Wednesday, February 3, 2010

get too comfortable with their non-white friends

Hi Macon,

I am a BF living in ______, and I'm hoping to get your perspective on an experience I had with a close friend of mine (who is white) recently. I was driving with my gps on, and my friend and I started making goofy comments such as "wouldn't it be funny if the gps said this?". . . that sort of thing. Suddenly my friend says "wouldn't it be funny if the gps had an 'angry black woman' setting and cussed you out?"

A wave of unease and discomfort consumed me, and I deflected, or immediately changed the subject -- anything to take the focus off the discomfort I was feeling. It wasn't until a day or two later that I decided to address the issue. I let my friend know that the comment she made "rubbed me the wrong way" and "hurt my feelings a bit." My friend told me she "didn't mean any malice" and apologized. That was pretty much the end of it.

My issue wasn't entirely the fact that the comment was extremely inappropriate -- it was the fact that my best friend of nearly 10 years said it. I had never ever EVER heard her make any comments even remotely close to that, so I was confused as to why on earth she would have done it then. I had flashbacks of high school and being told that I wasn't "like, y'know, black black," and that I was "like the most non black black person" they'd ever met. I regret not nipping comments like those in the bud at that time, but now I feel I should know how to handle these situations, yet still find myself at a loss.

My question is -- do you find that some white people get a little too comfortable with their friends of color and "forget they're (insert ethnicity here)". . . so comfortable that they make racist and inappropriate comments when they wouldn't with a complete stranger?


Rufus (my blogger name)

Side note: I've been reading your blog for a while and it's really been helping me out, so keep it up!


Thank you for writing, Rufus. I'll try to answer your question, and I’m so glad to hear that the blog has been helping you out. Thanks also for agreeing to make our exchange a blog post -- I hope that other swpd readers will have answers and insights for you, from both sides of the color line, based on similar experiences they've had.

As for my experiences, yes, I certainly have seen white people get too comfortable in this way with their friends of color -- I'm also sure that I’ve done it myself (and I appreciate the opportunity you've provided to remember and reflect on such moments).

Despite what most white people think, society trains us unconsciously to be "white," which means we have some common white habits; we act in some common white ways. We sometimes feel and think in racist ways, even when we’re aware of that tendency within ourselves. And so, inevitably, we’re going to mess up sometimes. On top of that, there's also the way that being in the presence of a close non-white friend can mean "letting our guard down," which makes us less careful in our self-monitoring of our racist feelings and thoughts -- I’m surprised it took ten years for that kind of thing to happen with your white friend!

It's odd, in a way; the very concept of "friendship" usually includes the idea that a friend is someone you can feel totally relaxed and comfortable around. Being "comfortable" doesn't seem to mix well with having to be "careful," and yet, in interracial friendships (and in all good friendships, really), it should. It should for the white person, that is; I have my doubts that the non-white person should feel much responsibility to be "careful" in these terms.

I think that having a friend who isn't white, especially a close friend, can make a white person feel that they're not racist -- having a non-white friend supposedly proves that. Even when white people know how ridiculous and even racist it can be to say, "But my black friend says!", there's still something about having a close non-white friend (especially a black one, it seems) that makes a lot of white people feel exonerated from the possibility that they could ever say or do something "racist."

So, if we're with a non-white friend and we say or do something that is racist, we usually expect the non-white friend to give us a pass, because we "didn't really mean to be racist.” And when it comes to most white minds -- as your friend demonstrated when you mentioned your discomfort later -- good intentions are everything. Instead of what's really more important, that is, racist outcomes and effects.

It seems to me that how you felt at that moment in your car is at least as important as your friend's desire to exonerate herself, which she expressed by saying that she "didn't mean any malice." But isn't your friend basically saying, so far, that her feelings are more important than yours?

I’ve also noticed (as you clearly have as well) that such white people commonly think of a non-white friend as an “exception” -- we might even say, and more often think, something like, "You're not like other black people." Actually, I wonder if that’s one reason you changed the topic when your friend joked about a GPS unit having an “Angry Black Woman” voice -- maybe at some level, you didn’t want your white friend to disappoint you, by saying something inevitable, and inevitably derailing. That is, something like, “Oh come on, I didn’t mean that you’re an angry black bitch. You’re not at all like that!” Which would be beside the point, really -- but not in the white friend’s mind.

And again, in the minds of white friends in interracial relationships, moments arise when it's somehow our feelings and thoughts that count, more so than those of our non-white friends. We live, after all, in a society that still privileges and empowers white people, often in subtle ways. To be blunt, I think your friend's expecting you to simply accept her apology about what she really meant, rather than asking you to explain how you felt, is an example of that. Basically, I think it's probably not a stretch to say that in this area of your friendship, she's been trained to feel that her (white) feelings, and her (white) perspective, are more valid and important than your non-white ones. If that's true, I think it could be why she considers it more important for you to understand that she meant no "malice," than for her to ask, listen, and try to understand why you got upset.

So yes, I do find that some white people get a little too comfortable with their friends of color and "forget they're (insert ethnicity here)." I obviously don't know you or your friend, so my speculations may be groundless, but I hope that they help you sort out your feelings about this incident.

One other thing I’ll say, and I hope it’s not presumptuous of me: I don’t get the sense that this incident, and what it says about your friend, are resolved issues for you. If you’re still feeling unsettled, maybe you should talk more fully with her about how that comment made you feel.

But then, that shouldn’t be your responsibility . . . and, such a talk could be painful.

Still, as they say, what are friends for?

What do you think, dear readers? Have you experienced interracial friendships with white friends who make racist and inappropriate comments that they wouldn't make around complete strangers? 

If so, how do you handle it? And why do you suppose such comments arise with friends when they wouldn't arise with others?

And by the way, can we avoid comments that advise Rufus to just dump this white friend? As we’ve noticed in other posts and comment threads about interracial relationships, that kind of advice is rarely helpful (and sometimes, I think, it's also condescending and disrespectful).


  1. Comment for the white readers who are saying to themselves that they don't do this because the example given in the post doesn't apply to them:

    After reading many posts on this blog I came to the startling conclusion that I am "that" white friend. I've definitely taken certain "permissions" that some of my friends are cool with,(joking about their cultures because I grew up with them in the same cultures, for example), and made them global by spreading them over to other friends (friends I didn't grow up with).

    And what's worse is they weren't real permissions because someone came out and said, "It's ok." I gave myself permission because I felt I knew my intent wasn't malicious. So maybe I wouldn't say "Angry Black Woman setting" but I'm sure I have (and I'm not talking like this is the distant past here either) said things that caused just as much anguish by thinking because it was ok to say x to so-and-so it was also ok to say y.

    I think any white person who says they've never done this is either lying (to his or herself) or is still practicing it and no one has called him or her on it yet.

    And this is not to give myself a big pat on the back. My comment is meant to illustrate how easy it is to do this without realizing it - because your friends love you and maybe they just haven't said something to you yet. Don't take their silence as an "ok".

    And if someone does approach you about something you've said either recently or in the past - read this post so you can apologize genuinely.

  2. I personally only have a few friends who are very close to me, and some of them are white. If any of them were to say something like that, I would assume -- probably correctly -- that they're joking around, and I would joke right back. If something they say is inappropriate or hurtful, I talk to them about it.
    If a random acquaintance of mine said something like that though, I don't know what I would do.

  3. I've had friends say racists things to me before. I had a roommate that was extremely disrespectful of just about any race than her own. Coming from a PoC perspective, sometimes there's a point to say something and other times it's best to let it go. The thing with me is that I'm so slow, I probably wouldn't get mad about it until weeks later after I sit on it for a while. I've had some white friends use the N-word in front of me, which was disrespectful and I basically said not to use that word and then that friend (former friend, but it wasn't over this) "Oh that word only has power because you give it power." and I said "If it doesn't have any power, why would you use it." and that was that.

    I think it's okay when white people get comfortable, but not too comfortable when they offend someone. As a PoC, I always have to be on my guard more so than the average white person because I can't necessarily get mad, because that would be playing into the stereotype, but you can't let it go because they'll do it again whether purposely or not.

    Use your discretion. I didn't even bother with my roommate because she just didn't want to listen to anything anyone had to say and she wasn't willing to learn from her mistakes. However, I've told other people to be careful because while I may let it slide, someone else might not be so gracious. Usually that stops them from making the mistake again.

  4. My ex had things he used to do like use his "black girl" voice that we argued about all the time. He just could not understand why that was offensive to me.

    To the random black girl on the street -- sure -- but why would I be upset when I know him and I know he doesn't mean it in a malicious way, he wondered. That was an issue we never settled. He stopped doing it, but he didn't get why he was supposed to. I think he didn't get it because there was a disconnect for him in understanding why I would believe he'd say something to hurt me, not understanding this wasn't about him, it was about the beliefs his "jokes" suggested he had. (something, had I been able to articulate then, I would've pointed out to him)

    My BFF and I have a joke that there are WP in our lives who are gonna get cut in the street because we let them get away with things because we know they're just trying to be funny but to the random POC in the street -- these words would be very offensive and we're responsible for that.

    I say it's a joke because it's not truly our responsibility to tell someone that jokes that play on stereotypes are not funny to everyone and shouldn't be told. Even still, we feel like it is, sometimes.

    Honestly, I think the "why do they do it" question is one only WP can truly answer, but I feel that there's this wish some WP have to know for sure that they are "cool" with their POC friends and one way they do that is to make sensitive jokes. "I'm cool enough to make a joke that if anyone else made they'd get popped in the mouth..." type of attitude.

    It's not unlike how we use nicknames to "prove" we're close to people, (the idea/motivation, not the act)

  5. Hi, this is my first time commenting on this blog (though I've been reading it for a while). I definitely have to agree with Victoria's post. Reading this has led me to think about the times when I have been that white friend. It has also led me to think about the times when I've witnessed others being that white friend, and how the PoC reacted, and whether I did or did not get involved.

