Antoinette: I'd like to think people are having more of these conversations. I mean I'm having these conversations more outside of the sanctity of like private space and close friendships, like we have these conversations at work now.
(Death, Sex & Money theme music)
Anna Sale: This is Death, Sex & Money.
The show from WNYC about the things we think about a lot...
...and need to talk about more.
I’m Anna Sale.
(end of Death, Sex & Money theme music)
Anna Sale: Last week we shared an episode that we released in 2020 about race and friendship.
Anna Sale: When I think back on that episode, the image that first comes to my mind is of Antoinette, a Black woman in Dallas, who described getting a phone call at home, on a weekend, when her ceiling was leaking. The call came from a white colleague who was worried about a terse text exchange between them. Here’s how Antoinette described that call back then.
Antoinette (phone audio, 2020 episode): I said, “Hey, my ceiling’s leaking. I have maintenance people coming in and out. I'm trying to wrangle that situation,” and it kind of, it- it didn't feel like she heard me. Ultimately, I wound up apologizing for my short response to her.
Anna Sale: I talked to Antoinette about that again when we reached back out to listeners from that episode to hear whether anything had shifted in their friendships since.
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Anna Sale: I wanna start actually, so- so, when you think back on that conversation that we had and about that incident, like, the getting a call from a white coworker on a weekend, um, where she wanted to talk about, her feelings about, um, whether you were being Kurt about the cancellation of a meeting. Um, how do you think about it now?
Antoinette: It's wild to me because I feel like that conversation was like at the precipice of what we would then see unfold. And I feel like we were chewing some concepts very early on, and it was- it was new to have those conversations. And then after the summer of 2020 when everyone who had eyes and the willingness to watch George Floyd's murder, I think if you left that situation with a mindset that was unchanged, I don't feel like I am going to compel you. And it really solidified in my mind that that is no longer my work. That's not my weight to carry.
Anna Sale: Mm-hmm. And I wonder if you could draw the line for me from watching the murder of George Floyd to thinking about, in everyday social interactions, um, with work colleagues, like, uh- what your role was in- in making white women feel comfortable.
Antoinette: Hmm. I think it's around the basis of where do our humanities intersect?
Anna Sale: Hmm.
Antoinette: And when do you see me as having as human an experience that you're having? I can think of numerous instances where I am curt and short and in hindsight, (laughs) I should have been more patient or, you know, responded differently or took more time. I think that's a basic human experience. But am I allowed to miss the mark on being curt in the wrong moments? Who do you allow that for and who don't you? When that happens, do you consider my humanity and see yourself in me?
Anna Sale: Mm-hmm.
Anna Sale: Yeah. And if this weekend you got a call from a white coworker who wanted to talk about her feelings about whether you had communicated in the right way about understanding that a meeting was canceled, um, what would happen?
Antoinette: Mm. Wow. I'm being really honest, today I probably wouldn't answer the phone, cause it's the weekend. Um, if I did answer the phone, I don't think I would digest the conversation in the same way. In the sense that I'd be like, “Thanks for sharing how you feel.” And then I'd get off the phone. (laughs)
Anna Sale: (laughs) You would be like, It is not my job to make you feel differently. I do not need to manage these feelings for you.
Antoinette: It’s not. No.
Anna Sale: Do you think your work colleagues have noticed a change in how you expect to be treated by them, particularly your white colleagues?
Antoinette: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Um, I'm just not one to suffer fools period, (laughs) but I think I got a little bit more resolved in that stance too. Um, in the sense that some conversations I'm just not willing to engage in anymore.
Anna Sale: While Antoinette has been dialing things back and drawing the line with coworkers, we heard from another listener, Matt, about his new feelings of solidarity with people at work.
Matt is Korean and was raised by a white family who adopted him. When we first spoke, he talked about his excitement about a new friendship with a cool coworker.
Matt: When we spoke, I really didn't know any other, um, Asian people other than my- my colleague.
Anna Sale: They became friends, but since that episode came out, Matt started feeling pulled back to upstate New York, where he was raised, and decided to leave the overwhelmingly white newsroom in South Carolina where he had worked.
