The Black Best Friend

black-best-friend-clueless

Clueless‘ Cher with her Black Best Friend Dionne

The Black Best Friend (BBF) is a figure common in Western literature and, particularly, film and television. The BBF is often a nondescript, unremarkable character who serves as a sidekick, accomplice, or colleague to the main characters who are the focus of the story.

The Black Best Friend’s purpose is thought to be to create diversity and inclusion, and be more reflective of the ethnic make-up of many Western societies. This is supported by the fact that the BBF doesn’t have to be black; the Asian Best Friend or the Hispanic Best Friend is also shown. Whatever their specific ethnic background, the BBF is always the only non-white character or one of few in a larger cast, and always plays a supporting role to white star of the piece.

Creating Contrast

While the apparent reason for the inclusion of the BBF in popular culture is to create diversity and inclusion, just by being present the BBF highlights the difference between themselves and the main characters. In a crowd of all-white characters, the BBF seems like the odd one out and is more noticeable as a result. The most glaring characteristic of Black Best Friends, however, are their lack of character development.

indian-best-friendBland or Typical

The BBF, being merely an accent to the main character, lacks any true personality. Often the character’s background and interests are simply excluded from the story, or given little attention. In these cases the character is made to be as similar to the main character as possible — other than their physical appearance, they are portrayed as “just like everyone else”.

Other times the character is a walking, talking stereotype of their racial or ethnic group. Thus the Black Best Friend is often bossy or uses improper English, the Hispanic Sidekick is sassy and has an accent, and the Asian Friend is good with math or electronics and socially awkward.

The Black Best Friend or Nothing?

From one view, the Black Best Friend and related figures highlight the lack of interest and thought of creators of popular culture in characters who don’t fit the majority population. On the other hand, at the very least, with the BBF there is some representation of non-white groups — it is a start. The alternative for the present seems to be to completely exclude minority groups from popular culture.

So is the Black Best Friend better than nothing at all? If the Black Best Friend ever evolves to become a whole, not-so-stereotypical character with their own thoughts and interests other than serving a secondary role to the main character, that could come to be the case.

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25 thoughts on “The Black Best Friend

  1. Miss Alee,
    You must have known that this past weekend I watched “Loving Leah” on the Lifetime channel, and she develops a friendship with a black woman who is also the housekeeper for the man she is roommates with. This woman is spicy (of course) and I loved her, and when my friend pointed out she was the BBF, I said that I LOVE the BBF and that everyone needs a spicy BBF in their life.

    Call me crazy if you must.

  2. Hi Sherry,

    “this past weekend I watched “Loving Leah” on the Lifetime channel, and she develops a friendship with a black woman who is also the housekeeper for the man she is roommates with.”

    Sounds typical. Very typical.

    “This woman is spicy (of course) and I loved her…Call me crazy if you must.”

    You’re not crazy — BBFs can be entertaining or fun. Some are even likeable. I actually liked the BBF and IBF (Indian Best Friend) featured in the photos above…That doesn’t change the fact that they are created to pay lip-service to diversity, maybe through no fault of their own.

  3. Curious, are you referring to a particular genre of films that this is present in, or just any film in general? Also, pretty much any secondary character, white or black or hispanic or whatever, always serves a secondary role to the main character, because they are a secondary character. Most films develop the main character far more than any of the others. Most other characters usually develop little or not at all in comparison to the main character. Regardless of race. Why put unnecessary focus on a secondary character? They are a small part of the story in most cases. I don’t care about robin, batman is what its all about. I don’t really care about that white guy bounty hunter in Django unchained either, all I was interested in was Django. Know what I mean?

  4. Mike,

    “Curious, are you referring to a particular genre of films that this is present in, or just any film in general?”

    Any films, TV shows, books.

    “Also, pretty much any secondary character, white or black or hispanic or whatever, always serves a secondary role to the main character”

    That’s not what I was referring to. It’s expected that their role will be secondary, but these characters more or less have no role or personality other than assisting, advising, or propping up the main character.

    “Why put unnecessary focus on a secondary character?”

    Who says there should be a focus on them?

    The post is not stating that secondary characters should have a primary role. Simply that they might be developed, given background, or given personality in some way, or if they are given these, it could be something out of the cliche. The main character isn’t the only one that matters in a film, book, etc…hardly.