    I think that issue of getting-too-comfortable extends to white people and their white friends, as well. Sometimes, a white person will ignore a white friend's racism, even if it makes them uncomfortable. The discomfort they feel may lead them to believe more highly of themselves...even if they don't call their friend out on the comment. If they do say something to their friend, the conversation is less likely to become hostile, since neither party feels the urgency that might be felt in a conversation between a white person and a PoC--since neither party -has- to be offended on a personal level. I guess this is pretty common knowledge around here--that it's easier for white people to point out racism, since they are perceived in this culture as being less "biased" about these things (irony, much), and derailing tactics are so ingrained in whiteness that many white children learned them from a young age. Part of white priveledge is that white people don't have to stop and think about these things. Like a monotonous hum, it's pretty easy to forget if you don't have to live it all the time.

    This is where my train of thought led me, though I realize now that it gets a bit off topic--at least away from Rufu's situation and focused more on white people. I wish I had something more helpful in terms of advice to offer Rufus, but I don't feel comfortable doing that with my limited knowledge of the particular people involved, or racism in general. Rufus, I hope your friend gives some more thought to the situation and volunteers a better, sincerer apology.

  6. "I feel that there's this wish some WP have to know for sure that they are "cool" with their POC friends and one way they do that is to make sensitive jokes. "I'm cool enough to make a joke that if anyone else made they'd get popped in the mouth..." type of attitude."

    This really resonates for me.

    As does this:
    "On top of that, there's also the way that being in the presence of a close non-white friend can mean "letting our guard down," which makes us less careful in our self-monitoring of our racist feelings and thoughts"

    And this:
    "I've definitely taken certain "permissions" that some of my friends are cool with,(joking about their cultures because I grew up with them in the same cultures, for example), and made them global by spreading them over to other friends (friends I didn't grow up with)."

  7. @ Rufus,

    I've experienced moments like the one you describe in almost all of my friendships with white people -- and due to where I was raised and where I went to school, most of my friendships have been with white people.

    Probably my most memorable experience of this was when I was at culinary school a few years ago. (Oh, the race jokes came hard and fast there.) I was doing homework in my dorm room, and my roommate was watching TV with a friend of hers. In response to something on the screen, the friend said, "Hey, how come black people can't swim?" and they both shrieked with laughter.

    I am one of the most conflict-avoidant people I know IRL, but that was too ridiculous to let go, so I said "Excuse me?" (Weak, I know.) There were some mumbled excuses and the friend took off. My roommate was mad at me for making things awkward. I told my black friends about it, because you kind of have to -- if you're not going to go nuts you have to share this stuff and either get mad or laugh about it.

    It became a joke among my black friends -- "Oh, it's raining out, better not fall in a puddle and drown because you know us black folk cain't swim!" -- and it got back to my roomate's friend. My roommate was furious with me: "I can't believe you told your friends that Sarah said black people can't swim!" ...Well, but she did say that. Roommate and I never made up.

    Comfortable with black people or not (my roommate and friend were not, actually), white people are used to being given carte blanche (heh heh) to say whatever they like. Sure, in the Northeast most of the white people I know love to stroke each other's egos over how "liberal" they are -- they're conscientious enough to demonstrate when the KKK marches on New York City -- but they'll say the most unbelievable stuff, and think that a lifetime's work of PoCs letting them say this stuff is the same as permission.

  8. This type of scenario has happened to me a few times with WP people i considered very close friends at the time. I'm fearful for it to happen again, because of two main reasons:

    1) in those situations my brain has frozen in a panic of how to handle what was said, and i've usually ended up waiting so long to bring it up the "right way" that it didn't make sense to even have the conversation anymore. which of course just drops me into a spiral of frustration and self-doubt.

    2) if could begin to be better at expressing this type of thing, no matter how hard it is, what if the friend who said the hurtful thing can't/won't hear what i have to say and honestly want to make amends? even when you have a friend that is kind or generous in other situations, having the "you did/said something that was racist and it bothered me" conversation shuts people down. it's one of the most powerful factors of White Privilege--denying that it even exists.

    so then, if i find out that they aren't the person i thought they were, can i still be their friend?

    that is a crappy place to be in.

    i look forward to what everyone else has to say on this topic.

  9. (Sorry, there's more.)

    A really hard part, for me, of experiencing that kind of blithe racism from friends, is that I have no idea how to respond when it happens. Right in the moment, sometimes I'm so taken by surprise I'm afraid of what will come out of my mouth; sometimes a white person's comment will be like a drive-by, and I won't realize what's happened until ten minutes later, at which point the conversation's moved on.

    When I talk to white people about this stuff, I prefer to save it til it's just me and the other person one-on-one, because bringing up conversations about racism in a group is just begging for a clusterfuck. But when I wait til later, I'm often told, "Why didn't you tell me in the moment?" When I do bring it up in the moment, I get blown off -- the response has invariably been, "I'm sorry you were offended" or "I didn't mean it that way" -- or asked irrelevant questions as a form of derailment.

    My white friends expect me to make discussions about racism comfortable for them. (Privilege at its finest.) But if the conversation's going to be honest, the first thing that has to go out the window is any major consideration for white comfort. This does not tend to go over well.

    Another form I've noticed of white friends getting too comfortable with their black friends is white reappropriation of black media -- i.e., my white friends have the unfortunate habit of listening to black comedians and repeating their jokes back to me. When Chris Rock tells me something, when I laugh it's because it's so awful, it's true. When my white friend Melanie repeats, "What do black people have for salad dressing? Hot sauce!" that is racist. Period, the end.

  10. "if we're with a non-white friend and we say or do something that is racist, we usually expect the non-white friend to give us a pass [...] somehow our feelings and thoughts that count, more so than those of our non-white friends."

    Macon's got it. That, right there, is the problem. All too often WP assume that friendship means "you, the PoC, do hereby promise not to be hurt by my cluelessness"— which actually just means, "you promise to protect my self-esteem by shielding me from the knowledge that I am/have been clueless (never mind your own feelings)." It doesn't occur to them to think "I do hereby promise to try not to hurt you in the first place"— ie: that friendship starts with, "we both promise to try not to hurt each other." If you can't do that regardless of color (or w'ev), then you can't be friends.

    I wouldn't immediately dump a 10-year friend for this. Surely there's hope. All I can say is to prepare yourself. She'll be crazy defensive for a bit; maybe even angry. Gird yourself for an exasperated "well, you know I didn't mean it [so stop being so mean and just let it go!]" and/or "gah! can't we just be friends without the whole black/white thing!?" At which point, I'd advise you to say no. Because 1) it's a part of your identity; and 2) ignoring race is only beneficial for white people (and it is actively harmful for PoC). "But why shouldn't I treat you just like any other [white] friend?!" she might ask. She can't treat you like any other friend because you're not any other friend. You're you.

    Sidebar, my oldest friend is white (and bi). I wish I knew how we did it, but we're at a point where we can joke about our various oppressed statuses in ways that I would not recommend to anyone else. People have gasped while we're busy ROTFLOLing. (I admit, when we get together we tend to be a little out there.) One time that sticks out was when I stayed with her and her then-new hubby, and we both put on beauty masque, which dried chalk white. She glanced at me in the mirror and said, casual as you please, "What's up, Amos?" and I immediately replied, "Nuthin' much, Andy!" and we about died laughing. Her (white) husband was frozen stock-still, appalled. He just quietly melted from the room. Which somehow just made us die even harder. Oh, good times! YHTBT maybe.

  11. I've been lurking for a while, but this is a topic that has been on my mind a lot just lately. I have most definitely been *that* white friend.

    My experience has been that much of the asshattery I've been guilty of - that I've recognized, anyway - comes from sentiments similar to what A. Smith has described. In part, I was acting based on the idea that if we were such good friends, then I could be edgy and post-racial and shit.

    The rest of it comes from the mistaken idea that because I believe in, and was raised to believe in, social justice and equality, I could not be racist. Further, I had the equally mistaken idea that b/c I understood the oppressions that affected me, I therefore understood issues that ... I had absolutely no experience with. The logic that went next was, "Ok, GF & I both use the word bitch (which is ok between us, as women we can try to reclaim bitch), so [racial epithet here] will be cool (yeeeaahhh, not so much, since that word has never been used to oppress me). Gah! it looks so bad writing it, I can't believe how earnestly I thought these things.

    Looking back, if my friends had called me out, it might have helped me get to be a better ally quicker, because I had some seriously asinine thinking going on, and there are more than one of my friends who could fully have gone toe-to-toe. Which is not to say that was their job. Now I have to just own the knowledge that I've been hurtful to them at times, and they probably don't see me in the way I'd like to think of myself - as a completely trustworthy friend. So, I look forward to not repeating my mistakes, learning more, and stand ready to try to make amends if given the opportunity.

  12. It's so hard to respond to this type of situation. A few people have already stated that they freeze or are unable to respond immediately, and it's the same thing for me. How do you say something that will make them think and yet not come across as the angry POC? Even walking down the street I feel the need to appear a good mix of "don't mess with me" with a dash of "I'm contented and happy". It's probably different for different groups of POCs as well, so as an Asian cis/m, my own experiences have made me most aware of people calling me oversensitive or emasculating my point of view (in that they sometimes treat me in a dismissive manner, feeling that I wouldn't get angry or voice my opinion. NOT in that being feminine is negative. ~someone call me out if this is coming out wrong, please.)

    In my younger days, I'd lash out with an angry tidal wave, which doesn't work for obvious reasons.

    I think the way I've come to deal with it is to show mild irritation/annoyance upon the incident, and to address the issue in an intimate face-to-face conversation with the "transgressor". But I'm pretty sure I'm not alone when I say that going into that conversation may be a long and tedious process, and unless you are very invested in cultivating a close/intimate friendship, it's too much work to get into.

    The best way so far for me is to have another white friend that understands the issues at hand to call the other WP out and engage in that conversation. Most likely (and that's around the 75% mark at least), another WP will not want to listen to me unless they have some understanding of white supremacy and anti-racist work/training.

    I've recently decided to just let a friend go because after almost 10 years of friendship, they still do not hear me (or want to hear me?). It's even funnier when they quote my other white friend who understands anti-racist work to me to say that they understand now. That's when I know that none of our conversations ever even got processed by them. (NB: I never lashed out at them so that's not the reason they never seemed to hear me.)

