Only White People Can Have Racist Friends

By Courtney Anderson

When actor Daniel Radcliffe said that he had racist friends, I wasn’t surprised.

When he said that he “vehemently disagreed” with them, I was relieved.

It’s always nice to know an actor whose work you grew up with isn’t a racist.

But when he said that he remained friends with those people because he didn’t believe friendship “should be drawn on those lines,” I was disappointed and confused.

I couldn’t understand how anyone could remain friends with a racist.

How is it remotely possible for you to feel comfortable in presence of someone who deploys racial stereotypes and epithets?

How could one even think it is okay to be associated with people who actively participate in oppressing people of color through their language and actions?

It made no sense to me at all.

I can’t imagine even being able to be in the same room as a racist person, let alone feel comfortable enough with them to refer to them as a “friend.”

But then I remembered the fundamental difference between Daniel Radcliffe and I (besides the wealth, and the fame and the acting abilities).

He’s a white male, and I am a black female.

Only one of us can actually experience racism, and it isn’t him.

It seems to me that white people are able to have racist “friends” because racism does not directly impact their lives.

Black and non-black people of color cannot afford these types of “friendships,” because racism not only impacts us, but it dehumanizes and traumatizes us, as well.

This is where I have to remind people of the sociological definition of racism, wherein racism is achieved through a combination of racial prejudice and societal power.

Oftentimes, people only want to refer to the more palatable Webster dictionary definition that would place the onus on everybody in a given society to not be racist.

However, this is a society—and world, really—where the only people with societal power are white people.

White people are the only people who are not negatively affected by racial stereotypes.

While they may hurt some feelings, racial stereotypes about white people do not contribute to a societal structure that allows for discrimination in almost every aspect of life.

“Racism” against white people is just language and maybe some jokes about not seasoning food. Racism against black and brown people can literally lead to our deaths.

And since racism does not affect white people the way it affects black and brown people, they are also the only ones who can safely have “dialogue” with racist individuals.

Discussing race with a racist individual is an emotionally, mentally and spiritually taxing task for black and non-black people that often yields little to no results at all.

We are not just discussing language when we have these conversations: we are negotiating our right to have our humanity recognized and respected.

We are asking someone with societal power that we do not have to acknowledge that power.

We also ask them to acknowledge that they are using that power to oppress people when they behave in certain ways and use certain language.

We are asking to be respected, cared for and to have our experiences validated by people who have never had those experiences.

And it hardly ever works.

All these conversations really do is waste our time and energy.

White people have the privilege of not having their humanity on the line when they have to pull their racist friend to the side and request that they stop being so racist.

White people who actually believe in racial equality should be challenging themselves to stop calling racist people “friends” and put forth the effort to educate them on why their racism can’t fly.

They should also stop putting the onus of education on black and brown people all the time.

We really don’t have time for all that, anymore.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: Elen Nivrae/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

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