    “I don’t care about robin, batman is what its all about.”

    Even Robin has more of a role than some of these characters.

  5. I definitely do NOT like the BBF and I would rather see no black woman in a picture than to see a BBF. And I really don’t care how the BBF is portrayed: sassy, mammy-like, intelligent whatever. The BBF is always a role with the BW happily second to a white woman, sometimes loving said white friend more than she loves her own self. That image of BW is a relic, irrespective of the BW’s appearance and behavior. Gone With The Wind is an older example of a BBF-type film, but even when the BBF is not a heavy, mammy figure, it is just a variation of the same theme. White people just want to keep believing the lie that BW enjoy being in servitude to white women.

    When I was in college, there were white women who tried to make me their BBF, but it did not work. When they found out that I wanted the same sexy white guys that they wanted, they knew better than to want me as a sidekick. I did end up having genuine friendships with white women who respected me as an equal, but I never allowed myself to become any white woman’s loving sidekick. True friendships are reciprocal. My friends have to value me as much as I value them and they cannot use me to make themselves look good. Many white women want a BBF because they believe that BW are not competition and so they will shine in the presence of a BW.

  6. Interesting post. I think one reason why they make the minority best friend kind of generic is that it’s a little risky to make them have a lot of vices. One would think that if the personality flaws weren’t stereotypical it’d be OK but it still might be offensive.

    I agree that portraying the BBF as somewhat generic is better than nothing, because often the sidekicks in general are sort of generic. The key thing is to compare the BBF to the other sidekicks, not the protagonist who will presumably be more fleshed out by default. For example, in the cartoon American Dad, there is a character named Barry who is one of the son’s friends. He’s fat, stupid, awkward, and sort of ambiguously gendered. He’s ginger. If they made him a minority, I think people would be offended, even though I don’t think his flaws line up with any stereotypes perse.

    While we’re on the topic, what about using minority friends in a movie as a sort of hoaxy way of making the main character seem more likeable? Napoleon Dynamite comes to mind. That movie really pisses me off. I found Napoleon’s character to be not that funny, snotty, and very unlikeable. I also got the sense that we were supposed to like him because he happened to befriend a quiet Hispanic person. That pissed me off, because I felt like it objectified Jose towards a worthless end. Does anyone else ever see that trope used? Anyway, good post.

  7. Ann,

    “I definitely do NOT like the BBF and I would rather see no black woman in a picture than to see a BBF.”

    This is my current thinking. It’s better to have no exposure/advertising than possibly negative exposure.

    “True friendships are reciprocal.”

    Yes.

    “The BBF is always a role with the BW happily second to a white woman, sometimes loving said white friend more than she loves her own self.”

    I’m trying to think of any WBFs, surely there must be some? 😉

  8. Hi Bluegrass,

    “I think one reason why they make the minority best friend kind of generic is that it’s a little risky to make them have a lot of vices.”

    It could be. But if their flaws were just normal, human flaws then it could be a positive thing. It makes people feel like the character is more relatable.

    “…in the cartoon American Dad, there is a character named Barry who is one of the son’s friends. He’s fat, stupid, awkward, and sort of ambiguously gendered…If they made him a minority, I think people would be offended”

    Yes, because you can present a particular white person in a certain way and not have people think that all or most whites are that way, whereas you can’t necessarily do that with other groups. It’s kind of like when people ask me, “What do black people think about X?” as if my opinion speaks for all black people or all black people think the same about everything.

    “While we’re on the topic, what about using minority friends in a movie as a sort of hoaxy way of making the main character seem more likeable?”

    I thought that was always the point? 😀

    It’s like “Look, my best buddy is black. I’m cool, open-minded, progressive!”

    “Napoleon Dynamite comes to mind. That movie really pisses me off.”

    I might be the only American under 35 who hasn’t seen Napoleon Dynamite. It sounded cool though, from what others told me. But all of these others were white, so….

    Froggie,

    “In the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, would the character Jim be a BBW?”

    …What is a BBW?

  9. Oh yeah the only thing you need to know about Napoleon Dynamite is LaFawnduh from detroit.

    If it does not work now ima throw my pad out.