    I'm tired, and I'm not that old. But with helpful WP allies, it makes me feel some relief at least. I appreciate those WP who do take the time to call out other WP and do not leave the burden to POCs. But please also know that this is because it is a burden that we all share and that POCs are not indebted to you for it either. It's just the right thing to do, and I do believe that most people still act with the belief that what they are doing is right.

  13. I've had some white friends do this to me. One of my good girlfriends from high school refers to me as darkness. This has been going on since 9th grade and were both 21 now. I don't say anything because i know i'm like her only black friend that and if i told her that she was wrong i'd have to sit there and watch as she cried her damn eyes out. This girl cries over everything and i can't handle people crying around me. So i just minimize my contact with her

  14. re: 'On top of that, there's also the way that being in the presence of a close non-white friend can mean "letting our guard down," which makes us less careful in our self-monitoring of our racist feelings and thoughts'

    I'm just theorizing here, but I've been thinking that this sounds like a common white bonding behavior; that is, one of the thresholds of friendship is when we can reveal our prejudices without fear of being rejected. When we do this among other white people, it solidifies the friendship because it confirms our membership in the group (sometimes it can lead to its dissolution, but not nearly as often as the former).

    When we try to transfer this into cross-racial friendships, though, we end up in situations like the ones PoC have shared in this thread. We think that being close to PoC means treating them as if they are white. Whiteness includes the notion of keeping our prejudices safe. Confronting prejudices that have been shared among other white people is a powerful taboo, and when it happens, the trouble maker is always the one who calls out the unjust nature of the prejudice, not the perpetrator.

  15. I would like to step aside from the direct realm of privilege here, and address this in a manner that will surely infuriate a number of those here.

    It would seem, to my mind, that a friendship is based on letting boundaries go, to some extent. Some of us like to hold on to ours. Some of us don't. One such set of boundaries may occur in the context of ethnic, gender, religious or sexual identity and the relevant stereotype, characteristics and public discussions that occur regarding these contexts.

    One's right to be offended or hurt is one's own, but this is the risk one burdens oneself with by taking on any relationship with someone who is not exactly like ourselves. And the degree with which one does so must be a function of one's resistance to toxicity. Rufus certainly appears to have a limited resistance to toxicity, but alas, invited the potential by engaging in joking.

    But, the degree to which any inter-ethnic or cultural exchange may be abrasive is a function of the perpetual distance between the contexts of the actors; an individual of African (or European, I assume) decent risks endless potential for inspection of their skin and hair and general personhood in various sections of the world. I have had that experience in India.

    To that end, the likelihood is that by raising and maintaining these boundaries we only engender further misunderstandings. This rather painstaking examination of the minutiae of every potential slight along these lines strikes me as being counter productive in general, and the glorification of inter-ethnic miscommunication by anecdote to a high science for endless discourse, to be non-engaging to any outside the already fixated. The recent posting regarding the 6 your old white girl who was deemed to be engaging in white supremacist behaviour by attempting to climb aboard a playground object with another (POC) child to be exemplary of the insanity that this mode of analysis engenders.

    While the blog is interesting and the topic worthy, the direction will trend towards the obsessive and extreme reactions.

  16. I am a white female. This is my first time commenting. I have mostly been lurking and trying to learn. So, I am putting this out there as an uninformed perspective but trying to be honest also.

    With my friends of color I find myself overly cautious about joking around for various reasons. One being that I am uncertain where the lines are drawn. My closest black friend has joked with me in racial territory but I don't feel comfortable responding because I come from a place of privilege and ignorance and I don't know if what I might say would be subtly (obviously, subtle is a subjective term) racist or not.

    I am also confused about what is off-limits after watching comedians, both of color and white, address race and culture. I know intuitively jokes that seem racist to me and others that don't but I can't always define what the difference is.

    I think that there is an aspect of closer friendship (of all kinds) that allows us to take more liberties with what we say to each other because of the level of trust in the relationship. I definitely don't currently have any relationships with FoC that have a level of trust such as the one in Karinova's comment, but I think there is a wish, among some white people, myself included, that that level of comfort and friendship could exist.

  17. MeAndMyFanon,

    I had such high hopes for your comment when I saw that user name. But alas, upon reading your comment, crashing down said hopes came.

    It's been quite awhile since I heard someone utter the phrase "pseudo-intellectual bullshit"; your comment brought it roaring back to my ears, right from the very first line:

    I would like to step aside from the direct realm of privilege here, and address this in a manner that will surely infuriate a number of those here.

    Say what? I think I know what you mean, but it's pretty ironic, perhaps in several ways. If you're white, you're privileged, and there's no right way for you to "step aside" from that. You should instead own it; the rest of your comment suggests that you spend your life doing anything but. If by "stepping aside from the direct realm of privilege" you also or actually mean stepping into your posited fantasy realm -- of sunshine-and-buttercups friendship without boundaries like race to keep good friends from just kind of melting into each other -- then you're asking that friendship be some kind of absurdly unreal dreamscape. When it comes to black and white friends, guess whose terms such a friendship would nevertheless end up bound by? The white friend's, of course, i.e., the boundaries are still gonna be there. You can't just wish them away.

    This part of what you wrote is especially painful to read:

    One's right to be offended or hurt is one's own, but this is the risk one burdens oneself with by taking on any relationship with someone who is not exactly like ourselves. And the degree with which one does so must be a function of one's resistance to toxicity. Rufus certainly appears to have a limited resistance to toxicity, but alas, invited the potential by engaging in joking.

    Invited it??? So, a black friend "invited" a racist comment by merely joking around with her white friend, about something as innocuous as the voices on a GPS unit? This is painful for me to read because it sounds like you're actually blaming Rufus for provoking her white friend's racism -- which is a Grade-A example of your comment's brand of pseudo-intellectual bullshit.

    As for your dismissal of the "painstaking examination of the minutiae of every potential slight" in this and other posts here -- who the hell are you to describe them as "counter productive" for all but those who have already somehow become "fixated" with this blog? Can't you see even a tiny bit of all that you're so blithely dismissing with that wave of your high-and-mighty hand? (These q's are rhetorical, btw.)

    In other words, if you want to question someone's "sanity," you really should start with your own.

  18. Y'know, I wonder if the easiest (?) response for us PoC might not be to simply let our discomfort show? When I've been in situations like this, where someone has just casually dropped an ism-bomb that I'm not prepared for, I almost always play it off, pretend I didn't hear, or slip on my BlankFace and (quietly) leave the area. All of which does nothing to protect me, but does a whole lot to protect the WP who's hurting me.

    Maybe it would help if they saw the damage they're currently causing with their own eyes in real time, so later, it's not about them being racist (oh noez!), it's about the tears they saw standing in my eyes. That they put there.

    I say this because I got a real gut-check of a racist comment from a friendquaintance the other day, and it was so unexpected and hit me so hard, I just couldn't hide my reaction. I literally had to steady myself on a chair before giving what I'm sure was a watery How Could You?! look and beating feet. [Basically, it was a tense ribbing about how if I ever pissed her off, she'd call ICE and get me deported. In context, it really hurt me.] I was 100% done with her FOREVER, not from anger, just self-preservation. I didn't even have any interest in explaining; I'm not sure I knew in that moment why I was so upset anyway. But get this: 2 days later, she comes to me, hat in hand, begging to know how she'd screwed up. [What the—?! This is new!]
    And when I cooly told her— "Um, I'm a legal immigrant." "I know! Exactly! So why'd you take it so seriously?!" "Because you're a citizen, and you're white. I'm honestly afraid that you could, that you would, get me deported, even though I'm legally here, just for petty revenge. You own the law, and you threatened me with it. For a so-called joke."— she actually got it. Big time. (I suspect, for the first time.) Honestly, it was almost painful to see. She didn't know the strength of her whiteness; how much damage it can cause. It's not something you can just swing around, you know? Don't point it at anything you don't intend to hurt.

    Anyway, until this talk, I'd judged this woman to be hopelessly white. I avoided studiously avoided discussing even racism-in-general with her, and I certainly didn't dare mention "white privilege" or anything like that (for her sake). She seemed like the type to take it Very Personally, you know? And yet, the talk after the "immigrant" incident went really well. Go figure.

  19. I am a PoC. Biracial if you must know. To suggest that I, who have been the direct target of racial hostility, physical as well as verbal, to be engaging in sunshine-and-buttercups... well...

    What I see as the fallacy here is the slippery slope this blog might fall under. Accusing a white child of white supremacist action is bizarre in the extreme.

    But I step back into the realm. I for one, would never find such a comment personally offensive inasmuch as I can comprehend the origin. I would not, nor would any friend of my own be offended by someone 'joking' that black folk use hot sauce as salad dressing. One does not expect any denotation of race in a professional or casual atmosphere, but, yes, we all invite ourselves to feel slighted by entering into any numerous types of engagements. It is true that I, having lived around the world have acquired a great diversity of friendships, and not all without their caustic side at times. It may also be true that by dint of my own middle class (in the English sense)upbringing, I have been sheltered from some of the cost of this. I am far from pretending I don't have privilige of my own as you seem to suggest. I have male, national and economic privilege many do not have.

    You, on the other hand, seem determined to lecture with the presumption you are correct on all points. (talk about white privilege!)

    If you don't see how the slippery slope of discourse here encourages extreme and irrational debate.. the sight of poster after poster decrying a 6-8 year old girl with debasing seriousness, for example (and before you go on, I know that the post was also about the author's feelings in that context.. but not all about it) ought rattle any rational human. perhaps you have the utter sense of self-certainty and righteousness on a white person could have? (Although, my sister might do it better despite her racial handicap)

  20. @ karinova, you said, I wonder if the easiest (?) response for us PoC might not be to simply let our discomfort show?

    Pretty much this. It's not the response that will get results, but it's definitely the easiest as it preserves the status quo perfectly. I've done a lot of this in my lifetime, as I expect most PoCs have. It feels awful -- but speaking up feels awful to me, too. =(

    Thank you for sharing your experience with your white friend who Got It. That was actually pretty encouraging to hear. I've been letting a lot of little things go with one of my friends lately because the likely mess doesn't seem worth it, but it's good to know that sometimes, things do go well, and people can surprise you.