Matt: So I just put my two weeks notice in, and I quit my job without anything lined up and moved back up to New York. Um, and, you know, I thought that it'd be a few months, you know, before I'd find a new job and then a full year passed.
Anna Sale: Matt had a lot of time on his hands. And in the spring of 2022, he threw himself into a project photographing other Korean adoptees. He joined Facebook groups and met people with histories similar to his own.
Matt: It was just surreal to- to hear other people's experiences that were literally exactly like mine. Um, people had the exact same thoughts and, um, curiosities and, um, struggles.
Anna Sale: Like what's- what's an example of something you heard somebody else say and you were like, “Yes!”?
Matt: (laughs) Oh, uh, well, you know, this is a small thing, but I- it stayed in my memory – this one person I interviewed and photographed for the project, um, talking about how, you know, she hated her- she used the word “hate,” um, to describe the way she felt about her eye shape when she was young. You know, she didn't have a lot of role models of, um, Asian women in TV and movies that, um, she could use as, um, examples of how – the example she used was how to do her makeup. And I just remember when I was a kid, I- I told my mom one day like how I hated my eyes. And, and, and she told me that my eyes were beautiful. And you know, I think on its face, it sounds like something very small, but it gets at something much deeper, you know, which is not feeling beautiful.
Anna Sale: Yeah. Yeah. Well, how powerful that is. You say it's a small thing, but it's like to know that it's not just you who looked at your own face and said like, “Something about this feels wrong.”
Matt Burkhartt: Um, yeah, it just feels like this little- I don't know, it's almost like this- I don't know, this like underground club or something that we're all part of. Um, and the other funny thing is that – so I have a photo of myself at, um, at the, um, adoption agency sitting on my foster mother's lap. And all of the adoptees who are part of my project have the exact same photo and the same exact style sitting on the same type of chair, um, with their foster mothers. It's almost like, you know, showing someone your, your membership card of some secret organization and, and realizing like, “Wait, you're, you're part of this club too?”
Anna Sale: Matt eventually did get a job as a photographer at a college where he met someone in another department who was also a Korean adoptee. They bonded over his photo project and she invited him out with a group of coworkers – and then they kept hanging out.
Matt: You know, I have like a little work friend group here, and, um, I think just by coincidence, um, there's maybe only one or two people who are, um, who are white in that group. And so it's a very diverse friend circle, which also I've never experienced before. And um, but yeah, I guess when I do interact with other either staff members or faculty members here at the college who are non-white – it almost feels like, even if they're not Korean, cause most of them are not, um, I almost feel like a- some sense of solidarity. You know, like, there's like a- a subtle look,
Anna Sale: A look like a- a kind of like nod, like “I see you over there.” Like that kind of thing?
Matt: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Yeah. I think that's only happening in my head. Um, but it's-
Anna Sale: I don't know. I bet it's actually happening. (laughs)
Matt: Yeah. Yeah. Who knows? Maybe. Um, the only word I can think of to describe that is just comfortable. Um, like the first time we all went out, we were at a, uh, a nearby brewery and we had a big table of all of us. And everybody else, um, there was white and- but I think we probably outnumbered the rest of the people.
Matt: And, um- it's just nice being, um, around people who make you feel like you aren't standing out. And it's just a- it's a feeling I'm not really accustomed to. So it’s something I'm getting used to.
Anna Sale: Coming up… We hear from Chrishana and Sarah, two friends who’ve stayed close while giving each other space.
Sarah Lorr: Things are different in that we're not in the same city anymore. But in some ways I feel that- that our friendship has really grown with our life circumstances.
(Death, Sex & Money midshow theme music)
Anna Sale: While we were producing this episode, I spoke with a listener named Cristobal who told us how much our 2020 episode around race and friendship had helped him.
Cristobal: There was someone in there that had said something about just not really fitting in, um, or feeling like you're part of your culture. I did grow up in a very, you know, Hispanic, Mexican-American community, but there was this sense that I didn't belong with them? You know, my dad, while he was born in Mexico, raised in the US, he decided to blend in. And so we lost a lot of the history and the culture. So, you know, I grew up with my dad listening to The Beatles, um, which- which I love. The Beatles are great. But, uh, I never listened to Mexican music or even anything in Spanish. I don't speak Spanish. I, you know, really lost that connection.
