Ms. Opinionated: How Do I Deal With a Racist Friend-of-a-Friend?

Sydette Harry
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Welcome to Ms. Opinionated, our weekly advice column dealing with questions of life, love, feminism, and pop culture. Submit your anonymous questions here. This week, Sydette Harry responds to a reader who's struggling with a person who fills their Facebook feed with racist jokes. 

Dear Ms. Opinionated,

I have been with my current partner for over two years now and we are happily living together with set plans to get married in the very near future. My partner has a few friends that I sometimes I ask myself how a smart and insightful person such as himself could be friends with, but I've brushed it off as nothing until today. My partner has a certain friend who is extremely (not that you can place racism on a continuum scale) racist towards Middle Eastern people. Did I mention that I am Iraqi and identify with various aspects of my Middle Eastern culture? I digress. This certain friend has spent some time at our home and we likewise hangout with him and his partner. This certain friend also has a habit of posting inappropriate racial slurs and images on Facebook that are rather disgusting. I've talked to him about it before and I've even gotten into debates with his partner in the past, but nothing works. It's difficult to scroll through my news feed with images that are hurtful towards my culture and me. An easy way to fix this is to just remove him from my friends list, but my partner would still want to participate in social events with him and I just don't think I can sit through another dinner without saying anything. How do I tell my partner to drop him as a friend? What if he chooses not to?

Sincerely,

Wrecked Over Racism

Hi WOR,

I’m sorry this is happening. First things first: Delete him from your feed. Go now.

Life is really damn short and you shouldn’t spend it on having to continually prep yourself for micro and macro-aggressions in your personal social media feeds.  If you don’t want to disconnect entirely, you can at least block that crap.

Let me preface all of my next advice with the fact that I am a loudmouth hothead when it comes to racial issues online in ways that I’m not in close personal relationships. You are not weak for wanting to maintain good relationships if you believe you can “take it.” I sometimes roll my eyes and walk away at things I shouldn't because sometimes the fight isn't in me or the good outweighs the bad.

In your situation, the good doesn’t outweigh the bad. This isn’t a sweet-but-behind-the-times grandpa. This is a racist friend-of-a-friend who believes he has a right to make you uncomfortable because of your race and culture. He’s not a friend. In fact, he’s poisoning you. Microaggressions like his are the daily reminders of a lower position. He wants everyone to know that he can and will act the way he does with few real repercussions.

That kind of thing you get enough of in your day-to-day life. You do not need to invite this kind of poison into your house or your life. It’s as if you have an allergy and someone constantly only brings foods you can’t have. It’s designed to make you feel isolated and alone and less-than.

But here is the hard part. This part is gonna suck. My main problem here is not Douchebag McRacist Britches. It’s your partner, on a couple of levels.

On a larger level, your partner shouldn't stand for racism, period. On a caring, loving level, he certainly shouldn't be silent about anyone being racist to you or in your presence. That's not because he needs to protect you but because he loves you. Being Iraqi is a beautiful part of who you are. It should be something your partner cherishes—at least enough to say “knock it off” to his friends. Your partner sees his newsfeed and sees you having to fight these people. And judging from your letter, he hasn't been stepping up. That’s a problem. If you’re wondering why he has racist friends, it’s because he wants them. 

So you have to have a talk. If he isn’t stepping up now, I’m sorry to say that I don't have a good feeling about him doing it ever. You say you want to marry this man and that means he needs to support this fundamental part of you. He needs to step up.

For you however, I’m stealing one of my favorite lines in a rap song courtesy of the Youngbloodz.  I want you to practice this in front of a mirror if you have to: "If you don't give a damn? We don't give a fuck."

No more parties and events where only you feel uncomfortable. If they tell a racist joke, don’t laugh. Make them explain their racism—call them on it. Do not placate the room. If that doesn't work, keep mad money or the car keys with you. If it gets unbearable, leave and tell them why. Do whatever you feel but make sure that the price of a good evening is no longer your discomfort. Loudly or silently prioritize YOUR feelings.

This is practice for you to get used to knowing what that feels like. Because whatever happens with your partner and Douchebag McRacist, you need to know what it feels like when someone puts your feelings about your culture first. Let that person be you.

I can’t predict what it will do for your relationships, but do you want any kids you might have to feel that being disrespected is okay? Do you want to not be able to bring your full self to the table? And do you want to be with someone who sees that and lets it happen? It sounds harsh but once you feel yourself standing up for the respect of your own culture, it’ll be harder to allow others to disrespect it.

All My Best, 

Sydette

Do you have a question for advice columnists Andi ZeislerSydette Harry, or Nicole GeorgesSend it in! All questions will remain anonymous. Read previous installments of our feminist advice column

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