  21. I'm not sure that a comment like that would really bother me. If a good friend of mine had said that I would have made a remark about a stereotypical "white girl" setting. My BFF is white and we would have said that and worse, I think maybe because in both of our minds, we're obviously not talking about each other. We're perfect. :) Besides, I'm with Macon, I thought part of being friends was being relaxed and comfortable with each other, which to me, usually allows me to see past our differences and recognize our similarities. Otherwise I doubt I would even be friends with a person who didn't feel similarly. Plus, you said it was a decade long relationship, I doubt anyone is that good about hiding their "true" feelings for that long.


    I think when white people meet a black person who they think is an "exception" (that's like a 3-part blog post right there) it really has less to do with race than class. I find that certain identifiable class markers pretty much determine who my friends are (i.e., private/post-gradute schooling, affluent neighborhoods, travel, common acquaintances, etc). And I think it is because those class markers are something white people in that same or similar class can recognize and can relate to. So they simply make a minor adjustment to their worldview to include that black person as a friend, or, "the exception".

  22. @MeAndMyFanon

    so, at what exact age does White Privilege spring into action? does it happen when a WP starts high school? or perhaps when your voter registration card comes in the mail? when can they expect to be held accountable for the systems of power and oppression that they are benefitting from?


    i can almost co-sign to what you are saying--that to be in meaningful contact with other human beings is to expect that slights and disappointments will arise. but that DOES NOT excuse the slight-er, nor does it preclude the slight-ee from addressing the situation.

  23. @ MissCegenation

    when can they expect to be held accountable for the systems of power and oppression that they are benefiting from?

    Not at six years old. We don't even hold people accountable for homicides they commit when they're six . They're six!

  24. i'm posting a lot tonight!


    of course, you have to do what you are comfortable doing with white friends of yours, and i wouldn't try and tell you otherwise. but i don't get it. is it ok with you if a white friend somehow considers you an "exception" to their views on PoC, because you might come from a similar economic or educational background?

    further, how would it make you feel to hear those same friends saying racist things about OTHER black folks who weren't an exception? can you live with that because they're not talking specifically about you?

    i personally couldn't live with that (especially from someone who i considered a friend). because everyone who has considered me an "exception" to their Black People rule, has always eventually shown their true colors.

    and really, if for no other reason than:

    "...And then . . . they came for me . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up.”

  25. @lurkielurker

    we start teaching children even before they can talk about how to behave, and how to treat other human beings. why should teaching white children about how to treat PoC be any different?

    and really, i believe that the girl likely learned the behavior from her parents, so at that age it's really about the lack of good role modeling she got. she learned that she's a special snowflake. she learned that it's ok to ignore what an adult/authority figure is telling her. and very possibly, she learned that when interacting with PoC (no matter how much older they are than you), their needs are not as important as what she thinks hers are.

  26. At this point MeAndMyFanon is clearly just trolling and seems to have some beef with Macon. Shows no interest in learning or engaging the topic, only spewing more "pseudo-intellectual bullshit".

  27. @Pockysmama

    one more thing, because i was really fascinated by your comment.

    i don't consider myself an "exception" to ANYONE'S PoC Rules. so that's probably the biggest reason why i couldn't live with a WP trying to separate me from a community that i feel so connected to, and so protective of.

  28. Good Evening Everyone,

    My friend and I both grew up in the same city where whites happen to be a minority (by the thinnest of hairs). My shock was due in part to naive thoughts of "she should know better"... and it wasn't just the comment, which I interpreted to be out of left field. It snowballed into "was it really out of left field? what on earth is she saying when I'm not around?" As someone stated before, you become afraid of realizing that your friends may not be who you thought they were.

    @ Drowned Lotuses: I found your response particularly useful because I happen to have another WP friend who "gets it", who I plan to bring in on the discussion... or at least mediate because I'm thinking things might get ugly.

    One thing that stuck out to me in the thread were the responses of "if wouldn't bother me if my good WP friend said something like that because they're my friend and I would know they were joking". Obviously everyone's lines are at different levels-- my friend just happened to cross mine.

  29. @MissCegenation -

    Well, on this line of thought is the "What is a slight"...always the difficult question. The issue: no one is slighted by the exact same level. Mr Reid has recently brought this to light, not to drag that weeks-old claptrap to light. I felt he had been making a correct point and was not the least bit offended. Others I know were perturbed to the point of forehead vein popping excitement. I don't know the answer, otherwise it would not be an issue; just draw the line. I would say, since I am a man of taste, I tend to give most people the benefit of the doubt. I have wondered whether this is not just a conflict-avoidance reflex, but I doubt it.

    Perhaps this is personal... not a few months ago, a friend from Sri Lanka was going to an event where she was to meet President Musharraf who was speaking in the States at the time. I chided her "now remember not to call him 'Uncle,'" (the meaning of which is insular to those of the Desi background). I have to admit she seemed bemused at best, if not confused, so I wondered if I had not crossed a line. I don't know!

    But now I take this blog away from what the topic is: "white privilege." I can only offer my own perspective. I am rarely offended by impolitic jokes by those I trust as good friends, mostly because I figure I have done my vetting. If you can't open many boundaries amongst those closest to me, when can I? I am rarely disappointed, but also find this openness a good way to convey more important matters. When you have another at their most open, you are also in a position to educate and illuminate. Does that make me the 'cool' black guy who can allow them to say things? That is up to the WP to say, but I refuse to believe I am a necessary filter for all those of similar ethnic background. Because, I surely am not.

    But perhaps I am too peaceable.

    Of course, this addresses only those I know.

    Strangers... a lot less so. Then the forehead vein comes out. The author here was offended, so to that end, she needs to evaluate and take action... but just giving my own perspective (amidst some rambling).

    White Privilege springs into action at age 13, the vernal equinox.

  30. I took the comment as ... basically that person's inner thoughts coming out. What I mean is that I bet for a long time this woman has thought in the back of her head "I wonder if one day this [black] woman will go all Angry Black Woman on me." She's probably suppressed the thought for a long time because she knows deep down it's racist, but sooner or later out it comes.

    She doesn't trust you, OP, and her true thoughts have come out. Personally I would take a step back from this relationship, but I have a pretty low threshold for dealing with other people's issues.

  31. And I do apologise for seeming a troll should I have. Momentrily irked but not at all attempting to subvert points made. It is an interesting blog and quite a topic of merit. As I said, I have merely a singular perspective.

  32. @MeAndMyFanon

    i absolutely think that every PoC has to achieve their own level of comfort in what they interpret as racism/white privilege, and how they want to handle it. there are some things that might make my head burst into flames, that you might not even consider to be an issue. there's nothing wrong with that. the thing that gives me pause--and what i questioned @Pockysmama about--is, while we certainly can't control what WP may say/do/believe elsewhere in the world, do we have a responsibility to at least consider that? and by responsibility, i mean, as PoC who are concerned about dismantling white privilege, how do we ensure we are not helping to reinforce old systems of hegemony for WP who are "just making jokes/comments" with us?

    and, do all PoC have to care about that?

    it's an interesting discussion in general, because we as PoC are always trying to negotiate life both as individuals, and as part of a greater PoC community. we're not a homogenous people by any means, yet we still have important threads of similarity that tie us together, yadda, yadda, yadda.

    for me, i think would be easier to slide into total comfort with a WP (in terms of making jokes) if i was confident in where their head was. my husband is a WP, and he's also my best friend. i've never been ANYWHERE near as tight with another WP as i am with him--and i've vetted a few. he and i make constant comments and cracks of a racial nature, but they are usually along the lines of either processing an uncomfortable, racially offensive situation that we're witnessing/experiencing, or to diffuse the pain that i live with (and that he knows exists for PoC).

    however, we've never engaged in tossing around things like stereotypes, racist jokes, Ironic Hipster Racism, etc. because that's where my line is. possibly, your line lies somewhere else, and possibly whatever your boundary currently is, it might be more fluid than mine.

    thank you for confirmation for the age of onset of White Privilege. i stand corrected!

  33. IrishUp's comment made me think... and then Rufus's line: Obviously everyone's lines are at different levels-- my friend just happened to cross mine. REALLY made me think...

    A black friend of mine had a joke with a white friend of hers. My friend called this particular friend "whitey" while her friend called her "blackie." I don't know the origins of these nicknames (as in why they started calling each other that), but I know they did a skit in high school based around this complete with appropriate t-shirts. Her stories about "whitey" and "blackie" made me cringe everytime she told them and I was never sure if it was really my place to point out to her the issues that raised.

    Ultimately, I decided as long as her friend never called me blackie, I had no choice but to let it slide, since that was their friendship, their rules...

    However, the issue bothered me for a long time (and, I suppose it still kinda bothers me, but the two of them are no longer friends). I think my friend found it easier to adjust to her almost all-white surroundings by allowing things like that to happen so that they felt more comfortable with her.

    The ironic thing is, many of them now look to her to "tell people off" (yes, in that very stereotypical "angry black woman" way) and she obliges -- comfortably it seems.

    This is all such iffy-ground. I think the one thing most of us POCs have in common on this one is not always being sure of how to handle the situation when it arises.

    @MeAndMyFanon, while I strongly disagree with your assessment, I think perhaps we could agree on that point. Rufus's friend crossed a line in their friendship; perhaps your lines are drawn elsewhere.

    And white children have privilege. They're born with it; they just don't completely grasp the concept. that, however, doesn't mean they can't and don't use it. The white child chronicled in that post used hers, whether she realized it or not (and I'm very sure she didn't as many white adults don't recognize it).

  34. [Regarding that white child described in an earlier post, let's please move that discussion over there, so it doesn't derail this discussion. Mike posted a reply here to part of MissCegenation's comments above about her, and I put his reply there instead. ~macon]

  35. Well, thanks everyone for listening to my points, as scattered as they may be. My points on acceptance, I ask that you note, exist solely to the point of this particular event Rufus discussed, and not to all such cases of jokes.

    Goodnight for now. Thanks to Mr (Macon) D for a most interesting forum.

