The Tragedy of Shanquella Robinson: Can We Really Know our Friends?

The heartbreaking story of Shanquella Robinson has been splashed all over the news for the last several weeks. Most of you are at least familiar with the story about the beautiful young woman from North Carolina who had already experienced a high level of success in her short 25 years, and whose life came to a horrific end while vacationing in Mexico.

As more details of the story have been made public, it appears that Shanquella’s friends and traveling companions had a hand in her demise. As I’ve listened to many news reports about Shanquella and her friends, and have watched video excerpts of her “friends” physically assaulting her, I can’t help but think back to the Willie Lynch letter. The letter details recommendations that Lynch allegedly made to white slave holders in 1712.

One of the recommendations that Lynch made was for white slave holders to purposely set Black slaves against one another in ridiculous competitions such as light-skinned slaves versus dark-skinned slaves, kinky hair versus looser curls, old slaves versus young slaves, field slaves versus house slaves, and so on:

“On the top of my list is “AGE” but it is there only because it starts with an “A”: the second is “COLOR’ or SHADE, there is INTELLIGENCE, SIZE, SEX, SIZE PLANTATIONS, STATUS ON PLANTATION, ATTITUDE OF OWNERS, WHETHER THE SLAVES LIVE IN THE VALLEY, ON THE HILL, EAST, WEST, NORTH, SOUTH, HAVE FINE HAIR, COURSE HAIR, OR IS TALL OR SHORT. Now that you have a list of differences, I shall give you an outline of action – but before that I shall assure you that DISTRUST is stronger than TRUST, and ENVY is stronger than ADULATION, RESPECT, OR ADMIRATION. The Black slave after receiving this indoctrination shall carry on and will become self-refueling and self-generation for hundreds of years, maybe thousands.” – Willie Lynch

The most chilling part of what happened to Shanquella is the multiple videos that have surfaced showing her being ambushed by her traveling companions who may have been planning the assault against her. It’s impossible to not connect the dots between the behavior of these so-called friends and the above Willie Lynch passage. Although some believe Willie Lynch and his letter/speech have been “debunked,” one has to wonder how Lynch’s “debunked” instructions have been so flawlessly carried out to the letter by so many in the Black community.

Stories like Shanquella make me feel profoundly sad, and make me wonder if there is a way to really understand what a friend is. After all, friendship is not a subject taught in K-12 school or in higher education. Most of what we learn about friends come as a result of advice from our family members or what we pickup as we go along in life.

There are books that teach a person how to make friends, but there isn’t much out there in the way of teaching you how to discern and decipher the variety of different and how to act accordingly. This has been a problem that I’ve thought about for a while. About 10 years ago, I did my own deep investigation and began dissecting and categorizing friend types that I compiled into a book. I was about to publish the book when my workload picked up and I had to put the book aside.
When the Shanquella tragedy happened, I thought back to my friend book and it became clear to me that it’s time to dust it off and get it out there so people can learn about friend types and how to navigate them.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting updates about this book that I’ve named, “Friend Encyclopedia” and when it will be available.

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