Doesn’t Happen Overnight
Once you’ve become more intentional about where and how you spend your time, you’re going to need some patience. You can’t expect to walk away from your first day of a new school, club, or neighborhood with a meaningful relationship. Making friends takes a while! If you’re stumped, think about the things you do with your current friends: grabbing coffee, playing games online, walking around the mall, catching a movie, hosting study parties, supporting each other’s passions, trying out the latest TikTok trendy dance or prank or recipe, hanging around the local beaches and parks, giving each other rides to and from school, etc. Ask someone new to do one of those things and be willing to accept invitations like that too. This is the part where you’ll have to rely on the basics of forming new friendships and realize that not everyone is going to want to be your new friend. You can’t force friendship, but you can put yourself out there, offering kindness and curiosity to the new people you meet.
Most importantly, don’t give up! With time, you’ll form relationships, and with intention, some of those relationships will evolve into awesome friendships. It’s a beautiful goal to want your friend group to reflect the diversity of our world and God’s creation. We’re all created in His image, and that’s something to be celebrated, not overlooked. So be brave, be patient, and go make some new friends! And as usual, if you need someone to talk to about your journey, reach out to TheHopeLine today. We’d love to support you as you pursue new and more diverse friendships.
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Cara Beth Heath is a freelance writer and editor based in Chicago, Illinois. She loves words and all the different ways they can come together to illuminate the world for us. All she wants to do is use her God-given word skills to bring light into dark places, and when she’s not doing that, she’s probably wrapped up in a blanket with a cup of hot chocolate watching a movie or playing Dungeons & Dragons… God loves nerds too!