  36. @meandmyfanon

    I made a comment (more of a musing) regarding the little girl's benefitting from racial advantage. In the context of the big guy's ability to be able to handle the situation, I think that she definitely did benefit at the moment. Would you disagree that our experiences accumulate into lessons that guide our actions as we go through life? In that vein, I believe there was a lot of racial education that happened for the girl. It is under that premise that I commented on her "expansion". I don't say that she is doomed to that future, but it certainly is a lesson that she will process.

    As far as the vernal equinox of her 13th year, are you confusing racial privilege with puberty? If so, would this be an unfortunate slip-up of your male privilege? (Of course, I'm not female so I may be incorrect on this point...)

    Yeah, it can be helpful to have a white person intervening. But as I noted, when I had my WP friend intervene, my friend still was unable to hear me and constantly used derailing tactics when I spoke about racism while they religiously absorbed everything my WP friend offered. Also, I made sure I had their blessings to ask another friend to speak about the topic, but that's a whole other issue with boundaries and whatnot between one and one's friends.

    I'm not sure if other WP here can speak to it, but I've been told that through the process of WP learning about racism, it is an especially difficult process, and the desire of the one going through the learning process to speak to a POC friend throughout about every little discovery should be supressed as it creates strange (negative) burden on POC friends. But I have basis for bringing this up and invite any and all to correct me.

  37. Playing the devil's advocate for a moment, I can't help but think this was a bit of an over reaction and possibly damaging to the friendship which- as stated earlier- showed the WP was letting down her mental filter. The context in which the joke appeared seems to be immensely important since the white girl could have intended that appearance of an "angry black woman" voice would be unconventional for a company to include, and therefore funny. I doubt that she meant for people to infer that only black women are angry or only black women swear. I think the joke was about the presence of an unconventionally specific type of voice on the GPS. That's at least how I read it initially, but I could be entirely wrong.

    I would laugh at the absurdity of a swearing black woman on a GPS the same way I'd laugh at the silliness of including a slow speaking southern voice which mixed up directions, or a flaming gay voice which constantly instructed you to pull over and go shopping. Each depict stereotypes of people; however, each instance relies on the unexpectedness and unhelpfulness of the voice type for humor, rather than the stereotype itself.

    Of course, the fact that she chose an angry black woman voice instead of numerous other options does raise an eyebrow. I wonder how things would be different if the POC had chuckled and shot back with "or even worse, a valley girl voice that starts every direction with 'like, omigod!'"

    That being said, I'm glad the girl told her white friend she was hurt by the joke, and that the white person was receptive to her friend's honesty.

  38. heh. i'll let meandmyfanon take the heat usually reserved for me. :)

    there are probably a number of reasons for this sudden 'crossing of the line'(almost always in an attempt at levity it seems) by the WP in an otherwise harmonious IR friendship...

    one is that these jokes and bits are just already 'there' in the culture. d.l. hughley, dave chapelle, chris rock, etx are FUNNY, and WP freely repeat their riffs amongst other WP. this-in and of itself-shouldnt be unexpected or problematic, surely. but some WP are probably not careful enough in sussing out whether or not its a good idea to do so w/a friend who's a PoC.

    example; eddie murphy did a bit about a 'talking car for BP' over 20 yrs ago. i think it's on RAW.

    another thing; some of these friends undoubtedly KNOW theyve messed up. they feel embarrased and stupid but they cover it by getting angry back at their PoC friend if ze calls zir out on it.

    when i was 19, i had a close friend who, unlike me, was very knowledgable about guns and gun safety. he once happened to hand me his unloaded 9mm...which i took and jokingly POINTED IT AT HIM. to do that is in violation of every rule of firearm safety and etiquette. it's BEYOND WRONG. so, so, so bad. i still cringe about it. well, he quickly and strongly 'corrected me' in no uncertain terms; disarming me physically and verbally. and he was entirely justified.

    but i didnt take it well; got pissy and distant instead of just apologizing. maybe something similar happens sometimes when a WP doesnt react well to a reprimand. maybe.

    but the main thing going on may have to do w/this;

    there is a fairly high level of playful aggression/domination within white culture. and the keyword IS playful. it ain't serious. males bond by trading insults. young guys flirt by grabbing a girl and bodily carrying her a few steps as she shrieks and beats on him(you see this outside clubs and coffeehouses at night)while they both laugh...grown white men are referred to as 'boy' and absolutely no offence is taken or meant. for instance, i came across an earlier post here describing how a W woman got into serious trouble w/a B male buddy when she called him 'stat boy'(presumably because he knew stats). to a WM being called x-boy(kung fu boy, corvette-boy)just means youre heavily into something...but this woman shouldve known that you just. can't. call. an adult black man a 'boy'; ever, at all, for any reason. and rightly so.

    for that matter, there are a lot of references to 'slavery' among WP. not necessarily historic american slavery, just the notion of slaving aaway, toiling. there are charity 'slave auctions'(good god!), 'slavedriver' bosses, etc

    but since, unfortunately, the main historical interaction between WP and PoC has been the subjugation of the latter by the former, i.e. REAL, not play, domination/bondage and doesnt seem like a great idea for WP to joke much about any aspect of it to PoC-no matter how friendly they may be in intent.

    it's just a level of nuance that society, culture, has not yet found a good way to negotiate/navigate through.

    you can usually get an idea of someone's comfort level and how much banter they'd care to deal with. i have a close thai friend, but i get the impression he wouldnt appreciate too much joking around on the subject of ethnicity. we did have this exchange once, while the old song 'secret agent man' was on the radio;

    me; this song is about you.
    him; huh? what do you mean?
    me; 'secret asian man'

    he laughed.

  39. My experience is much like most members who posted their situation in interracial friendships with white people. Recently, a good friend of mine, who happens to be white, said to me one time, about how he liked the fact that I don't live the stereotype! As much as I was shocked and disappointed with his remark. I had to ask why he thought that anyone would wake up and walk outside their homes in order to live by a stereotype.

    For him, it was simple. He felt that some POP go out of their way to act ethnic or too ethnic, by the clothes they wear, their speech patterns, how they shake hands, using slang, etc. I told him that wouldn't that apply to white people, living a stereotype? He disagreed and felt that I was taking things way too personal. He tried to rescue the conversation by mentioning that I was an educated Black man and that my parents are people of good manners and having a good sense of class. I guess, he wanted to say that my parents and I were good Negroes!

    I kindly informed him that all people come from all walks of life, different socio-economic, regional, different climates, different religions, different ways of living. And that, he too was part of this diversity of humanity and that anyone could easily sit to the side and observe his daily white living stereotype. Again, he failed to see that side of reality.

    The situation got worse! He had to point out that I know or that I have too many white friends and that I wasn't really black. According to my friend, by the quantity of friends that one has of one particular race, makes you more or less of your actual racial identity. True, I have many friends who happen to be white, but they're my friends first, before anything else.

    At the same time, he (my friend) may be pointing something I failed to see before. In certain situations, whenever I find myself in an all white setting, whether its at a party, a bar or some place where a bunch of white people happen to be, if i step into the scene; i am ignored or leaving people wondering who I am, etc. But, once a friend who happens to know me and yells my name, all of sudden, the racial anxiety all of sudden diminishes. I am not welcomed, with smiles, hand-shakes, curious questions, who I am and where I am from. Still, the questions of where they can score some drugs, or how much white men wanting to try out black women for sex, Obama as president, racism is over, affirmative action is useless, things are better now than before, types of conversations always seem to make their way in these environments.

    I remember back in my college years, I had two friends who traveled frequently to Africa and their music library was filled with hip-hop, rap, soul and R&B and their book shelves were filled with African-American writers, and the list goes on and on. Their friends, mostly white, were all taking some black studies course, or majoring in the field, or even taking global studies. And the topic of racism always was at center stage. I felt that these friends had good intentions to learn about the subject of racism, but failed to know that they are privileged from racism. Many times, they would be shocked by the fact that I was not aware of some African-American writer or if I didn't know all songs or the lyrics to Tupac. Or they would want to warm me which white person they know was racist, etc. One time, I kindly asked about their quest to establish racial free environments and/or racial harmony, why was I the only black person at their parties? They had no answer.

    I am still struggling with the comfort level some of my white friends have with me. I am also getting tired of having to be the racial whistle blower. Can anyone offer any advice for me? I seriously need help on this issue.

  40. This ain't politically correct, but since it came from a long-time friend, I thought it was quite funny. Had it been from someone I wasn't tight with or a co-worker, it would have hit me differently.

    I'll also add that there's something unique going on with the really young generation of teens in densely populated multi-ethnic areas. I live in a place like this, and the ones who hang out in what looks like mini-United Nations gatherings, joke all the time about race with one another. I see it in not only my 21 year old, but my 14 year old. There are no sacred cows with them.

    It worries me a bit; how will they feel when they're in a different environment, say, a majority white workplace with whites who have not grown up like them, make jokes that are not benevolent and instead are grounded in true racism? Where they are around people who can dish it out but can't take it?

    I haven't asked these questions to them; I'm letting them find their way, and just advising them to chill on the jokes around those they don't know well and who might be offended.

  41. @ Fousheezy

    Please read this and this. Especially the second one.

    Also, a racist act is not determined by what the white person intends to do. It is determined by whether or not the action itself harms POC.

    Also, as to why the fact that you found the joke "funny" does not justify it, a couple of thoughts:
    First, you are centering the experience of a white person (i.e. you) at the expense of people of color. Also, when jokes play on stereotypes, they do not simply refer to stereotypes but also reinforce them. It's the danger that every marginalized community faces when making jokes about themselves--yeah, it's funny to us (the group in question), but when outsiders hear/read it, how will it affect their perception of us as as a group and as individuals?

  42. @Fousheezy: I'm not sure how it could have been damaging to the friendship if I barely reacted to begin with (you seem to be interpreting it as an overreaction) sat with it a couple days, then very calmly explained to her that she hurt my feelings. What I believe would be more damaging would be me saying absolutely nothing, and probably end up resenting her.

    Also, here is where our differences are: You would laugh at a swearing black woman on a gps, but I would be extremely upset. I just don't think it's funny. But again, lines at different levels.

