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

Ms Opinionated logo

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


Want the best of Bitch in your inbox? Sign up for our free weekly reader!

Bitch Media publishes the award-winning quarterly magazine, Bitch:Feminist Response to Pop Culture. Pitch in to support feminist media: Subscribe today

Subscribe to Bitch


Comments

8 comments have been made. Post a comment.

I agree

The advice is spot-on. Your significant other needs to speak up to his friend and quit letting this slide. And getting rid of this person on facebook will get that daily ugliness out of your sight--if for whatever reason you do feel like you need to stay friends with him (which I understand, I have many extended family members who are very right-wing and sometimes express ugly opinions; but I feel it lessens the drama not to unfriend them), then please block his posts. So much better for your peace of mind not to have to see that on a regular basis. If you don't feel like you can't keep confronting this person face to face over his ugliness, than maybe make it clear to your partner that if he wants to spend time with said friend, he will have to do so without you.

I love the advice in this

I love the advice in this post.

I just want to bring up something the questioner and commenter don't seem to realize - you can hide someone from your newsfeed without unfriending them. I do that with a lot of people.

Then, you don't have to see any of their awful posts, but there's also no drama resulting from unfriending them.

(Note - you will still see comments they leave on mutual friends' posts).

I misspoke, I did mean hiding

I misspoke, I did mean hiding their newsfeed.

I believe she should even

I believe she should even tell this person she is unfriending them due to the racist nature of their posts. By hiding the act, she is not letting them know the impact their comments are having on her. She should be proud to do so, not hide it.

yep

Excellent advice. I would add, that you have every right to say that Douchebag McRacist Britches - ps thanks for that, I'm gonna borrow it - doesn't get to come over to your house anymore. If your partner insists on remaining friends with someone who degrades you and your cultural heritage, you totally get to say that he can't do that while accepting your hospitality. And that can be a starting point of a conversation with your partner, who really needs to understand that you are being emotionally harmed by this person.

This Ms. O is a great

This Ms. O is a great reminder that bystander culture is a big issue when we live in a society where many people still have to deal with racism, sexism, and the whole host of other prejudices based around human difference. It isn't right that her Sig-O just sits there and acts that he has no role in this. If he witnesses it and does nothing, then he is guilty too. Is his continual acceptance of Douchebag McRacistpants that different from DM's continual harassment?

It sounds like pretty drastic "with us or against us" rhetoric. But if someone is only with you in thought and refuses to actually do anything to support you, then they are actually against you.

The racism of your friend's

The racism of your friend's friend is not your business unless it occurs whilst you're in the direct vicinity. Simply just do not hang out with the racist if you can help it.

On the dubious merits of minding one's own business

Oh, where to start?

Really, there are so many things that could be said in response to this ludicrous sentiment. Racism and other belief sets that lead to people being disproportionately jailed, murdered, harassed, passed over for gainful employment, etc, are everybody's business. At least everybody who cares about being a decent person. Because when people just ignore it, it gets to keep happening.

The letter writer IS in the direct vicinity of this guy's racism, that's why she wrote the letter. By your logic it is her business.The letter writer is in the position to make this dude think twice about his casual racism by sticking up for herself and the others effected by his behavior. The letter writer's boyfriend is in the position to make his racist douche of a friend a better person by creating an incentive for him to be a better person. Racism is learned, and the more people are willing to stand up to it and create actual repercussions for people, in this case, losing a friendship, the more likely people are to realize that racism hurts people. Simply avoiding the racist just means he gets to go off elsewhere and be a racist douchebag in the vicinity of other people who will be hurt by his behavior.

Turning a blind eye, or minding your own business, doesn't make anything better, in fact it contributes to a world in which people get to behave badly with impunity. Let's try a different example. What happens behind closed doors, in someone else's relationship, by your logic, isn't our business. Unless we actually see intimate partner violence, we just have to stay out of it. Which is how perpetrators of DV get away with it, because people don't step up and say, hey, you can't treat your significant other like that and still get to come over for the barbecue like everything is cool. Not saying to people who behave badly, hey I don't support that behavior, is the same as saying to them, hey I totally support that behavior.

Racism is an act of violence. It is also a belief system that allows for related acts of violence. Lynching for example. Slavery for another. Treating racism like the act of violence it is is crucial to creating a society without racism. Which is everybody's business.