David Mura

Secret Colors

For many years I wanted to be white. I worshipped white heroes on television, chose Paladin over his Chinese messenger, the Cartwrights over Hop Sing, the Green Hornet over Kato; identified with John Wayne shooting the Japs, with Richard Widmark wiping out the Koreans. The racial component of these identifications never came up. They seemed perfectly natural.

When younger I did have Japanese-American friends, especially when we lived in the city, but after we moved to the suburbs, I gradually began to move away from the two Japanese-American brothers in the neighborhood and avoided any other friendships with other Asian Americans. The one other Japanese-American boy in my classes was a definite nerd; so was the one Chinese-American boy. Who would want to be associated with them? Other than Asians, there were no other people of color at my schools. In my teens, some fellow students expected me to look toward the few Asian-American girls at our school. I resented this and desired just the opposite. It seemed to me a compliment when white friends would say, "I think of you, David, just like a white person." That was exactly how I wanted them to think of me---as if there were no differences between us.

Given those early exchanges, I could say, Yes, interracial friendships with whites are possible. Certainly they are possible if the person of color thinks of himself as white or desires to be thought of as white-that is, if the person of color forces from his consciousness the differences in his experience of race or how he might view himself differently from his white friend. Such friendships are also possible if race is never discussed as part of the relationship (some interracial marriages even function in this way). In such instances, the person of color might be aware of differences and difficulties due to racial issues, but remains silent about them. Instead, the person of color suppresses his true feelings and presents a version of himself he thinks will please, or at least not trouble, the white friend.

Under such conditions, friendship is possible. But we might ask then: What kind of friendship is that?

Furthermore, what happens if the person of color begins to become conscious of his identity in a way that takes into account his experiences of race?

Finally, how are interracial friendships between people of color different from those between people of color and whites?

These, perhaps, are more difficult and revealing questions than simply whether interracial friendships are possible. 129-130

You see, I saw myself as a good liberal and believed that my friends were good liberals. We were for equality. We were also for literature of quality. If, when we gathered at parties or literary events, I was the only person of color in the room, that didn't say anything about me or my white friends. 132

To people of color, it's obvious that the views of whites dominate our cultural discourse about race, and that the people who control the media and other institutions of culture are white. Yet to my white friend, it seemed it was she as a white person who was being marginalized, not people of color. 134

The perception of the behavior of black men in this country is that they're constantly angry. Irrational. Indeed, I used to see Alexs, from a distance, as being an angry or bristly character. But as we became more intimate, I began to glimpse the enormous amount of anger and insults Alexs had to negotiate through his life, day by day; how difficult it had been for him to survive, to not explode in anger or implode in self-destruction. I realized with what grace and equanimity, with what quiet resolve, he went about his life. Alexs, his actions, made sense to me now; I saw a rationality and justification for aspects of his behavior that I didn't understand before. 148

Alexs says that one result of our friendship is that he began to realize that retiring some of his anger was better for him and for the people close to him. Part of the reason for this was that I developed anger; the development of my anger allowed him to give some of it to me or to let some of his go, because there were now two people fighting on the same issue. He could feel more comfortable and relaxed then; he could sit back and watch me fight for a while. 151

Whatever the individual quibbles my white friends have had with me or my writings, I don't see their reactions as simply personal or as solely a matter of personality or character. I see their reaction against a backdrop of the ways most whites look at their friendships with individuals of color, particularly Asian Americans, and the ways they view a racial issue. For many years, I lived an unconscious life that constantly tried to repress anything in my experience that related to race; the friends I had then were comfortable with that repression. When I started to break down that repression, I had to look not only at my identity but also at their identity, at the ways they were comfortable with that repression and what that told me about the way they saw me, about what they meant when they said they loved me. (After all, Scarlett loved Mammy and where did that get Mammy?) With other whites with whom I am still friends, I now recognize a zone of intimacy I do not cross, certain feelings I choose not to talk about. I know I avoid bringing up my racial anger in ways that I would naturally do with friends of color. Nor do I feel---in the way I do with most friends of color---that if some particularly ugly or difficult issue or incident came up, I could count on these white friends to back me up. I can't help but sometimes feel that they believe race is simply my problem and not theirs. 155-156