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Posted under: Opinion

How I made my first real black friend

At this point I hadn't seen Ty's face. I didn't really stalk his social media like I normally would when interviews and such come up. That’s what nerds do — stalk, but on the low-low. And I’m a nerd. I'm what some might call a hood nerd. That awkward kid who read Mega Man books, got into fights with schoolyard bullies and watched Video Music Box but always made sure to get indoors before the streetlights went out. All-in-all, I wasn’t leading popularity contests in my adolescent years, to say the least.

I headed to a somewhat seedy apartment building that still felt newly gentrified and rang the buzzer. The white guy I met was NOT Ty. I walked into a comfy-enough studio space. No tea, but I did meet Ty. I was still worried about messing his name up, because it's just spelled wild funny. We dapped up and began the interview. Before we started, he introduced me to his daughter. She asked him what he did with her fish-eye lens. He chuckled and admitted he might have lost it. She kindly chastised him for his lack of remembrance. And in this exchange, I got a glimpse of what true fatherhood sounds and tastes like; in her I saw the joy of being loved by a father, a black father. So I trusted that he must be a good man. We talked for over an hour about music, life, the hood, acting, the works. We left and dapped up and I decided then and there that I was going to make Tyron my friend — my new black friend.

I had friends growing up, but always felt like a loner. I had lots of imaginary friends, imaginary boy bands, imaginary movies and music tours, lots of G.I. Joe's. comic books and video games. I always had a circle, but also always felt outside of it, like there were parts of me that would forever be unshared with the rest of the world for fear of ridicule, or whatever. That carried over to high school, where identification issues grew tenfold; I was used to being called a "white boy" in elementary school because I always raised my hand in class and did all my homework and liked reading the dictionary and used "big words" and "talked properly" or "white" (sidebar: let's please stop using whiteness in POC communities as the bar for what is good, appropriate or credible. Moving on...). Shit got really real as a teenager when I actually had to sit and work alongside actual white boys. I could feel the heat from the cats from around the way who would ask me to write their essays or do their homework for them, because they were black and I was black and I thought I should help them because that's what you do as black man/woman; you sacrifice and deal to appease others, regardless of whether or not the appeasement is justified or could be viewed from your own lens as a sacrifice of your own well-being. (I once wrote a dude's WHOLE essay. We were in the same class. He got a B+. I got a C. Go figure.) And I didn't ask for any money, ever. Because I thought the respect I would get in return from brothers who shared my struggles and melanin would balance the lack of bread out, right? Nah, shun. I was still the cat who wore button-downs under sweater-vests and who wanted to sneak out of Mr. Walsh's English class (which I loved) to play ball with the art and instrumental majors at La Guardia and still felt guilty about it because I wanted to fit in.

College was the first time I felt like an actual black man, whatever the f*ck that means. I was still trying too hard, laughing too hard, clowning too hard, partying and dancing and rapping too hard. All for the need of acceptance. I had some great friends but pretending to be someone else in a group of folks who love you means they don't really love you because you won't let them. All they really love is the mask, the image of who you are making yourself out to be for the mirrors and cameras. Even amongst my older brother's friends, a litany of grown, dope black men, almost all from the same hood, I was never really "in." They were never really mine. I was a homie by default. There was a false sense of belonging that I would never shake.

Fast-forward to today and I now have a rainbow coalition of friends that feel like home to me. However, there was something missing — commonality. Because for all the beautiful people around me, there is nothing like the kinship felt from a fellow black man. I can't explain it to you if you're not in the know. Like, why Usher and not Mario? Why did B.I.G. blow up and not Craig Mack? What made you go left instead of right? Many variables, all unexplainable...it just is what it is. So, meeting Tyron felt like closure. I was starting to feel like Paul Rudd in I Love You, Man (Yes, that really happens to men. You will deal.) I was looking for a homie in my age bracket who I could shoot the sh*t with. I wasn't blessed with the "we still friends after kindergarten and have a drink at our favorite bar every Sunday" Rat Pack of fellas. I had no fraternity that gets drunk and pees in the grass together, either. Nope, no football/baseball/basketball/lacrosse/hockey/squash team to self-identify with. Granted, the wholeness I feel is wholeness of self; the feeling of knowing I complete me, right? My Ram Dass sh*t. But thank you, Tyron, and all the other Tyrons in the world, for being a friend when I ain't even know I needed one. Word life.

Joel L. Daniels is a poet, emcee and actor, born and raised in the Bronx. He is the recipient of the Bronx Council of the Arts 2013 BRIO Award for poetry. His work has been featured in the 'Columbia Journal' along with other popular media outlets such as BBC Radio, RCRD LBL, URB, BRM, AllHipHop, The Source, RESPECT, and HipHopDX. Joel has also spoken/performed at the Apollo, Joe's Pub, Rockwood Music Hall, Columbia University, The National Black Theater, NYU, Webster Hall, Pianos and Brooklyn Bowl.


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