Anna Sale: Cristobal said the episode helped him understand where he’s felt ease in friendships and where there’s been strain.
He also said that a few months after that episode came out, when the pandemic shutdown started in March of 2020, he got a lot of help from our Pandemic Toolkit, a spreadsheet of activities and coping mechanisms that we built with you, our listeners, to help us all get through it. He ended up using the spreadsheet at work.
Cristobal: So I- I work in politics and we were doing covid check-ins, um, with constituents. And what we ended up doing is we would call people and just check in. You know, “How are you doing? What do you need?” And I had this document I was compiling where I needed additional resources for, you know, ways for parents to enrich their child's lives. And the spreadsheet that Death, Sex & Money put together, you know, really gave me that outlet.
Anna Sale: I just love that. Cristobal is an example of the incredible listeners that make up our Death, Sex & Money community, and I loved hearing how he uses our work to inspire different connections and conversations in his life.
And that’s why he gives a monthly donation to support our work. If our show offers the same thing for you, please consider becoming a sustaining member. We are just 50 people away from meeting our goal for this fall so please visit deathsexmoney.org and click on donate to sign up to give us a monthly donation, or you can text the letters DSM to the number 70101. Join this community of listener supporters.
And, you know, since you can never have enough suggestions for coping with stress and isolation, you can still find the link to our pandemic toolkit spreadsheet that we built together – it’s in our show notes.
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Anna Sale: This is Death, Sex & Money from WNYC. I’m Anna Sale.
For our episode in 2020 about race and friendship, I spoke to Sarah Lorr and Chrishana White, who met as coworkers in New York and became very close. Chrishana is Black, Sarah is white, and they talked then about how they had learned to be direct about their differences. But Chrishana also mentioned there were some ways she felt Sarah had let her down.
Chrishana (studio audio, 2020 episode): I think there have been instances where she hasn't used her privilege and I just wish that, like she would- that it didn't take me to go into the office and say something, that she would speak up. I shouldn’t be the one doing this all the time, or at all.
Anna Sale: You told her that.
Chrishana: I- I didn't tell her that.
Anna Sale: When we caught up recently on Zoom, I asked them whether they remembered that part of our conversation.
Sarah Lorr: Oh we- we remember.
Chrishana White: (laughs)
Anna Sale: Uh-huh.
Sarah Lorr: Yeah, we definitely talked about it after the interview. Um, how do we think back on it, Chrishana?
Chrishana White: (laughs) You seem to have some feelings about it, Sarah.
Sarah Lorr: No, I'm curious about yours.
Chrishana White: Yeah.That's a conversation that I wish I would've had with Sarah beforehand, and not on- (laughs) not on Seath, Sex, & Money for the first time. Um, so I- I think looking back on it, I would've handled it differently.
Sarah Lorr: Yeah like some of what we talked about we hadn’t talked about before, and so- and I do think at some point Chrishana was like, “Oh, sorry I did that to you on air, on a national radio program.”
Chrishana White: Yeah.
Sarah Lorr: But it was also good for us. Like I appreciated the apology. I wasn't like, “What are you talking about? It was so organic for me.”
Anna Sale: (laughs)
Sarah Lorr: Uh, but I also- I also felt like it was like a good push, in the end.
Anna Sale: Their lives have changed in big ways in the last three years, but they still hold each other close.
Chrishana White: We've been really intentional about our friendship, and we've been really connected- like I feel really connected to Sarah.
Anna Sale: Keeping up with each other now though, takes effort in a way it didn’t when they were coworkers.
Sarah Lorr: Chrishana had the really great idea that we would read Big Friendship together.
Anna Sale: Big Friendship – the book Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman wrote about their friendship.
Sarah Lorr: I remember being like, “Oh, this is such a Chrishana idea,” but it was like, so perfect.
Anna Sale: Reading that book together also helped them talk through the big changes happening in their lives, like when Chrishana moved away from New York City.
Chrishana White: My wife was offered her dream job. She- she works at Smith College, and there was no way that I was moving to the quaint town of North Hampton.
