Despite the fact that I grew up in Los Angeles, one of the most diverse places in the United States, when I was growing up I was usually one of the token black girls in my classroom, school, and friend group. I went to private school for most of my educational career, and even though my school was super progressive and fairly ~woke~, it was still super white. Like, super white. This meant that most of my friends were white too. But being friends with one of the black girls didn’t absolve them from sometimes saying some, frankly, off color jokes about blackness every now and then. Some thought it was funny to mimic a stereotypical sassy black woman’s voice whenever they could. One of my friends once claimed she was blacker than I was (LOL, no). And one–oh God–one friend even dressed up as Jimi Hendrix one year…in full on blackface. Oddly enough, it didn’t really get the controversial response it deserved, though I’m sure it would have gone viral today.
Did I do much to call out the weird racist behavior I witnessed from so-called friends? Sure, but not enough. I was really nervous about coming across as taking things too seriously, someone who can’t take a joke, someone who can’t trust that her friends aren’t undercover racists. But the thing is that you don’t have to wear a KKK hood or a swastika to do racially problematic and offensive things. Unfortunately, the mild response I had toward my friends’ behavior isn’t rare. In fact, you might be reading this right now–especially if you’re a POC–and thinking, “Uh, hay, welcome to my life every day.” Well, whether you like it or not, your silence acts as complacency and allows your friends to get away with some unforgivable BS. Skeptical? Well, see if any of these seven signs you’re letting your friends be racist hit a little too close to home.
You're More Worried About Preserving Your Friendship Than Anything ElseThis is a tough one, and I think it's safe to say that most of us who are marginalized have been there at some point or another in our lives. You know, your friend says something offensive and you really want to tell them that what they said wasn't okay, but you're worried that they'll get mad at you and end your friendship. Frankly, some people say things that are so out of pocket that they don't deserve you as a friend anymore--yes, they don't deserve you--but sometimes people just don't know any better or have never been challenged before. They're not just going to suddenly become less ignorant out of nowhere; if you're willing to nudge them in the right direction, do them (and your self respect) a favor and speak up. You have a right to feel comfortable in your friendship, okay? Don't feel like you're the enemy because someone else made you feel small. Oh, and by the way...if you try to tell your friend what's what and they're not responsive, that's not someone you should be friends with anyway. Why preserve something like that? Some Girls
You Laugh Off Problematic Jokes Because, Pssh, It's Not Like The Person Saying It Is ACTUALLY RacistThere's a famous quote by the late, great author and activist Audre Lorde that I think is worth remembering in moments like this, when you don't want to alienate yourself from your friends: "Your silence will not protect you." Listen, maybe those racist little friends of yours like that you're cool with them being problematic and saying offensive, edgy nonsense for laughs; maybe they'll especially love it if you're a marginalized person yourself and pride yourself in being able to take a joke and not take everything so seriously. Cool, but don't get surprised when these friends of yours go to far and actually hurt your feelings. You can only laugh the pain off for so long until it actually starts to wear you down. But I'm a POC! How can my friends be racist against people like me? Stranger things have happened. Don't assume that they can't harbor racist beliefs and don't see you as a mere exception to the rule. Oh, and another thing: Letting your friends get away with saying racially insensitive things because you're not personally offended helps give your friends free reign to unknowingly hurt others. It's like when I see someone non-black say "nigga" and defend themselves by saying, "my black friends don't have a problem with me saying it!" LOL, uh, if you're that black friend, you'd be a better friend if you actually let this pal of yours know that not everyone is cool with them dropping N-bombs. Get me? The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
You Back Down On Calling Someone Out Because You Don't Want To Be A Kill JoyIt's really easy to become That Person Who Can't Take A Joke when you're even remotely "woke" about little things like, oh, oppression and marginalization. Who wants to be known as the politically correct joy kill who has to turn every light hearted moment into a lecture? So it's easy to want to hold your tongue whenever a friend makes a stupid joke about black people, or Latinos, or Muslims, etc. Sure, you're going to have friends who make jokes that are in poor taste that represent views they don't actually hold true...but you might have some others who claim that they're just joking but also might low-key believe in the stereotypes and offensive imagery that that so-called joke of theirs conjured up. It can be hard to tell, but you keeping your mouth shut all so you can make sure you keep up with appearances around your friends sure isn't helping uncover the truth. Consider this: Why would you want to be friends with people who make you feel the need to monitor your feelings of hurt for their comfort? Lizzie McGuire
You've Kept Quiet When Another Person Of Color Was Visibly Upset In Your PresenceThink about it: Have you kept your mouth shut when there was a joke hurled at the expense of a person of color in your friend group? Have you even laughed along? Well, did you happen to notice that that friend who was the butt of the joke seemed uncomfortable. Maybe they laughed it off, maybe they didn't, but either way you knew that what happened wasn't cool and you didn't call anyone out or comfort that buddy after the fact. Sorry, but I'm going to be judgmental: Yikes. Congrats, you're part of the problem. Sad but true. Be a better friend to someone who needs it most, maybe you'll want their support when you're on the receiving end of a roast. Daria
You're Silent As Your Friend Makes Jokes About Other Marginalized Groups Because, Hey, At Least They Accept YOULet's say you're Asian and you laugh along to jokes about black people. Or you're black and you laugh along to effed up stereotypes about Latinos. Or maybe you're Latino and don't see a problem with your friends being Islamophobic. Hey, fun fact: Just because you, as a marginalized person, aren't at the receiving end of some nasty commentary, doesn't mean you're not contributing to racism, xenophobia, etc. It's really unfortunate if you're a non-black Muslim and you're cool with your friends making jokes about black people, but as soon as someone says something bad about Islam you freak out. Uh, no boo, it doesn't work that way. Stop being complicit in racist behavior until it affects you personally. Clueless
You Expect Someone Else To Do The Calling Out, But Not YouLet's set the scene: Your friend says something really effed up. Maybe it's just ignorant, maybe it's perpetuating a grotesque stereotype, maybe it's just flat our racist/xenophobic/anti-Semetic/anti-Islamic, WHATEVER. You know it's wrong, you know you should say something, and you honestly would...but you also figure, hey, you can't be the only person here who knows that that was wrong of your friend to say. You suppose that someone else will call out your friend so you won't have to. Uh, yeah, keep waiting for that day to come around, because you might be waiting awhile. This is kind of like bystander syndrome: You don't take action because you expect someone else will. Well, the problem is that when everyone has that thought, nothing happens, nothing changes, and people end up saying really offensive things without so much as a,"Hey, come on..." How can you be surprised that other folks get away with saying so many offensive things when you yourself can't even call out someone you're friends with? The Craft
Other POC Are A Lot More Appalled By Your Friends Than You AreHey, sometimes we can get so caught up in the dynamics--problematic or otherwise--of our friendship group that we become super desensitized to some really offensive language. If anything you brushed off ever left you with lingering feelings of "was that really racist or am I overreacting?" then consider asking another POC for their opinion, IRL or via the internet. Maybe their reaction--especially if it's one of utmost disgust--will tell you what you need to know. This is a big red flag that you've probably been chill with some really awful language for a while now. What you do with that information, however, is up to you. Dear White People
Are you guilty of letting your friends get away with being ultra offensive? If not about race, then what other topics? Have you called out a friend before? What happened? Tell us in the comments!