  10. Alee: ‘Yes, because you can present a particular white person in a certain way and not have people think that all or most whites are that way, whereas you can’t necessarily do that with other groups. It’s kind of like when people ask me, “What do black people think about X?” as if my opinion speaks for all black people or all black people think the same about everything.’

    Ann:
    This really is the main difference. White people don’t have to worry about stereotypes in the same way non-whites do, because white is the dominant culture. So a white woman playing a happy secondary role to another white woman is no big deal. And white people can be portrayed as deranged, violent, immoral–whatever–without worrying that people will believe that most white people are like that.

    Stereotypes are not harmless. That is why I refuse to see movies like “The Help” or even “Precious”. I am tired of the stereotypes of BW that no one wants to let die. I had a funny experience a few years ago at the apartment complex where I live. A white man approached me and asked me if I was his new home health aide. Apparently he was waiting for a new aide and he was outside anxiously pacing the grounds because she was late, and felt relieved when he saw me. His jaw dropped when I answered, “No, I live here”. Clearly he felt comfortable assuming that any BW on the property must be there to work for someone. He was expecting the aide to be black, but that is not the real problem. Had he been expecting a white aide, would he have felt so comfortable approaching a random white woman and assuming she was his aide, just because she is white? I don’t think so. I have also had white women offer me jobs to clean their homes or care for their children. White women think that BW should be honored to serve them.

  11. I had a funny experience a few years ago at the apartment complex where I live. A white man approached me and asked me if I was his new home health aide. Apparently he was waiting for a new aide and he was outside anxiously pacing the grounds because she was late, and felt relieved when he saw me. His jaw dropped when I answered, “No, I live here”. Clearly he felt comfortable assuming that any BW on the property must be there to work for someone. He was expecting the aide to be black,………

    Ann, don’t you think you’re projecting?. I mean, how could you possibly know what this man was expecting?. Pray tell!.

  12. Nkosazana,

    “Big beautiful woman. I googled it.”

    Lol, I know that one, but it wouldn’t make sense in the context.

    “But never mind, Froggie clarified offline…it was a typo-ish.

    Oh yeah the only thing you need to know about Napoleon Dynamite is LaFawnduh from detroit.”

    Uh, that was just weird.

  13. Ann,

    ‘Stereotypes are not harmless. That is why I refuse to see movies like “The Help” or even “Precious”.’

    I saw both of these (not in the theater — not supporting them monetarily). Yes, they were full of stereotypes. Precious couldn’t have been more obvious about it’s light is right mentality…Although I thought overall Precious was an okay movie; I liked Mo’Nique’s acting and it does touch on some important social issues. The Help, however, doesn’t really seem to have a point, besides using downtrodden, frumpy maids as entertainment and “rich white person saves the day”.

    “I had a funny experience a few years ago at the apartment complex where I live…Had he been expecting a white aide, would he have felt so comfortable approaching a random white woman and assuming she was his aide, just because she is white?”

    My bet is a definite no.

  14. Foosrock: ‘ Ann, don’t you think you’re projecting?. I mean, how could you possibly know what this man was expecting?. Pray tell!.”

    Ann:
    No, I was not projecting. A disproportionate number of the home health aides in our county are black women. Mention home health aide and most people (white and black) imagine a black woman. That is the number one career track for black women around here. Furthermore, how can you accuse me of projecting that a white man was expecting a black aide when he goes out of his way to approach me to ask if I was his new aide? Why did he not assume that I was a resident or a visitor? It’s not like I was walking around looking confused and out-of-place. Either he was told by the agency that the aide would be black, or he assumed that the aide would be black simply because most of the aides are black. Either way, I am not projecting.

    I guess I was also projecting when white women offered me jobs to clean their homes and take care of their kids, LOL. I am not one of those black people who looks for racism in everything, but neither am I going to pretend that I live in a colorblind society and that racial stereotypes do not exist.

    I’ll tell you another funny incident. When I first moved to the area and was looking for a more permanent place, I went to see about an apartment that was advertised as vacant and available immediately. When I showed up to look at the place, I was told that it had just been rented. So I went outside and told my white male friend, who had given me a ride, but had not accompanied me inside. He turned red and said, “yeah, I bet it’s taken”. Then he went in and inquired about the apartment; it was still available and they showed it to him. So I guess you can also accuse me of projecting in this situation as well. It was only a coincidence that the apartment was rented when I showed up, but became available again a few minutes later when a white person shows up.