Anna Sale: How come?
Chrishana White: Just a little- a little too small for my big personality,
Anna Sale: Instead she settled in New Haven, with her wife. But she says she isn’t working that hard to befriend her new neighbors there.
Chrishana White: I typically have like a ‘no new friends’ policy. I think that's, that's how I-
Sarah Lorr: I got in under the wire.
Anna Sale: (laughs)
Chrishana White: (laughs) But I don't know. People- people gravitate towards me.
Anna Sale: Mm-hmm.
Sarah Lorr: Oh my God. Are you listening to this?
Anna Sale: (laughs) Well.
Sarah Lorr: I hope everybody's taking note to this hubris.
Anna Sale: Friendship slots are filled.
Chrishana White: (laughs) Don’t bother applying. Please do not submit any applications.
Anna Sale: Sarah has also seen a whole new world of friendship options open up – mom friends. Since we talked, Sarah had a baby, and she has mixed feelings about the social aspects of parenthood.
Chrishana White: Sarah has told me some stories.
Sarah Lorr: I mean, there are a lot of wonderful mothers in the world, Anna, and a lot of wonderful parents. And then of course you meet a lot of other people too. Brooklyn's, Brooklyn, man. Every- everybody's, uh, everybody has like pretty high expectations for their kids and there's a lot of high intensity parenting around. But I am trying to take it one step at a time and- and maintain a circle of low intensity parents.
Chrishana White: (laughs)
Anna Sale: (laughs) Um, from Chrishana’s reaction, it sounds like she's gotten some Brooklyn parenting reports.
Sarah Lorr: Yeah. Yeah. Well, you gotta have some people on the outside so you can be like, “Is it me or is this not where I wanna be headed? Right? I should steer to the right now, right?”
Anna Sale: But despite their closeness, Chrishana and Sarah know that they do not need to be each other’s everything. Like in the summer of 2020, there were conversations they didn’t have – on purpose.
Sarah Lorr: I think I intuitively knew that this was not a conversation for me and Chrishana. Like, this is not a conversation- this was not- like I- I think I knew she did not wanna process this with- with white people.
Chrishana White: Yeah. You know, like while I didn't process like the Black death and Black tragedy with Sarah, there was a whole host of things like going on in my personal life that I did process with Sarah and I was like, “Sarah, tell me I'm not crazy about- about like X, Y, and Z.”
Anna Sale: Hmm, mm-hmm.
Chrishana White: Like some- I'll be going through something or I'll be in a rut and I'll open up my text messages and I'll text Sarah exactly how I'm feeling. And it'll be like the most vulnerable thing. And I'm like, “Wow. Like I figured out like what's going on with me,” like just by texting Sarah. Um, and like sometimes, like she don't respond right away. And I'm like, I don't- I didn't need her to respond. I just needed to like write my thoughts. (laughs)
Sarah Lorr: And it happens the other way too, where I'll send a bunch of messages. Mine are usually less all thought out. Chrishana sounds like a nice long three-paragraph message that's like well-edited. Mine is- it'll be like 20 short text messages in a row. I honestly think even like three years ago in our friendship, I would've been like, “Oh, I hope I didn't say- like one of those messages wasn't weird or didn't say the wrong thing.” And now I'm like, “Well, I'm sure there was something weird in there, but she'll get back to me.” (laughs)
Chrishana White: (laughs)
Sarah Lorr: Uh, there's just a lot of, like, grace – like the trust that like, I could say something totally off the wall or not get it quite right, but that we like make space for revisions, both in our own friendship, but in like how we see the world. Like we've just grown a lot together.
Sarah Lorr: So I could say something and be like a month later, like, “I still remember saying that, and I wish I hadn't.” Or like, like if I could just – and sometimes she'll be like, “I have forgotten. And like, I don't know what you're talking about. Or I didn't even catch that.” And other times she's like, “Yeah, I see why you are correcting that and I hear you.”
Anna Sale: Making space for revisions works for Chrishana and Sarah. But a listener we called James back in 2020 told us about giving up on revising an old friendship and deciding to just cut someone off who’d been both a childhood best friend and roommate.