    @La Legione: I've always been baffled as to why people make comments like "you're not really black for these reasons." I sure as hell ain't white, so I suppose I feel "double othered". It's weird...

  43. Wow. What an amazing topic. First, I'm sure I'm guilty as charged, at least to some degree. I would also agree with Macon, having grown up with a Filipino best friend since I was 5, that this problem is more specific to and problematic with black/white friendships than to other PoC.

    And I guess here's the thing. Yes, it's very possible for white friends to overstep their bounds and say something inappropriate or stupid and (intentionally or unintentionally) racist. And it should be OK for their offended friend to call them out on it. And they should be expected to learn from and appreciate the error of their ways.


    This happens all the times with friendships of all kinds. I've overstepped bounds with female friends. I've had single friends overstep their bounds with jokes about my daughters. I've overstepped my bounds with older friends by making the wrong old person comment.

    I'm not excusing my overstepping or anyone else's, and I'm not dismissing the racism issue at hand. I'm only saying that friendship, by its very nature, is about occasionally finding oneself a little too comfortable saying things we ought not say. And all of us are guilty on occasion, not just clueless white folk.

    True friendship requires large helpings of understanding, give and take, forgiveness, and patience. And it occasionally requires us to tell a friend that they went too far. When we expect friends to never say anything foolish or hurtful to us, we've lost something of the inevitable and infallible nature of all relationships.

    That said, it would be cool if the GPS had a "Drunk Irish Catholic Priest" feature on it...

  44. I was in class with my (of course, ex-)friend, and our instructor turned the lights out for a presentation. She goes, "Now no one can see you unless you smile."

    I did often take the time to explain to her what was wrong about something she said, because, as she put it, she comes from some small town with like 4000 people and 3 of them black. But I got tired of it and thought she should know better, so we don't talk.

  45. Victoria, I think you hit the nail on the head (and thank you OP for bringing this to everyone's attention).

    For me, and I'm sure for others, we think it's okay because our POC friends laugh at the jokes. They may not be blatant - I would take offense at the joke in the original post - but they're still hurtful to someone.

    That said, I think that the presence of racial jokes in comedy (sometimes crossing racial lines) not only helps to perpetuate this - the joke the OP mentioned could have fit right in on Chappelle's show, for example.

    As for Kit's comment about teenagers, I've witnessed that too - kids are crossing all sorts of lines that my generation didn't and seem to be okay with it. I don't think that as a country, the U.S. is at that point yet (and will it ever be? and is that even a goal?), but I think it's worth observing.

  46. @Billy re: "True friendship requires large helpings of understanding, give and take, forgiveness, and patience. And it occasionally requires us to tell a friend that they went too far. When we expect friends to never say anything foolish or hurtful to us, we've lost something of the inevitable and infallible nature of all relationships."

    I think there's a big difference between saying something foolish and saying something that reinforces a harmful (or even a positive) stereotype that the friend can reasonably be expected to object to. There is a level of cluelessness about race among white people that goes beyond being foolish. Having been raised in a highly dysfunctional family, I am hypersensitive about saying the wrong thing in almost any situation, but I still cannot imagine that it's "just joking" or "foolish" to essentially hand a black friend a lawn jockey and say, "Hope you like it." It's racism coming through the veneer of the well-intentioned white person. White supremacy, the foundation of our society, contributes to this level of cluelessness among all white people, including children and close friends. Yes, such friends should be told that they "went too far," but unless the racist nature of the slip is recognized and addressed, forgiving and forgetting just helps maintain the status quo.

  47. Just because someone laughs doesn't mean they're okay with whatever caused it. I think there's sometimes a willful interpretation of the laughter as approval when a joke crosses the line. People laugh when they are nervous. All the time. We all know this. It's a defense-mechanism. Ever see a kid snicker when being chewed out? The kid doesn't think it's funny. The kid's intimidated.

  48. I relate a lot to the POC ocmmenters who allow close white friends to joke with them in ways that would get them "popped on the mouth' (as someone said upthread) in other company. This has been a common theme in my friendships and one I struggle with. I've always used humor as a way to handle stress, and dealing with racism is no exception. Like many people, I joke with my family and friends of the same race about racist folks and stereotypes, and it's a good thing -- because we both know why we're laughing, and it's not at ourselves. I've also had many close friendships with white people, and with some of them, we've also gotten in the habit of joking with each other about race. My best friend from college is a white Jewish woman and we've always said inappropriate things about each other's oppressed statuses. But on the flip side, she's also a person who will have in-depth, serious conversations with me about privilege and racism, and be really respectful and interested in my perspective. It's not just a joke to her. Another example is a very close friend who grew up 5 miles away from me, and understands without my having to give her the back story how racist our hometown is, and what I experienced growing up there. We don't really talk about race often. But we joke easily. It all started at a party back in high school when she was handing out paper plates, and everyone got a silver plate and she got to me, and the last plate was black, and she froze for a minute, and then handed it to me. And then I said, "uhhh, why I gotta get the black plate?" And she was like, "I KNEW you were gonna say that!" And we still laugh about it. It's harmless stuff -- jokes that acknowledge that we're different, but that don't make fun of black people.

    I've also had friends (often white males) who get really comfortable, really quickly joking with me about like fried chicken and stuff, which makes me laugh in the right settings and when I've set that standard, but sometimes, they don't know when to turn it off. And I've also made a new rule. I will not joke with any white friend about race stuff if they can't also talk about it in a real manner. This rule has ended a lot of joking.

  49. As for white friends or acquaintances who say straight-up racist things to me or in my presence, I have sometimes frozen in shock and anger and sometimes reacted immediately. But I can definitely relate to that frozen feeling and then stewing over it for days or weeks and wanting to address it. I usually find it much easier to say something when it's racist against another person or group, but more stunned when it's directed at me or the people I identify with.

    I definitely heard a lot of that "you're not like other black people" type stuff back in high school, but more from random classmates than friends.

  50. @bloglogger: I suspect we're closer to agreement than I might let on. I agree that the white person in said situation should be expected to own up to and recognize the mistake as more than just an "oops, my bad" kind of thing.

    However, as any black person with enough white friends should be able to tell you, some of those friendships come with a reasonable cost of having to deal with ignorance and/or racism. It's like choosing to live next to a golf course and knowing a few balls might sail into your property. To ignore that assumption of risk -- since we're all raised in what you call "a society premised on white supremacy" -- is, in some sense, equally foolish.

    By the same token, at some point, if a friend crosses the line of racism too often (as pointed out above), I'm not sure that person is actually a friend.

  51. @Billy re: 'To ignore that assumption of risk -- since we're all raised in what you call "a society premised on white supremacy" -- is, in some sense, equally foolish.'

    Agreed. It would be real progress if white people saw that risk in the same way that PoC do, i.e., not as the PoC being oversensitive but as the WP's own unconscious racism intruding on the friendship.

  52. i'm confused are white people not supposed to notice how not all, but only black women speak when angry? i don't understand how noticing a cultural behavior that only POC exhibit is avoidable. i mean i know it's a stereotype, but i guess i can't really see the difference between a stereotype and something that is just part of any groups culture. is it just a rule that obsevation of a groups culture by a white person is wrong? i think many white people know their not supposed to make observations about the cultures of groups outside our own. but most of us have no idea why.

  53. jas0nburns, you have never met my mother or some of the girls I went to college with if you think that "only black women speak when angry." Mom speaks, all right--loud and clear. As did one of my friends from college, who had about the sharpest tongue of anyone I've met. Neither of whom is black.

    (I'm at work and don't have access to the usual Racism 101 bookmarks--could someone please direct poor jas0nburns to some education?)

  54. @NoDak608

    lol, sorry my wording was confusing. i meant the style of speaking that is exclusive to black women that are angry. particularly the accent, hand gestures, facial expressions, that only black women use when angry.

    not all black women. but only black women.

  55. jas0nburns-

    I know for a fact that you've not met enough people in the world to say that the only type of women who do whatever it is you're describing, are black. The numbers are against you, that's factual.

    If I relent and admit to knowing what stereotype you're talking about, I can also show you 3 or 4 non black women I know personally who roll their necks, and wag a finger when they get angry.

    i think many white people know their not supposed to make observations about the cultures of groups outside our own. but most of us have no idea why.

    The problem is not observing the problem is you get it wrong and aren't interested in being told as much.

    Firstly, black folks have a hard enough time defining black culture but then somehow WP show up and are all-knowing and able to tell us exactly what is and isn't black culture. I'm telling you as a black woman that the way someone channels their anger is not culture specific and the stereotype you have of black women is not a part of black culture, it's a part of some made up culture WP like to reference to ease their minds about various things...

  56. @jas0nburns re: "i mean i know it's a stereotype, but i guess i can't really see the difference between a stereotype and something that is just part of any groups culture. is it just a rule that obsevation of a groups culture by a white person is wrong?"

    Ask yourself this about your observations: Do they tend to do nothing but confirm a stereotype? Do they validate the myth of white supremacy? (that is, do they imply that the group in question is inherently less than or below white people in some way--stupid, laughable, lazy, immoral?) Such observations become part of the edifice of racism. That's the harm.

    Can you give an example of one of your observations that doesn't do the above? To echo A.Smith, it's not the observing but the nature of the observation that is objectionable. If I observe that black people tend to communicate more through eye contact than white people do (doesn't ring a bell, does it?), it's just an observation. If I observe that black people sure seem to talk loud (ding! ding! ding!), it's just stereotyping.

    Stereotypes seem to be true because with the stereotype in mind, we get a little mental reward every time we observe something that confirms it. Behaviors that don't confirm it, not matter how numerous, are passed over or discounted because we don't get the "ding" of recognition. So stereotypes are self-perpetuating and tend to be extended to all of a group when only some exhibit the behavior. With that knowledge, you should be able to shut down your stereotypical observations. Go to it.

  57. a.smith

    i don't want to tell anybody what black culture is. i truly agree that would be beyond silly. but we can all recognize certain elements of black culture. i don't understand the impulse to deny the obvious.

    it's as if saying something exists is the same as saying it's bad. it's not.

    this is the part i don't get. acknowledging that the sky exists is not the same as saying the sky sucks. waitaminute. i just thought of something. is it because if you admit to a good or neutral element of black culture existing than you might have to admit to the bad stuff too? i've never heard any black person admit to the existance of any single element of black culture existing.

    is it because it's a package deal?

    nobody wants to have to carry all that around with them all the time.

