I’ve always been interested in the concept of racial homophily. You often hear the phrase “birds of a feather flock together” or “like draws to like” in things like relationships or friendships. Homophily can be looked at as our tendency to gravitate toward those who seem to reflect our own personalities. In my head, I’ve often thought of the word like: “if I am really bubbly, I will want to be friends with other bubbly people.” Or: “if I’m more reserved, I’ll find companionship in other introverted individuals.” However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more attuned toward how often I can find homophily in groups of friends, in particular, with regards to race.
When I was younger, I never really felt any inclination to take note of what my friends looked like or what their background was. My elementary school was pretty diverse for Atlanta, Ga., at least in comparison to other schools. Upon my transfer to another school and area for middle school, there was a quick realization that everyone in that school was white. Like WHITE white. And there was a stark difference in how I could act or how others would act towards me due to that racial difference, especially at the ages of 11–14 where kids start to notice these differences. It’s an incredibly alienating experience to have no one quite able to understand what it means to be a POC in a PWI, and furthermore, to be ridiculed and singled out for your race.
As I entered high school, I was shifted back into a much more diverse climate, and my friend group during those four years was mostly people of color. It’s not even that I went in looking for non-white people to be friends with. Rather I think I was drawn to those who I felt could relate to me more and who I could talk about deeper topics with that may have been uncomfortable to talk about with a white friend. They could understand certain nuances and aspects that come with being people of color especially in navigating a society that was built on racism and discrimination.
Oftentimes, people of color tend to seek one another out and group together in communities where they may not be the majority. My parents are both political refugees from Vietnam, so as a first-gen and low income POC, I do think assimilation has a hand in this as well. For a lot of immigrants, there’s a pressure to assimilate to American culture and ideals, which can often result in the “othering” of said individuals. This can extend into the desire to surround oneself with individuals of a similar identity, especially in a community where you are not the majority. If we look at this on a bigger scale, we can see this reflected in the formation of racial enclaves like Chinatown or Harlem.
Taking it from a collegiate point of view, if we look at a school like Bowdoin, a PWI, there is diversity here. But, if we were to consider whether that diversity permeates throughout all aspects of the school, that’s a harder question to answer. It’s a tough situation to be in, as we are inheriting a society that has racism and prejudice deeply entrenched within it, and are expected to bridge this gap between cultures. People of color should not feel an obligation to have to explain themselves or continuously educate white individuals about nuances concerning one’s race or history. But at the same time, Bowdoin brings in students from all over with varying upbringings and backgrounds, and not everyone has the same level of experience, knowledge or understanding when it comes to race.
It reminds me of when in the book “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, Starr, a Black girl, has a conversation with her white boyfriend, Chris, who emphasizes that race does not matter in their relationship, about how in order to have an authentic relationship across racial lines, he has to see her race and acknowledge how race shapes each of their lives differently. It’s complicated because we see that the white individual in the relationship wants to support their partner and make them feel secure in their race, but at the same time, the Black individual feels that they are not truly “seen” and that their race and the complex nuances that accompany their background are negated. I don’t think anyone is necessarily at fault here. This seems to be a product of the history in our country where many of us have been brought up differently in different cultures.
And so I think that there should be a shift towards growing comfortable with being uncomfortable. Bowdoin and other higher education institutions in general offer a platform for individuals to start extending beyond their own bubbles. A lot of colleges and universities are emphasizing the importance of diversity in bringing people of different identities and backgrounds together to promote interracial friendships and interactions. Considering the different settings that students have grown up in, especially coming from a non-diverse area prior to college, there aren’t many social areas or opportunities that allow for the frequent interactions between people of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. I do think that racial homophily is apparent in friend groups at a school like Bowdoin. I’m not saying it’s a bad or good thing, but rather it’s up to each individual to decide what is best for their own college experience and whether to maintain or diverge from this.