“I have a black friend”

These are probably the most annoying words a black person can ever hear while having an argument about racism or race in general. They also tend to be the most common line of defence used by white people being accused of racism. This statement means nothing and does very little in regards to understanding what racism actually means.

Just because you’re white and have friends from differences races, does not mean you cannot be racist, prejudiced or discriminatory to certain groups. It is very common for those with prejudiced ideas to be in a relationship with someone from an oppressed group. Doubt me? Think about the many misogynistic men who love their wives, mothers and sisters but still have an ingrained belief that women are inferior. A relationship means nothing and in some cases these relationships can be more harmful because the individual does not acknowledge their own prejudiced behaviour.

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In my experience, I have found that those in relationships with oppressed groups tend to be the biggest culprits when it comes to microaggressions. This is due to multiple factors but I tend to see two reasons appear more frequently than others. The first is under the guise of “banter” or “jokes” where it is thought to be acceptable to make openly racist jokes because its funny or meant in a playful manner. The second is because the oppressed friend allows it and never corrects them, making them think it is ok. Some may consider this problematic because there isn’t such thing as “universal black approval stamp”. Black people will agree and disagree on different things because of course, issues such as this are subjective.

However, some white people need to be able to have conversations about race without getting defensive or awkward.  If the first thing that comes to mind while having a discussion about the topic of race is the immediate need to prove you’re not racist by saying things such as  “I’m not racist” or “I have black/coloured friends”. Unfortunately, it is more likely that you’ve said/thought something that others may perceive as prejudiced. Using your black friends to prove a point is not ok. Furthermore, statements such as coloured friends or friends from all colours is EXTREMELY irritating. What does that mean? We are not a pack of crayons. I’ll let the term “People of Colour” just about slide.

If someone calls you out on something, do not get defensive. Yes, it may be embarrassing, but it gives you an opportunity to learn why something may be perceived as offensive and allows you to widen your knowledge for future purposes.

The bottom line is, having a black friend, colleague etc., does not erase the problems that a black person will have to deal with in their life time. Racism is a institutional and systematic issue which goes much further than your personal relationships. The fact is by saying “I have a black friend” it comes across as saying that I have respect for that friend but not the rest of his race. He lets me get away with it, so you must let me too. I am going to ignore the issues caused by racism in the wider society and focus on my singular relationship. Microinvalidations are a growing problem and need to be addressed.

 

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  • I have not experienced this situation before because i live in a country where we are divided by ethnicity rather than race, but I do understand the irritation that comes with this issue. i was able to understand this by reading books and articles that discussed racism. Good read!