How to Tell a Racist Friend That's Not OK

Aug 27 at 9am

Hi Jessica,

I made friends with someone I assumed was quite openminded based on the depth of our conversations. We are twentysomethings of two different races and both come from parents who immigrated to our hometowns from different countries. We're both living away from anything familiar, but she has the added task of coming from a different culture with different standards in regard to race relations. 
One example: After searching for part time work for a long frustrating time, she finally picked up a spot bartending at a solidly busy restaurant/bar.
 After her first day, she told me the place was horrible and she wasn't going back. When I asked for her reasoning, she responded by saying the people were all Arabs and that made it "really scary." I haven't spoken to her since because I have a zero tolerance policy for this kind of mindset. I asked a few friends about this situation and they seem to think I'm being extreme. They're showing more patience for her. 


Do you think there is a better way to deal with her? I just feel as though explaining is a waste of time and a bit beneath my level when she lives in a diverse city and in 2014 surrounded by people, ideas, literature, etc. all pushing us in the direction of acceptance and understanding.


Sincerely,

Blindsided

I totally agree with you Blindsided; there really is no excuse for intolerance like that in this day and age. We have access to the whole world through the magical forest of the Internet, and through that access we can know that people are people, regardless of race, class, or whatever else. It’s hard to claim ignorance, but the truth is that sometimes people are unaware. That doesn’t mean that they’re bad people (though of course it can). If your friend is uneducated, her ignorance can be overcome through education and compassion, if you’re willing to try and help.

Being racist is certainly en vouge with shitheads, and she may be one of them, but her attitudes may also be less nefarious than all that. Maybe no one has talked it through with her and encouraged her to get past her discomforts and helped her regurgitate whatever Kool-Aid she drank. 

You’re entitled to your perspective, but here’s the thing. When you stop talking, there’s no possibility for change or growth. It’s not your job to teach this woman anything, and you’re not responsible for her shitty attitudes, or life choices. But by not talking to her you’ve missed an opportunity. It’s possible that no one has ever questioned her assumptions about Arabs, or whatever other group she has decided is scary. Being anti-Arab, or racist in general, is certainly en vouge with shitheads, and she may be one of them, but her attitudes may also be less nefarious than all that. Maybe no one has talked it through with her and encouraged her to get past her discomforts and helped her regurgitate whatever Kool-Aid she drank. Your twenties are about having your first adult experiences, and that means making adult-sized mistakes. She may look back with embarrassment about how screwed up her thinking was on this topic one day. Or not. But for sure that’s less likely to happen if the only people she rolls with agree with her, or don’t talk common sense to her. You’re too young to be so jaded that you believe that change is impossible, Blindsided; being in your 20s is all about change!

It’s totally reasonable to not be friends with people whose values are offensive to yours, but I agree with your friends that how you’ve dealt with her is extreme. It’s never fair to break up with someone (friend or lover), without telling them why. In fact, it’s downright mean. She deserves to know why you’ve real-life unfriended her, Blindsided. So step up to the plate and be honest and direct with her. She didn’t do or say anything to be intentionally hurtful to you, and she deserves to know what her ignorance has cost her. It might not change a damn thing, but it’s the right thing to do.

xo,

Jessica

The Mission’s resident advisor gets booked months in advance by San Franciscans seeking help with all kinds of relationship issues. So we asked Jessica if she’d come on board to do a weekly advice column, Truth Talk, for The Bold Italic. If you have a burning question for Truth Talk with Jessica Lanyadoo, you can post your question anonymously here or email her at truthtalkwithjessica@gmail.com, and check back on Wednesdays to see if she has an answer for you.

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