James is Black, his old friend is white, and they’d grown up together in Central New Jersey. He told us then about this time they watched a political debate together and his roommate made a racist comment.
James/Devan (phone audio, 2020 episode): And that led to like a screaming argument to the point where I actually left my apartment that night. I was just sort of done.
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Anna Sale: Um, you were James in our episode that came out in early 2020. Do you wanna continue to be James?
Devan: I can be my real name.
Anna: You can?
Devan: Unless it's confusing.
Anna: No, I mean, I think that speaks to some kind of shift. Why can you be your real name now?
Devan: That is a good question. Well, I guess when we first recorded it, the big thing at the time was I was concerned about outing the person. Being that, you know, like we hadn't had a discussion about it. Um, but I don't know. I feel like I'm further removed from that.
Anna Sale: After Devan faded from his ex-roomate’s life, whom we’re calling Mike, Devan still got an invite to his wedding.
Devan: And I just said, no on the RSVP. And I- I imagine that, you know, he's not dumb. At this point, he sort of understands that like, I'm sort of not interested in continuing our friendship. He's had a kid since then and we still haven't spoken. I feel like, um, now there's that clean break. Before I feel like it was kind of, uh – not that there was a chance that we would be friends again, but, um, I think it was still a bit open ended if we were gonna have a conversation on why we weren't friends anymore. And I think we've sort of, you know, moved past that point now.
Anna Sale: It wasn’t the simplest or easiest thing for Devan to disentangle from Mike. They’d been so close for so long.
Their families knew each other – followed each other on social media – which came up in August of 2020, when news broke that a white police officer shot and seriously injured a Black man named Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Devan: Mike ended up posting on his Facebook page around that time. Something justifying, um, why, uh, the man was shot. Um, and then my mom (laughs) actually, um, was engaging with him on the posts and I had to like tell her, like, “Don't respond.”
Anna Sale: Your mom got up in his comments on Facebook? (laughs)
Devan: She did. We had to have a talk. I was like, “You can block him, you can unfollow him. You should not be like going back and forth with this guy on Facebook.” Um-
Anna Sale: (laughs) And did she hear you or did she decide she still wanted to?
Devan: She- yeah, yeah, yeah. She- she- she heard me, but I think she was a bit taken aback. You know, like for her it was a bit weird being that like, you know, he slept over at my house. So I think for her it was sort of like, “Wow, it's crazy that this person who I let in my house, you know, um, can have this point of view.”
Anna Sale: Mm-hmm. Is that a- when you think about New Jersey and hanging out back where you grew up, is that a community where you wanna go out and hang out with old friends?
Devan: No, um. (laughs) Yeah, it's weird. Like, and I, you know, I- at the time I really liked growing up there. But it's not really a place that I am excited to go to or spend time. Um, and I think it's- it's like a bit of a reminder of the type of people that I had to sort of tolerate and the type of things that I had to tolerate, um, and I think the biggest thing is that there, it feels like, “Oh, basically I'm the person who needs to speak up if someone says something crazy” or, you know, like, whereas. I feel like if, you know, those types of things were said around here, you know, there would be a lot- a lot larger of a group sort of, um, stepping up.
Anna Sale: Mmm. Including the white people who are in your life in Brooklyn?
Anna Sale: Uh-huh.
Devan: And I think the pandemic has played a part in that as well, is that like, I feel a lot more intentional with sort of like how I spend my time and who I spend my time with. So like, I’m a lot less willing to sort of spend time with people who, like, (laughs) I don't wanna be around or I don't think share my values. Um, I feel like before I may have had a bit more of an- I felt like I had more of an obligation to like, I don't know, educate people who, or do that sort of thing. Whereas now my tolerance for that is really low. For me I feel like before it was sort of like, I felt more guilty having that point of view, um, whereas now I'm just like, “No, I- I'm- I'm good. Like you can figure it out yourself.”
Anna Sale: That’s similar to Antoinette, in Dallas, who today says that an exchange with her coworker would not give her the same kind of pause.
Antoinette: I wouldn't give it nearly the amount of mental chew that I did when it happened real time.
