Having friendships with different types of people is a wonderful concept. To learn, trade ideas, have great experiences, and grow with folks from all kinds of backgrounds is a goal that I have always wanted to achieve.

As someone who loves gaining knowledge and immersing myself in various customs, it's essential for me to expand my social circle. I have friends who are Black like myself, Chinese, Filipino, Mexican, Italian, Salvadoran, Irish, Indigenous, and Arab. We discuss politics, food, sports, music, traveling, film, and life. I love having a wealth of friends that will bring different perspectives in life, and that I can impart wisdom to as well.

However, race and racism have always been difficult to discuss with white people due to the possibility that they may deflect, or be in denial—which is why the subject of race has been the hardest to broach.

Remembering back as a young kid, my family did not have a lot of white friends. It is not because they didn't like them; my cousin married a white woman. It's just that in Kansas City, Missouri, our social circles did not cross.

My grandparents, mother, and father instilled a lot of Black pride in us. We were taught that everyone is the same, but also that Black is beautiful. For me, that was necessary living in a time that told you that you were the opposite.

My brother and I went to a predominately white school and mostly played with Black kids. Still, like many African-Americans, we welcomed white people and held no malice toward them.

I did not make any white friends until my junior year in high school. We all played sports together, listened to hip-hop, and ate the same food. Plenty of friend groups were integrated, including mine. We had Black, white, Asian, Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Indigenous folks in our clique.

It was dope to be able to learn, build, and enjoy other cultures. However, I always noticed there was a difference in how people of color interacted with each other and how my white friends did. There was a warmth in how we hung out. My family welcomed them and vice versa.

But when it came to my white friends, I felt there was a ceiling, a stopping point. A lot of the interactions were surface-level and not deep.

I was always race conscious; being in Kansas City does that to you. It was, and continues to be, a very segregated city. Still, I would try to laugh off racist jokes I heard at work and amongst people in social situations.

I can recall during an offsite lunch event, police entered the restaurant and a coworker joked: "Oh they must be looking for you LeRon." They all laughed, and me being the only Black person at the table, brushed it off and tried to laugh along with it.

My white friends and associates would ask me things like: "Do you play basketball? Do you know anyone that sells drugs? Have you ever been in a gang?"

And they even asked if it was okay for them to say the N-word in a rap song.

These were my day-to-day interactions with white people. I am not trying to paint them all as being harmful and bad, but I have to be honest.

Things began to change for me in 2012. Trayvon Martin was murdered and there was this national conversation about race. Many people had been arguing both sides of the incident.

When I would talk to my white friends about the shooting, the protests, and the uprisings that followed, they would say things like: "What was he doing out there that late? Do we know for sure if he attacked Zimmerman? Why protest and destroy property?"

It was almost as if the rose-colored glasses I had were flung off. When unarmed Black men such as Mike Brown and Alton Sterling were killed by the police, I would see negative comments on social media from friends.

Someone that I had known for years had complained about the protests destroying their quiet neighborhood. Other folks would say "All Lives Matter" or "What about Black-on-Black crime?"

These were the same people that loved Michael Jordan, listened to Snoop Dogg, and cheered Ray Lewis as they watched the Super Bowl. It was as if they only consumed Blackness as entertainment, not as people.

Soon after, I began to write about being Black in America. I would call out racism and white supremacy, while explicitly highlighting the inequities of police arrests and shootings, employment, health disparities, and home ownership.

Some white friends noticed my shift in tone and faded away. My televised interviews and podcast appearances became too much for some. I was known as "militant" to a few folks and angry to others.

One friend in particular could not understand why I was so mad. I explained to him it was because as a Black man, if I scare a white woman or make a white law enforcement officer nervous, that could be my life.

He then said: "I don't see you as Black, just as a man." I replied: "That is the problem, you don't want to acknowledge the issue here, racism." He and I stopped talking shortly after.

I was the cool guy when we were going drinking, clubbing, and talking about non-serious things, but when I discuss "The Talk", a conversation that Black parents have with their children on how to survive when they reach a certain age, I am too serious or divisive.

I realized the ceiling I have with many white people and have accepted it.

I've met other Black people that do not have white friends. While I do not subscribe to nor agree with that thought, I do not judge them. Being Black, or being any racialized person in a world that tells you you are less than, is hard. Having to justify your existence every day to people you are close to is even harder.

I think back to this quote I read from Stud Terkel's masterful book Race. Terkel is interviewing a young African-American man who does not have white friends. He asks the guy: "Why do you only hang out with Black people?" The young man laughs and says: "I don't have to worry about them being racist." I think about that sometimes.

Today, I have a few white friends that are "grandfathered" in. Seriously, they are people, such as one of my best friends "Frosty," that I can have serious discussions about racism and how we can change the system. New friends are "vetted."

Writing and discussing race is a very important part of my life. If I have to argue with you about why we are upset when another unarmed Black man is shot by the police, this is not going to work. If I have to explain to you why saying the "N-word" is wrong, cultural appropriation is bad, something innocuous as the slogan "Black Lives Matter" is a positive thing, or why Malcolm X is my personal hero, then this friendship will not work out. I am not teaching "Intro to Blackness 101."

Some reading this may say: "Well LeRon, what if people don't know? We have to teach them."

To that, I say no.

I believe that Black people live in a country that constantly tries to strangle every bit of self-respect, pride, individuality, love, and life out of them. It is an everyday challenge for us to maintain our mental health.

I ask white people who are well-meaning to practice self-reflection. Interrogate your racist blind spots. Educate yourselves. Fight against the system that oppresses us and others.

Black people do not have enough time in the day to survive and help you become not racist. Being a friend is about accountability and work.