This is a response to the Huffpost article, To Every White “Ally” Who Has Racist Friends, which suggests you should draw the line and vehemently not be friends with your racist friends.
I think everyone needs to decide for themselves, and certainly being a person of color has very different implications in having racist friends, but here’s the thing– Every single white person is racist to some degree, in that we all perpetuate racism wittingly or unwittingly, because we live in a culture that that teaches and enforces white privilege and even the most conscious of us, who actively work to dismantle it and check our white privilege, still perpetuate it to some degree. So having the label, “racist” really becomes unhelpful, because it’s not an identity most would subscribe to. So you call someone racist, they don’t agree or feel in their heart of hearts that they are and the conversation ends.
In my world-work, I find it more helpful to look at behaviors/actions/attitudes and beliefs, because those are things that are mutable and can be shifted over time. I also like to focus on effectiveness. So in dismantling racism, it’s simple ineffective to shut out those who are saying racist things and acting in racist ways. Staying in relationship with friends/family who hold biggotted beliefs is challenging, sometimes near impossible, but we are able to exert influence on them and educate and challenge them, and if we all pick up and leave, the only influences they have will be other racists and bigots.
So I stay friends with racists and bigots, if I can at all manage it, not only because they might be kind and loving or have other endearing qualities, but because I know that I am more likely to influence them if I am a friend than a foe; It’s hard to challenge someone or call them out if you’re not speaking. I guarantee not one Racist has changed their beliefs b/c someone dumped them. I keep racist friends because Black Lives Matter to me and I need to work within my sphere of influence. I’ll be honest; I can’t always swing it; sometimes a person’s rhetoric is just too enervating. But, throwing people away because their behavior is problematic (racist, terrorist, child-molester, what have you) does not solve the root problem….it only dumps it in someone else’s backyard and it doesn’t heal the roots of the problem and what we need is healing, not ostracization.
- cover illustration by Claudio Munoz; originally appeared on http://www.somalilandtimes.net/sl/2007/405/050.shtml