Anna Sale: Sometimes, you don’t have to talk about it.
And that is something I noticed when I was having these catch-up conversations with listeners. I was aware how three years ago, I was sometimes pushing for everyone to get clear with their friends about where there was weirdness about race. I had this kind of faith that conversation was going to resolve something. Now, I see, that was pretty white of me… because I wasn’t really taking into account what that would’ve required from Devan or Antoinette – how much patient hand-holding it could take with people who hadn’t treated them well.
I brought this up with Antoinette.
(music fades out)
Anna Sale: I think I may have even suggested to you, like, do you think you're gonna loop back around with this colleague and tell her how it made you feel? And you were like, “Maybe,” you know, like, um, so I was sort of like suggesting that that's something that ought to have happened for everybody to have clarity. Um, and what I hear you saying is, “What I've learned since we talked is like there's a lot of these conversations that I do not need to have.”
Antoinette: No, and I think even more questioning like what does that closure look- like, closure loop look like, and does it even need to exist?
Anna Sale: Tell me what you mean by that.
Antoinette: It's kind of like with kids and it's like when they're upset with each other, you want them to talk it out and then hug it out and then everything's okay. And I think I'm making more peace with the fact that, um, everything might not be okay.
Anna Sale: Uh-huh. And I guess, I think sometimes when it's like, you know, “This might be an unresolvable thing, so let's just move forward.” Um, sometimes the cost of that is like taking a minute to say like, “I just want you to hear what my experience is and I wanna feel seen,” you know? Have you felt that trade off or does it feel like, uh, for some people it doesn't matter if they see you?
Antoinette: Hmm. I'm gonna flip that and say that I'm- I'm weighing more heavily does it matter to me if they see me? Um…
Anna Sale: Mm-hmm.
Antoinette: …and I'm accepting that not being seen doesn't diminish who I am. I think for a long time I tied those two together – like my worth and value is when you see me. And I'm trying to create a space where my worth and value is constant regardless of who sees me.
(Death, Sex & Money theme music)
Anna Sale: That’s our listener Antoinette.
Anna Sale: Is there anything else that you wanna say?
Antoinette: Um, I appreciate the opportunity to think back on that time. There are times in life where I am very hard on myself and will be like, “We are making no progress and no growth.” And that's not true. And this was a space where I was able to sit and listen to myself then and compare that to myself today. And notice places where it's like “You're moving and growing kid.”
Anna Sale: Hmm.
Antoinette: It's happening.
Anna Sale: Thank you to all of the listeners in this episode for letting us back in. You can find a link to Matt’s photography project of Korean adoptees, called Where are you really from? in our show notes. There’s also a link there to our episode with Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, about their book Big Friendship.
Death, Sex & Money is a listener-supported production of WNYC Studios in New York. This episode was produced by Lilly Clark, our tremendous intern. We are excited and sad to say that she is departing for a great new opportunity. Lilly, thank you for all your work. You are an immense talent.
The rest of the team is Liliana Maria Percy Ruiz, Zoe Azulay, Afi Yellow-Duke, Lindsay Foster Thomas, and Andrew Dunn.
And a special thank you to Candice Evers who created both illustrations for our episodes on Race & Friendship – you can see those on our website at deathsexmoney.org or on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @deasthsexmoney.
The Reverend John Delore and Steve Lewis wrote our theme music.
Thank you to Jenna Carmichael in Dalton, Pennsylvania for being a member of Death, Sex & Money and supporting us with a monthly donation. Join Jenna and support what we do here by going to deathsexmoney.org/donate.
Anna Sale: Chrishana, I feel like you're, uh, more reserved this time as we're talking.
Chrishana White: Well-
Sarah Lorr: I love a call out. I love a Chrishana call out.
Chrishana White: (laughs) I don't know if I'm more reserved, but you know, Anna, you- you're not asking that heavy hitter questions that you usually ask though, you know?
Anna Sale: (laughs) Oh really?
Chrishana White: (laughs) I’m joking. I'm joking.
Anna Sale: I can- I can sharpen the daggers!
Anna Sale: I’m Anna Sale and this is Death, Sex & Money from WNYC.
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