Allow These Things To Happen Before Calling Someone "Friend"

"Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It's not something you learn in school. But if you haven't learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven't learned anything."—Muhammad Ali

What About Your Friends?

I'm not a parent, but I have oodles of love nieces and two goddaughters. If there's one thing that I make sure that they all hear, on repeat, it's "A bad girlfriend can do far worse to you than a bad boyfriend ever will." Oh, believe you me, I'm speaking from up close and very personal experience. My first female childhood friend was evil. Pure evil. There's no time to get into just how much I am using "evil" literally, but let's just say that by the time I actually removed her from my life, she had done such a number on my self-esteem that it has taken years to heal some of the cracks that she put in my foundation as it relates to self-image, men, boundary-setting, family dynamics (what I should and should not tolerate) and even children (long story; my first book breaks it all down though). But if there is a silver lining to all of her toxicity (and a few others along the way), it's the fact that I now know what a friend is.

All of this reminds me of someone I know who used to get really irritated with me—and rightfully so—whenever I would refer to a boyfriend as "my husband". I can't tell you how many times she would say, "Shellie, I earned the right to call my man that. You have not." She's right. She earned it because she was actually married.

Same thing—albeit in a slightly different way—goes for "friend". It's also a sacred word; something that should not just be tossed out there simply because you and someone else like the same things or agree on some of the same issues.

Give life a little bit of time and it will teach you that friendship is a big responsibility and a huge calling.

So, before you bestow someone with that blessed title, please make sure that they check off all of the following boxes—and that you've done the same thing for them—first.

Watch How They Handle Private Information


Mama used to say, "If they gossip to you, they will gossip about you." In the day and age where people seem to thrive off of salaciousness, I'm not sure if that's 100 percent true because almost everyone talks about somebody's business on a daily basis (celebrities are people too, y'all). But what I will say is if someone is bringing information to you that, if you were the one that they were talking about, you would feel some type of way, that is a bit of a red flag. Also, be cautious of someone who wants to know all of your business but is vague as hell when it comes to their own (not only nosey but controlling and manipulative folks tend to be wired that way). One more thing—if something that you share with them comes back to you, don't simply take on the "Next time, I'll simply tell them not to say anything" approach. We're all adults here, so people with a good sense of judgment—and respect for privacy—should know what should be repeated and what shouldn't.

A good friend is a safe space to share information. Before you decide to call anyone a friend, make sure that you can say that about them without any doubt—or evidence to the contrary—in your mind.

Go Through Some Difficult Times First


I missed the whole Teen Moms series on MTV. But what does pull me in from time to time is Unexpected on TLC (whew…these babies having babies can really tug at you). An episode that I recently saw featured a five-generation teen mom (let that sink in) who used to be popular at her high school; that is until she got pregnant. Although she had hoped that her friends would show up for her at her baby shower, they did not. In response, she said, "These are the times when you really get to see who your friends are." Indeed.

It's very easy to be "friends" with someone when everything is on the upswing in our lives. It's when we lose our job, go through a heartbreak or need a few dollars, that you really get to see who's truly got your back. That's why it's imperative that you hold off on calling anyone your friend until you see how supportive, encouraging and available they are during a challenging moment or trying season in your world. Johnny Gill used to sing about fair-weathered friends and they definitely exist more than the solid ones do. That's why you need to give some time to go through some stuff with them, in order to see how they handle it all…first.

See How They Respond/React to Your Triumphs


We recently published a feature on that fine man Thomas Q. Jones. When I thought about this particular point, the visual for LeToya Luckett's "Back 2 Life" song came to mind. If you've never seen it before (or it's been a while), Thomas plays her love interest. He also has a female BFF who he even shares a birthday with. He's super excited for LeToya to meet his bestie, so they decide to meet at a restaurant. All good, right? Uh-uh, check out his friend Cynthia's energy at the 2:40 mark. Ain't nothin' about that woman happy that her friend is in a relationship.

I was just telling someone not too long ago that something that used to get me into trouble was not properly discerning opportunists in my space. Be careful because some people are "friends" with you because they want the perks of being in your personal space. But if they can't be genuinely happy (emphasis on "genuine") for you, even if they don't reap any benefits from your success or resources, this is another flag that should not be ignored.