  58. @jas0nburns

    I take it from this, i don't understand the impulse to deny the obvious. That you don't get what I'm saying. I'm not denying that it's a part of our culture, I'm telling you that it is not. I'm telling you that. Write it down and memorize it -- it's fact.

    is it because if you admit to a good or neutral element of black culture existing than you might have to admit to the bad stuff too?

    No. That's not it. If you want to see dialogue on the trouble with defining black culture, go here

    i've never heard any black person admit to the existance of any single element of black culture existing.

    To repeat myself: black folks have a hard enough time defining black culture

    There's a myriad of reasons you've never heard a black person discuss black culture (chief among them, the inability to be everywhere at once). One of them is what actually does and does not constitue black culture depends on who you talk to, which is why I said that how you express anger is not a cultural thing rather than saying it's not a black cultural thing. In other words, I know it's not black culture because it's not a way we define anyone's culture.

    You're doing a very good job of sounding innocently naive, but I have a sneaking suspicion you're neither and you are very aware of what you're doing here.

  59. @bloglogger

    that is a valid point and it's a new perspective for sure.

    but i lived in a 90% black neighborhood from the age of 5 to about 13. it was during that time that the idea of black american culture was formed in my head. it was formed through submersion in black culture. I had no prior knowledge of stereotypes to reinforce. and i had no opinions either. it just was. and i can tell you that there is a such thing as black culture because while i was there i saw that every black person around me spoke in a similar way and dressed in a similar way, they were able to communicate and cooperate with each other in a way i could not. i was not able to interact well because i didn't understand that culture. beyond the surface stuff we're all aware of i can't say much about black culture. and i'm sure beyond what you can see and hear in your front yard things gets much more complicated. but i have eyes, and i have ears. and if i see or hear a behavior that nobody but black people exhibit. i'm going to file it under "black culture"

    whether or not or how i pass judgement on what i see is an entirely different matter. passing judgment is what we should be talking about. because thats an interpretation. interpretation is what matters, interpretations are the problem.

  60. Since i have been back from Europe... i have noticed that this situation happens more with civilian white friends than it does with military white friends. I have never been in this situation with military white people. This only happens with my white civilian friends.

  61. @a.smith

    im here because i'm trying to find out something thats going to show me why i can't relate to the black people around me. i really want to be able to do that at some point. i think it's so lame that i can't interact with more POC because i feel that i'm missing out. it just seems like a waste because people are just people and i want to know if there's some way to get around all this racial shit that just gets in the way imo. i wouldn't waste my time otherwise. for me the process of learning is done through debate. i'm really happy i found some people willing to debate with me and i'm totally aware of the fact i may have no idea what the hell i'm talking about. i hope i don't hurt anyones feelings but if i don't say what i think than nobody can challenge it and i won't get anywhere. if i seem naive than it's because up till recently i haven't been frustrated enough to do any real research on the subject.

    thats what i'm doing here.

  62. @jas0nburns re: "it was during that time that the idea of black american culture was formed in my head. it was formed through submersion in black culture. I had no prior knowledge of stereotypes to reinforce. and i had no opinions either. it just was."

    Even in a 90% black neighborhood, you were raised in the context of a racialized society, and you could not have escaped the messages of the larger white culture around you. That neighborhood was also what it was because of the context it was in: a white supremacist (and patriarchal and imperialist) culture. You did not live in isolation from that despite your immediate surroundings, and I would argue that your opinions of the black people around you were in fact shaped by that context.

    As for the people are just people plea, I'm sure it's covered in Derailing for Dummies. What I ask is this: Don't people, even disregarding race, represent a huge variety of beliefs, customs, physical characteristics and so on? Why can't all of those differences be acknowledged and appreciated? What's to gain (except for the dominant group) in imagining that our differences are irrelevant (if that's what you mean)?

  63. @jas0n:

    No, there is no way to get around all the ways that race impacts everyone. I'm very new here, and from what I've read here and elsewhere, race is always a factor. As WP, we tend to be oblivious to how omnipresent it is in all our interactions, because we have the privilege of getting to ignore it. The best that any of us can do is try to understand the ways that our race impacts our interactions and relationships with others, try to minimize that impact, and then learn and sincerely apologize when we inevitably fuck up.

    "Black people" aren't a monolith, btw. If you can't relate to certain people who happen to be black, that could be due to a number of things, none of which have to do with "black culture" and your exclusion from it. White privilege and unconscious racism on the other hand, might have a great deal to do with it.

  64. @jasOnburns

    I appreciate your self-reflection and exploration as it relates to your relationships with PoC.

    I think I may have found (one of)the fundamental issues...

    "i think it's so lame that i can't interact with more POC because i feel that i'm missing out. it just seems like a waste because people are just people and i want to know if there's some way to get around all this racial shit that just gets in the way imo."

    Okay, I can not speak for every PoC- but this statement is a BIG FAT RED FLAG that you DO NOT GET IT. Your statement is, in essence, the assertion of white privilege. Only whites have the ability to "get around all this racial shit"- none of the rest of us have that option. Just recognizing that as reality is a start…

    Living in an AA neighborhood does not make you a de facto expert on the culture. To make a statement to the contrary is disrespectful. Obviously you did not build the cultural competency effectively build relationships with your neighbors. This indicates an obvious lack of understanding; one can not attempt to ascribe a characteristic to something they do not have experience in or understand. (Side note- when we explain to a WP that they are not in fact experts in everything- including AA culture- and they refuse to admit that perhaps we as AA have more experience in the matter that too is a BIG FAT RED FLAG. And often a deal breaker.

    Are these types of statements the reason you are so familiar with the attitude of some displeased AA women? Just wondering...

    If you truly want to foster relationships with PoC, instead of trying to "get around" it, you
    should work to improve and understand the effects white privilege on your life; how white privilege impacts the lives of PoCs- particularly the ones you encounter; and how that dynamic impacts your relationships with PoC.

    And on a separate note- saying all AA are loud is just like saying all WP have no rhythm... Although you may have observed this phenomenon on multiple occasions, it is unfair (and more importantly, incorrect) to think that all WP are burdened with this same affliction.

  65. jas0nburns said...
    "I'm here because i'm trying to find out something that's going to show me why i can't relate to the black people around me. i really want to be able to do that at some point."

    I’m thinking maybe if you strive to view us as people first and not as Black primarily; you might be off to a good start. As long as you see us as- those black people over there, or the black people around me (you sound like Custer,) the gulf between you and us will remain.

    And please don't do what George Costanza did when he tried to prove to his boss he had black friends, and hence not racist. Approaching every black person he came in contact with, often with less than desirable results. You almost sound like Jane Goodall to me; is it really that hard for you to relate to us? Must you study us in our natural habitat, jotting down notes before you venture to know us? We blacks come in contact with whites every single day, so getting to know you is not a problem for us. Shame it’s not that easy the other way round.

    Allow me to re-write a line from Shakespeare's, The Merchant of Venice: "I am a Black person. Hath not a black person eyes? Hath not a black person hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a White person? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that."

    We are the same as you- get to know us as human beings first and the rest will follow. But you must put in the work not us. Want to know about us? Unlearn everything you’ve come to know about us via that strict- unforgiving- arrogant white male lens of yours. Once you do that you will come to discover black people are as diverse as the flakes of snow that fall from heaven.

  66. takemullato back you made a huge amount of assumptions in that post. I did not imply i was an expert. i did not say i was an expert. i don't think i am an expert and said so. i never said that i could define black culture. i never said that all AA are loud or anything else. you want to make it seem like i think all black people are the same. if you need to put words in my mouth to frame your argument than don't bother. if you have to make shit up i must be doing ok or else you wouldn't have to.

    i see what your saying about the get around the racial shit thing tho. i know it's a luxury the idea i could do that and POC can't. so thats it then? i have this privilege and i cant do anything about it so just accept that it's a crappy situation for everyone but less so for me. thats like in full metal jacket when private pyle gets to eat doughnuts when everyone else is doing pushups. and it's wrong to feel like i can do something about it because thats white privilege as well. it's hard to accept something like that.

    and i did build great friendships with my neighbors. the best i've ever had as a matter of fact. normally i wouldn't bust out the "i have black friends" thing but since you say i am incapable of that.....i was picked on a lot at that time and i had a friend who was a few years older and black who was unbelieveable in the way he stuck up for me and protected me. i wish to god i knew where he was now because nobody has ever shown me more kindness and love. he was the best friend i ever had by miles and miles. i could go on and on thanks for reminding me i hadn't thought of him for awhile.

    a note on rhythm, thats funny you say that because a while back one of my black friends said that i was the blackest white person he knew. at the time i just took it as a compliment and laughed it off. but after reading this blog i asked him yesterday if he meant that and what he meant by that. to which he replied "it was a compliment, cause you got rhythm and soul" but i guess that statement would have been racist out of my mouth because i'm not supposed to be able to see that most black people have rhythm. i would have been defining black culture and seeing black people as a monolith.

  67. m. gibson that was quite beautifully said. but i have had lots of black friends including a girlfriend because in practice i do just what you say i should do. (and she never got mad at me until after we broke up) i'm not saying that to prove i'm not racist i'm just saying so because everyone is assuming i couldn't possibly have any

    i know "we are the same as you" thats why i feel like the culture thing gets in the way just like it would between you and....

    oh yeah what happens when two POC from different cultures have trouble relating to one another and there arn't any white people around to blame? is there a blog for that?

  68. also i'd have to be super dense and about as clueless as you all think to grow up in a black neighborhood and not have any black friends and not know that black people are diverse as flakes of snow. come on. seriously are we not going to get beyond that?

    robot voice: me white male robot. me think every black person same. individuality does not compute. beep brrrrrrr. sparks, smolder.

    i feel like your ignoring the gist and trying to find semantic mistakes that betray the true racist inside me.

    thanks for trying to help me though.

