Having friends of color does not magically turn you into a non-racist person. Yet people often give the “I have black friends” defense when they are called out for their racist behavior. At this point, however, everyone knows that you aren’t supposed to say you have black friends. So we get the black friend parade instead.
Here’s how it works: Person A is called out for racist behavior. Person A retaliates: my friends and family know that I’m a good person! Puts hand in magician hat, says a few incantations and Behold, Black Friend. Or even better, Black Lover. Black Friend/Lover starts making rounds or stumping on behalf of racist friend. This girl is my friend and I’ve known her for XX years. And, I don’t need to say this because you can see it, but I’m black. Ergo, she can’t be racist.
Except she can. Paula Dean did and said some pretty racist things and then offered this man as an example of her non-racism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9HLX-yKmCI Wow, Paula, that’s great. You love this one black guy as a son. Awesome. But how many have you hurt with your words and your business practices? Parading around this guy doesn’t change the fact that what you said and did was ridiculously racist (ahem your brother’s wedding). You can bring out 10 black people and all of their cousins and it still doesn’t change the racism inherent in what you did.
This whole argument is like saying: I have a wife – I can’t be sexist. Except you can. Unless gay men are single-handedly keeping sexism alive. Because you were raised and conditioned in a sexist society your natural inclination is to maintain the status quo of sexism – even women do this. Being married to women, having sex with women, and even fathering women will not in some way make you necessarily less sexist. Ideally though, it should make you more aware of the struggles that the women in your life face and cause you to do some critical thinking and ultimately, take action so that you can create a better world for everyone.
Conversely, you can be married to me, pretty black girl extraordinaire, have sex with me, like having sex with me and want more of it and still have racist thoughts and actions. You can also have racist thoughts and actions and still be a contributing member of society, awesome father to your children, an excellent baker, homeroom mother, a lover of beauty, or sing in your church’s Christmas choir. Being racist is not mutually exclusive to being something else.
Remember that racism is “prejudice + Power”. Racist behavior is anything that reinforces the status quo of the built-in structural inequality of our county. So, I’m sure that joke you told about black guys was super funny— hey, your black friend even laughed at it—but if what you said reinforces the racial status quo then it is also racist (you can be racist and funny). There is no such thing as ironic or hipster racism because the joke is only funny at the expense of the same people at the bottom of the structural inequality. Understanding that you are making a racist joke and doing it anyway just means that you are a very self-aware
To be clear: I am your friend. I am your black friend at that. I may even be your black girlfriend. What I am not is a charm- an amulet that you wear to ward off claims of racism. Don’t invoke my name as protection against some other person calling you out on something you did or said that may have been racist. If you call me. I’ll ask you what you said or did. I will listen thoughtfully. And then I will probably tell you “hmm…that’s pretty racist. You should probably apologize and be better.
But I am not stumping for you.