A good and true friend is thrilled for your come-ups—personally and professionally. There's no subtext or envy or manipulative tactics that ever cross their mind.

Make Sure They Honor Your Boundaries


Boundaries are limits and yes, even friendships should have them. What should platonic boundaries look like? Your friends should honor your time. Your friends should respect your nos. Your friends should back off when you tell them that they are pushing too much or going too far. Your friends should honor "codes" (whatever codes the both of you agree to). Your friends should not try and monopolize your other relationships. Your friends should not be abusive in any way. Your friends should give you space when and as you need it.

One of the reasons why a lot of friends are of the past is because one or both people did not respect each other's boundaries. You're gonna be in for a very messy and ugly journey if you decide to make someone your friend without putting some boundaries in place. You're also gonna be in a world of hurt if you're not intentional about readjusting yourself in regards to them, the moment that they continuously disregard them.

Process How Humble, Patient and Compassionate They Are


For years, a lot of the people in my world were pretty narcissistic. That's why, these days, humility is paramount in my relationships. I strive to be that way and I only feel comfortable around those who put forth the concerted effort to do the same. Humble people listen well. Humble people apologize when they are wrong. Humble people are kind and have no problem putting others before them. Humble people value their relationships. Humble people also don't humble brag or talk about how humble they are.

Two other qualities that I look for—no, require—are patience and compassion. Patient people know that no one is perfect, including themselves, so they are willing to rock with the individuals in their lives as they grow and evolve. As far as compassion goes, "compassion" literally means that when you see that someone is suffering, you want to do what you can to alleviate it. The circle I have now? I can't tell you one time that I've been in need and someone in it hasn't been there to help—no tab-keeping or questions asked. I am intentional about being that same way towards them too.

Because really, if you can't expect humility, patience and compassion from the people who are closest to you, who can you expect it from?

Ponder If You Can Mutually Meet One Another’s Needs


Recently, I was having a conversation with someone who I've known for almost two decades now. As we were talking about how they have a tendency to make enemies due to how poorly they handle their dating situations, they said, "I'm great at friendships. I'm just bad at relationships."

Hmph. That statement right there deserves its own article. For now, the reason why I'm bringing this up is because I challenged them, almost as soon as it came out of their mouth. "Are you truly a good friend if everything is solely your terms? If you're not doing your best to not only get your needs met, but to meet the needs of others?"

When a friendship is real and both people want it to last, reciprocity is paramount. It's not about if you and another person have the same needs; it's about if both of you know what one another's needs are and, so long as they are realistic, you are willing to meet them.

If you are constantly doing most of the work, and when it comes to your needs, there are always excuses, justifications or deflections as to why they can't be met and/or you find yourself saying, "Damn. Are friendships supposed to be this hard?", that's another indication that being friends with that person may not be the best idea.

Give the Relationship More Than a Few Months to Develop


One more thing. Back when I was a teen mom director for the local arm of a national non-profit, one of the exercises that I would do with my girls is ask them, "So, how long would I need to know you before I could borrow fifty dollars?" Most of them would look at me crazy and, about 80 percent of them, would say 1-2 years, at the least. Then I would follow that up with, "OK. So, the last sex partner you had, how long did it take for him to hit?" Talk about being blindsided, as a lot of them said a day or a week, max. "Hmm, so what you're telling me is that you value fifty bucks more than your own body?"

You know you. You know what you bring to the table when it comes to your relationships. That's why it is totally OK—encouraged even—to take your own sweet and precious time before deciding to bestow the title of "friend" on anyone. Don't force it. Don't rush it. Don't let them force it or rush it. Just let time and observation do their thing.

Just like it typically takes more than a few months to trust someone enough to give them money or have sex with them, it should also take time to see someone's character and consistency in the friendship department. True friendships are a real blessing so, really, what's the rush? Exactly.

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

10 Things You Should Absolutely Expect From Your Friendships

According To Aristotle, We Need 'Utility', 'Pleasure' & 'Good' Friends

How To Build A Squad of Empowering Friends

5 Signs Of A Toxic Friendship That Is Secretly Poisoning Your Life

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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