Folk speech
Proverbs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

You don’t have friends; you have associates.

Information about the Informant

My informant currently lives near USC, near enough that he likes to ride his bicycle around the campus to relax and swim in the John C. Argue Swim Stadium. He grew up in downtown Los Angeles. He spent his childhood and adolescence in the impoverished parts of the city. Even now, though according to him, he has a “nice place” now with neighbors that don’t bother him if he doesn’t bother them, he still sees people he knows to be either gang members or pimps or prostitutes, and he avoids them as he doesn’t want to get caught up in their ways of life. In this account, he tells me about how he avoided falling into a bad way of life in the first place.

Transcript

“You know, when I was coming up, I have a lot of friends down, you know, and most of them, they dead or in jail, right? Or sprung out on crack somewhere. All the drugs. So, um, when I was like, uh, I don’t know. I’d say about, I’d say about thirteen, fourteen years old. Mom used to say this. She used to say, “Yo, you think you got friends out there, but you really don’t have friends,” you know. “You got ‘ssociates,” that’s what she said. “A friend is somebody that’s gonna be with you, you know what I’m saying? Through thick or thin, you know; that’s a real friend. But these people you meet, they out here, they’re trying to, you know, they drinking with you, they doing wrong with you, wanting you to do wrong, those is not your friend.”

So, you know, I listen to Mom, and then again, there goes these old, these old winos used to be out there on the corner, drinking their little wine, you know, not, not, not like bum winos, but they just be out there on the corner drinking wine and just getting together, you know. So one time, they, they would stopped us, you know, they say, “Man, you, whatcha’ll going? Where y’all going? Whatcha’ll doing?” “Well, we’re just going around, just, you know, just chilling, just, just going around, you know.” “Y’all gonna get in some trouble. Now, let me tell y’all,” and you know what, he explain to us just like what my mom said, you know, same way, you know. And it, it, it got to me, you know. Now, a lot of kids nowadays, they don’t believe what their mother tell them, you know what I’m saying? They, they, they go out there and do things and—but I took notice. I said, “Now, why would this guy just sit there and tell me something that my, my mom just told me, you know. So what she’s saying must be true. She don’t even know this guy. Right?” So, right then, I cut with those friends a loose. I slowed down with them. And I basically, ‘cause you know, ‘cause we was done, we headed for the wrong way, doing things out there, the wrong thing. And so these guy—you know, I cut them loose, and as I did that—I, I didn’t just like, bam, going out, I won’t see y’all no more. But I, you know, when they wanted me to do things, oh, I got something, you know, I’d tell them that. You know, I’m doing something else.”

Analysis

I would not have entered this as a piece of folklore if not for the fact that I too have heard people say this. The one specific instance from my life that I can remember came from my mother. Searching for this possible proverb on Google turns up an article called “Friends vs. Associates: How Do You Know Who’s Who?” It may be coincidental, but the article is featured on a site called Single Black Male, and my informant himself is African American, as was, presumably, his mother. I could also speculate that my own mother may have heard this from the African American community in Baltimore where she lived while she was in America. No matter where it came from, it is a useful piece of advice. While not always phrased the same way, therefore not making it a true proverb, it does always feature the same two key words, that is, “friends” and “associates.” These two words are the most important as they are the types of people being compared in the advice, considering whether the person in question is truly a friend or merely an associate who may not want the best for you as a friend would. In this way, the advice resembles a metaphor or a simile, although it is never stated in either form, comparing and contrasting two concepts in order to define the qualities of both. In this case, of course, the important thing is how the concepts differ and not how they are alike.

Growing up in the neighborhood that he did, my informant told me many stories about the terrible tragedies and crimes he’s seen in the darker parts of Los Angeles. Many of them involve gang-related activities, and he constantly expressed his relief that he never truly got involved in any of that and his determination to never be dragged into it through associating with the wrong people. If indeed this is a piece of advice that specifically circulates throughout African American communities, then my informant’s case is certainly indicative of why this is. The unfortunate reality is that impoverished African American communities still suffer a disproportionately higher rate of crime, and specifically gang-related crime, and the poverty in those communities plus the temptation of the benefits one gets from being a part of a gang does drive many young kids growing up in those neighborhoods to becoming a part of the lifestyle that my informant is glad he avoided. This piece of advice then would be helpful in telling those kids to re-evaluate the peers they associate with and determine whether or not those peers have their best interests at heart.

Citation for the article on Single Black Male:

Streetz. “Friends vs. Associates: How Do You Know Who’s Who?” Single Black Male. Web. 1 May. 2014. <http://www.singleblackmale.org/2011/12/21/friends-vs-associates-how-do-you-whos-who/>.

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