Jenée Desmond-Harris writes a kind of advice column at The Root, Race Matters. And this week, she wrote an interesting article, How to Deal With Friends’ Racist Reactions to Ferguson. It is about people on Facebook, who find that many of their “friends” are, in fact, bigots. The whole thing is kind of new to me because I don’t use Facebook. I use Twitter and there I “follow” people. And on Google+, I also “follow,” but the people can be subdivided into friends. On Facebook I guess you “like,” which implies friendship.
Desmond-Harris gives the advice to just block such people. There are a few reasons for this including the fact that the stress is just not good for you and that life is too short to deal with awful people. I agree with that. It’s not to say that I require that all my friends agree with me. In fact, I would have no friends if that were the case because they seem to disagree with me far more than they agree with me. But they don’t disagree with me about the most basic humanity. For example, I can’t imagine being friends with someone who did not value empathy. (Of course, I would empathize with the fact that they are basically psychopaths, but I wouldn’t want them in my life.)
This whole thing is a reminder that friendship is truly a dying art in our culture. In fact, it is so bad that most people don’t even realize that friendship is an art. Most friendships exist only because they are convenient. “Out of sight, out of mind.” That’s the status of most friendships. And this kind of facile friendship is made all the easier with Facebook. Even e-mail seems to be too much of a hassle for most people. Instead, they just puts their trivial thoughts out into the ether and maybe someone will respond. Maybe someone will “like” the fact that you had a burrito for lunch!
Because I have a very small amount of fame (infamy is probably more accurate), I get e-mail from people I once knew. But I’ve learned to be extremely short with these people. Such e-mail is almost always a kind of emotional drive-by shooting. I’m not at all interested in having a superficial relationship with these people, much less acting as a kind of circus freak to spice up their sad, paint-by-numbers lives. The other side of this is that I’ve developed some fairly deep relationships with people I’ve never met that have involved tens of thousands of words in correspondence. The internet really can act as a way to facilitate true friendships. It is just that it rarely is used that way.
So if I were on Facebook, I have little doubt that the majority of the people I went to high school would be sending out the most vile of comments about the death of Michael Brown now that all conservatives “know” that what Darren Wilson said is The Truth™: officer friendly was brutally attacked and got vewy vewy scawed. But such people show their true colors long before an event like this occurs to make it obvious. But I’m trained. I know what to look for. And regardless, I never mistake someone giving me a +1 on Google+ with friendship.