  15. @Alee,
    Movies like Precious would not bother me if they were counterbalanced with lots of positive images of black women. But we know how rare it is to see black women portrayed in a non- stereotypical manner. I saw the trailer and clips for Precious and Monique’s character was just too loud, hateful and screwed up. Black women already have a serious image problem in this country and characters like the one Monique played in Precious only serve to reinforce the negative image of BW as loud, obnoxious, fat, unemployed and terrible mothers.

    And with regard to the movie drawing attention to social issues. I don’t believe there is an epidemic of young black girls being impregnated by their HIV positive fathers. And I was really bothered by the number of white people who liked the movie and felt “inspired” by the character of Precious. There is nothing inspiring about an abused child persevering in spite of her pain and suffering. That, to me, is just sad. You never hear people feeling inspired when young white girls are abused by their parents. People want to run in and rescue white women when they are in trouble. They don’t want them to suffer so that they can admire them if they survive their living hell. When people see a movie about a white child being abused, they start talking about tougher laws to punish predators and they want to create more social programs to help victimized children. They don’t talk about how wonderful it was that the child was able to endure such misery and suffering.

    I have had white women tell me that they admire the strength of BW, how BW are able to handle being single mothers, and yet none of them would want to trade place with a typical single black mother. And they would not want to trade places because, contrary to what they say, they know that single parenthood is difficult for most women, and it is especially difficult for BW because BW are more likely to live in poverty and not get significant child support from absentee fathers.

  16. You think that is weird Alee, check out their wedding.

    Seriously, this geeky white guy big ghetto black woman troop is not funny. Though her relative with his face in his hands are kinda funny.

    You get mean crap like this. Evil white women laughter. I’m sure they are a wonderful couple.

  17. Ann, you’ve answered my question when you stated that: A disproportionate number of the home health aides in our county are black women. Mention home health aide and most people (white and black) imagine a black woman.

  18. This type of characters are tokens, created to make the film appear more “progressive” and diverse without challenging the status quo.

  19. Hey Alee! I love your blog and love this topic 🙂

    There’s a channel that I like to watch and all the sitcoms on that channel have 1 minority character, not even ‘at least 1’ there is ‘only 1’ lol I had to laugh cause it’s like it’s a requirement now to have at least 1 non-white character in every show. To be honest I think I would rather see one than none, would be even better if they toned down the stereotypes. But realistically not every group of white friends will have a non-white friend in the group, but still it’s nice to see a familiar face.

    I don’t know if you’ve seen the spoof here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1M8MOqU1vo&feature=share&list=UUOD_D_0RQM0n_xCqz3WjzJw
    It’s funny because it’s soo true, and the majority of the time it’s not just the best friend who has to be black but just a random character or extra.

    But I think we need to stop relying on white producers and directors to create black characters who are realistic when most of them don’t have many people in their lives to actually get the inspiration from.

    BTW the first film that came to mind with the white best friend to a black female lead is ‘Breaking all the rules’

  20. toffeelove,

    “Hey Alee! I love your blog and love this topic”

    Hi and thanks. 🙂

    “it’s like it’s a requirement now to have at least 1 non-white character in every show.”

    It is. For Equal Opportunity and all. 😉

    “I don’t know if you’ve seen the spoof here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1M8MOqU1vo&feature=share&list=UUOD_D_0RQM0n_xCqz3WjzJw

    No, I haven’t seen it. Lol at the Barack Obama one.

    “But I think we need to stop relying on white producers and directors to create black characters who are realistic when most of them don’t have many people in their lives to actually get the inspiration from.”

    Yes, that’s part of the problem. They don’t have much reference so they rely on what they know or stereotypes to build the characters.

  21. I hate movies that are rather overt in their presentations of racial stereotypes. Comedy is one thing, but the manipulative/pandering/devisive depictions of any race in “serious” cinema just turns me off. My wife will watch some of those movies, including “For Colored Girls”. I don’t get the appeal. To me, that’s offensive.

  22. Some Guy,

    Comedy isn’t so great either. It seems many times people use jokes (consciously or subconsciously) to disguise their true biases.

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