White People, Stop Saying You “Have a Black Friend” in Race Discussions

We need to talk

Discussing racism with white people is the final frontier in any civil rights progression concerning racism.  Each time they get it, things change.  Think about it:  Slavery?  White people decided to agree to break the institution of slavery, problem solved.  Jim Crow?  White people finally began listening and decided to somewhat stop oppressing blacks.  Our modern day Civil Rights Era, Civil Rights 2.0, will need the same thing.  It makes sense, because after all, racism is their baby.  It’s their creation.  They own it.  It’s similar to taking a computer or electronic device back to Sony or Microsoft.  Only they can fix it because it belongs to them.

Because white people are mostly socialized (by other whites, naturally) to try to pretend racism doesn’t exist, most honest discussions on how racism works get awkward.  The responses white people have to racism discussions have been well documented (whiteness studies, sociology) and are hilariously predictable.  The hilarity comes from the fact that it’s not often that anyone ever thinks about how so many white people who don’t know each other, from all walks of life have the SAME SOCIOLOGICAL RESPONSE to race relations talk.  While I could touch up on all of the responses whites have concerning race talk, I’m going to dedicate this to one of my favorites:  the “I have a black friend” defense.

You need to know how racism works

Long story short — saying you have a black friend doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of supporting racism.  Read that again:  supporting racism.  Of course, this may confuse you.  Allow me to inform you now that those who suffer from racism aren’t talking about a mere dislike or personal hatred.  We — those who suffer from racism as well as those who study this stuff — are talking about institutional racism.  This is why I address racism as if it’s a system of some sort.  Racism isn’t understood as some Saturday morning cartoon villain personality trait, that’s done by something who is “evil” for the sake of being evil.

Racism is a complex ideology that creates an inferiority-superiority relationship between races, something that normal people are conditioned into, because society either passively (open media) or aggressively (white supremacist direct contact) says so.

A lot of this defense mechanism mess that white people do (called white fragility in whiteness studies) comes from the notion of being evil, or the bad guy.  From there the white person gets defensive, because no one ever wants to think of themselves as an evil-doer.  Here’s the deal though:  every person who was ever evil in world history never realized how they were evil at all.  In their minds, they are all justified in their actions, just like you.  Once again, life isn’t a Saturday morning cartoon with silly villains who want to be evil just to be evil.  In real life, the bad guys think they are the good guys and that’s how they continue to do what they do.  So in race discussions the smart guys like myself are not concerned with the notions of good and evil.  We are not concerned by disposition.  We are concerned with [1] the subconscious mental priming process, and [2] ACTIONS taken.

If you, the white guy, can stop thinking about being personally insulted (no one’s calling you evil, no one gives a piss about that) and can focus on what you do and what you support, maybe we can get somewhere.

The exception versus the rule

One problem with the “I have a black friend” claim is the simple fact that you respecting one doesn’t equal respect across the board for all.  It’s possible for a person to totally piss on a general population while plucking out single favorites to save.  I can even testify that I was once the black friend of a racist white guy who hated black people as a general whole.  It was interesting to observe this phenomenon; while I tried to maybe help him out by being a stellar example of a black person to break his bias, all he did was place me on a pedestal while still pissing on the rest.  It actually made things worse. I became the very hard standard to follow; any black guy had to be at the “Johnny” standard or else.  Scores of white friends can be a below average Joe, while the black friend had to be a superhuman.  Even further were microaggressions like the claim, “I don’t think of you as black at all” as if that form of erasure was a compliment.  Instead of representing the whole as a great black friend, all of a sudden that doesn’t matter because I don’t count.  In his mind I was the exception (awesome bro) versus the rule (they’re all thugs).

Thinking that you cannot be racist because you have a black friend is like thinking you can’t be sexist because you have a sister, mother, girlfriend or wife.  It’s a bit asinine to claim when you see this in perspective, and I hope you do.  If I told you that I can’t be violent because I have a pacifist friend, you’d call me an imbecile, and you’d be right.

If you are a direct supporter of white supremacy which include support of policies and politics that piss on black people then there’s another use for your mythological black friend.  I call this phenomenon, specifically if you are anti-black, having pets.  A pet (tokenism) is a person you use to specifically shield yourself from criticism you rightfully earned while you are acting out in support of racism as a whole.  I’ve discussed this in-depth as the Ebony Shield tactic, as well as pointing out the flaws in being that pet.  Usually the pet would be someone who either supports the self-hating ideology or is someone who is silent, passive, who wishes to turn a blind eye to racism as a whole.  Both of these tropes have one job — that’s to ensure white comfort is unscathed.

Think about the fact that even the racist mass murderer Dylan Roof had a “black friend”.

If you know a black person who really isn’t a friend but is an acquaintance at a job or profession or someone you barely share friend-like activities with, this person may suffer the Black Friend Promotion which is the fascinating phenomenon which describes when a white person with NO black friends (which is most) crate dig the back of their minds for a black person they are (or once) relatively cool with (but know nothing about) just to deceptively claim them as a friend when they do or say something racist.

If you are a black person reading this you have to wonder how many white people who never hang out with you, don’t give a piss about you have ever called you that black friend to defend their racist hiccups.

Having a black friend doesn’t mean you are in the clear

Check this out buddy:  having someone you are close to doesn’t prohibit you from despising the group identity they are from.  If this were the case, then that means by default a heterosexual male can NEVER be considered sexist due to the fact that he prefers women to be close to.  Having a wife doesn’t prohibit anyone from sexually harassing people in the workplace, on the street, being a rapist, or supporting policies and practices that keeps women down.  Same deal with racism; having a black friend doesn’t mean anything.  Having a black husband or wife in regards to racism doesn’t mean anything either.  Stop trying with this nonsensical defense.  We see right through it, and it can be regarded as ipso facto evidence of racism.

So no, stop trying to use this fallacious claim as a defense.  A personal affinity for someone who is of color,  says nothing about how one views the larger group from which those individuals come.  After all, there were masses of whites who supported enslavement and segregation as social systems, and yet, managed to conjure personal kindness for individual black people on a case-by-case basis.

Photo Credit: Johnny Silvercloud
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  • Just Chris.

    I really dig this article. I think one of the most powerful points in this article is the “white fragility” portion. We as white people will often go into a state of defense mode, and begin to validate our actions. It is still insane to me though, that some of my fellow white people cannot grasp the reality, of “white privilege” either.

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