Inevitably in a conversation with a white person who just drifted into some casual racism, she will bring up the fact that she has a nameless black friend, brandishing the tidbit of unsolicited information like a shield protecting her from my suggestion that whatever she just said was racially insensitive. The more the white person self-identifies as an ‘ally’, the more likely she’ll be to brandish this dubious connection to an acquaintance who never seems to have any actual qualities besides the ever-convenient blackness.
It rubs me the wrong way every time.
It also makes me want to demand proof of this so-called black bestie. Show me pictures of the two of you together, with timestamps. Hell, get him on the phone so I can let him know exactly why he just came up in conversation.
But exchanges like these always make me stop and think for other, more insidious reasons.
Are white folks out there in the world, busily using me as evidence of why they just can’t be racist? Like my presence in their lives, no matter how minimal, acts as some kind of antidote to the racist fuckery that’s been running rampant in this country since white folks first sailed over from the Continent?
Just so we’re clear, I’m not your black friend.
Don’t bring me up in arguments with other POCs as proof of how ‘not racist’ you are. My blackness doesn’t exist simply to be used at your convenience whenever you speak without thinking of the impact of your words. It’s actually a pretty disgusting thing to do, and it’s done all the time.
I’m not sure what friendship means to white folks who use the idea of POCs this way (because, come on, they likely don’t even have friends who are black), but, to me, a friend doesn’t use another person as a device to prove a bogus point and shift blame back onto a member of a marginalized group that she just offended. Honestly, no decent human being does this.
If you do this kind of shit, we aren’t friends, so keep my name out of your mouth, as we used to say back in middle school. And do better. That’s really my advice for most people running around so carelessly, they injure people without a second thought and then, when called out, scramble for the handiest excuse.
I have a black friend…
My black friend doesn’t mind when I use the N-word…
I have a group of black friends and we’ve never had a problem…
Are you sure that’s offensive? Because my black friend said…
I’ve heard a variation of every single one of these excuses and many more. Literally, dozens. I call bullshit on all of them.
Seeing a black person doesn’t make them your friend. Going to school with black people doesn’t make them your friends. Having a black coworker doesn’t make them your friend.
Let’s all say this together so it sinks in: proximity to a marginalized group does not cure you of racist tendencies.
Don’t use black folks as a crutch that allows you to keep limping along in your ignorance. Learn to walk on your own two feet and accept responsibility if you spout some casually racist shit. Take a moment for self-reflection, apologize if appropriate, move on, and next time do better. There’s no magic to becoming a better person, but first you have to accept that you did or said something wrong. It’s hard, but so is maintaining your composure and (mostly) positive attitude while toiling under the constant weight of systemic racism. If I can do that, you can do this.