  69. @jas0nburns

    Are you done? 'Cause I'm pretty tired of hearing about your problems, your childhood, your upbringing, you, you, you. It started out as your feigned ignorance about how Angry Black Woman is insulting to end up with you using your ol' Everclear Father of Mine lyrical childhood as some sort of evidence to support how right you are and an excuse for your racist behavior. The only thing standing in the way of you dismantling your racism is you. You came over here with that "you can't tell me shit" attitude and, surprise, no one could tell you shit.

  70. @jas0nburns. You're doing a fair bit of two steps forward, one step back. Because seriously:

    come on. seriously are we not going to get beyond that?

    is really rich coming from a white guy who recently asked to know where his privilege is.

    You sound frustrated; so, I can't actually tell if you're being 10% or 90% sarcastic with:

    thanks for trying to help me though.

    Because it seems to me that you are getting quite a bit of appreciation and constructive responses.

    About the frustration about not knowing what to do with your new-found privilege. Here's a post that you might like: run when the going gets tough .
    And a couple of specific comments in that thread for what you CAN do:
    by karinova and
    by Zara

    Anyway, I don't know if you've been directed to Derailing For Dummies yet. If not, it's pretty much inevitable that any WP trying to figure out what that means (hope you don't mind, macon) will derail some conversation about race or will be tempted to derail. Reading Derailing For Dummies was really eye-opening for me. Hopefully, it'll help you, too.

  71. I don't mind at all, Karen L, quite the opposite. I think you and others here who've been trying to help out jas0nburns have been incredibly patient and generous. I would add this post to his reading list. Best of luck coming to grips with your whiteness, jas0nburns.

  72. i was being serious saying thank you. i know it's not anyones job to try to help or educate me so i appreciate the help. not surprised you are suspicious though. it's just hard to accept that you are considered racist. it's harder to accept you are racist. so sorry about the derail i'll stop now.

  73. @jas0nburns.

    "but i guess i can't really see the difference between a stereotype and something that is just part of any groups culture."
    Your idea of Black culture is a stereotype you've created in your own head.It doesn't exist in the way that you imagine it does. White privilege takes away your ability to see things as they truly are.

    "i meant the style of speaking that is exclusive to black women that are angry. particularly the accent, hand gestures, facial expressions, that only black women use when angry."
    O.K. You have observed a women who was angry who happened to be black and have decided that this must be a cultural phenomena. Right. I'm 48 years old and have lived my entire life in L.A. and never once observed "an angry black women".I have observed people in the real world who when they got angry used a "particular accent, hand gestures, facial expressions" to express themselves and it had nothing to do with what race they were and everything to do with them being a human being.
    UMM... that's how human beings react.
    The "angery Black women" to me is an urban legend that the media exploits.

    "and i can tell you that there is a such thing as black culture because while i was there i saw that every black person around me spoke in a similar way and dressed in a similar way, they were able to communicate and cooperate with each other in a way i could not."
    All that means is that you don't know how to talk and that you have no sense of style.The world seems to be "cooperating" around you and your confused.Maybe it's your world view thats the problem because in the real world Black people don't dress the same.
    People don't dress because of culture.People dress because a particular style appeals to them.

  74. Eileen2000 said:
    "I am also confused about what is off-limits after watching comedians, both of color and white, address race and culture. I know intuitively jokes that seem racist to me and others that don't but I can't always define what the difference is."

    I've been thinking about the "difference."
    As I said, I have a friend I can joke with about "inappropriately, and I think the difference is that we never just state some stereotype and call it funny; our jokes are always sarcastic/satiric/critical. The whole "joke" is: "can you believe the bullshit we have to put up with?!" There's always an eyeroll of solidarity in there.

    Y'know how sometimes people use humor to express their true-but-unacceptable feelings? IMO, most [oppressed class] jokes, when told by a person of that group, are a combo of that, and laughing-lest-you-cry: what I call "ain't-that-a-bitch?" humor. The unacceptable feeling is usually anger and/or pain. Kat Williams comes to mind. He's hilarious, but make no mistake, he is super pissed. But as a BM, he's only got about two socially acceptable ways to scream "this shit is fucked!" in public. He chose comedy.

    This is why I think it's generally a pretty bad idea for WP to just repeat ethnic jokes, etc.; jokes like that are only funny when, as thesciencegirl said, everybody "gets" that it's not just a joke. As I understand it, this is essentially why Dave Chappelle quit the biz. Too many people— of all colors, but probably mostly white— assuming they got it, when they clearly didn't. You can't jokingly say "ain't that a bitch?!" when you are the bitch.

  75. Eminem has a line in one of his songs, "a lot of truth is said in jest..." and he's right.

    I think for some POCs, we know that and so we hesitate to assume that when a white person says something that's potentially racist, in a joking way, that they truly are joking. Even with friends -- you just don't want to let something slip by you because it can be a slippery slope.

  76. @jas0nburns,
    I think you might be sincere, so I'm going to risk it. First of all, we all know the stereotype you're talking about. It is erroneously/maliciously associated with black culture (and at least one other marginalized group that I can think of; can you guess it?). However, it's certainly not inherent to black people or anyone else. I don't know how old you are, but if you recognize the phrase "kiss my grits!" you should know that. In fact, I think most people know that. But they like the stereotype.

    Second, there's a difference between merely noting a stereotype, uncritically laughing at it, and laughing ruefully at it. See my previous comment.

    Third: "I had no prior knowledge of stereotypes to reinforce. and i had no opinions either."
    Highly unlikely. Did you watch TV, see movies, listen to popular music, read books or magazines and/or see advertising of any kind? Then you had prior knowledge of stereotypes. (How old were you had some idea of what a "man" was? How'd you get those ideas?) Don't believe me? Check out The Doll Test— warning, that video will break your heart, if you have one. Do you know that current research idicates that unless something is actively done to prevent it, kids can begin to develop racist attitudes as early as age three? Consider this your first day outside the Matrix.

    And finally: "I was not able to interact well because i didn't understand that culture. beyond the surface stuff we're all aware of i can't say much about black culture."
    This black woman thinks you should focus more on white culture. I'm serious. That will help you interact better. So it's a good thing you found this place! I think you should take some time to read some previous posts and pay special attention to the comment threads. And, um... accept help when it's offered. It won't always be easy. Good luck!

  77. In Robert Townsend's "Hollywood Shuffle," the protagonist is frustrated during a casting call because the white director/writer is looking for an Eddie Murphy type. The piece depicts black hopefuls brushing up on their best Eddie Murphy routine because Eddie is what the white casting director interprets as genuinely Black. Later he is shown rehearsing a scene where they wanted him to “Act Blacker.” Stick your butt out more, strut and do that walk you people do. In other words, the white person in charge will speak as if he is an authority on the black experience: I know black people and you’re not acting black enough. (You don’t fit my view) So now, if the struggling actor wants to get paid he must acquiesce. He must defer to the narrow view the white director has defined for him if he wants the job. This only serves to reinforce the stereotype the white man had of him in the first place. “Ahhh there you go, now you're acting black.”

    If you’ve ever seen the animated sitcom Family Guy where the black character’s wife (Cleveland) shifts her neck 90 degree laterally before she forms a single syllable. Now at some point some white person on staff has seen (or heard of) a black woman doing this and again, applies it across the board. However I must add (and I might catch some flak for this) if there are common white tendencies, (aptly pointed out on this blog) one can naturally assume there can be common black tendencies. I’m sure somewhere in this cyber-universe some moderator is compiling a list of, stuff “Some” black people do- or like.”
    Example: Here and Here.

    Chris Rock, Sinbad- Cedric the entertainer-- Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor; have spoken about common black behaviors with some authority (airing black laundry we call it.) Now everyone may not agree with the black comedian's assessment of "some of us," but as the camera pans you will see blacks nodding their heads, looking at each other in confirmation; laughing all the while. Whites again see this and other examples (like the Dave Chappelle's show) and figure I don't have to get to know blacks personally. Everything I need to know about them comes wrapped up in popular culture- rap/hip-hop videos and sites like This.

    If some black women are angry they are angry because of white oppression- angry at the level of white privilege they are forced to deal with on a dally basis. Consequently- a white person’s inability to either understand or empathize, will naturally interpret her emotion in the negative. Some Whites will regularly invalidate her feelings by dismissing her right to be angry; saying she’s all worked up over nothing. Telling her to calm down, and then try to explain her anger away as if they were on a debate team. Course this has the affect of just making her and the rest of us all the more irate.

    I’ve been married to the same black woman for 28 years and I can’t ever recall her shifting her neck before she speaks to me, either in jest or in anger. So when whites point out things to us they assume to be “common black behaviors” we must be forgiving and acknowledge we have been complicit to a degree. Whites observe this behavior in some of us and to them it becomes gospel; it doesn't just define a few but rather, it defines the whole. It can become frustrating to them to know that we all don’t act the same way, Eat the same thing; Listen to the same music and so on. But to some whites, one size does fit all.

  78. regarding "the difference" that karinova and Eileen2000 are talking about

    I'm thinking the difference has a lot to do with who's making the original joke. I can't figure out how to explain what I mean so I'm probably going to ramble. What I want to say is that karinova, when you and your friend joke around and you feel comfortable with her that way, it's probably (please correct me if I'm wrong) because you yourself have set that boundary. She didn't take it upon herself to set that boundary for both of you by just throwing out a random comment and waiting for your reaction. Somewhere along the line you told her what was ok - probably not literally sat down and said, "Hey, we can make these specific jokes together." But she sounds like a really good friend who probably has patiently let you set up the structure for that in layers as it was comfortable for you. That's exactly what I think should happen in every friendship, but it's imperative in one that is white/non-white.

    And I think that is what's fundamental in "the difference". A comedian making the joke is often taken as an official figure from the culture of which he or she is speaking. WP commonly take the fact that the person is making these jokes and observations in public or on TV as an ok for them to do it too. They/We think it was funny so it's ok to pass that joke along and make someone else laugh. Except that WP are forgetting that the comedian was given the ok when everyone paid admission to see him/her perform, or when we turned the channel to watch them. We can revoke that "ok" when they cross a line by leaving or changing the channel. When it happens in real life, the people on the receiving end of the joke are not consensual to it. It's dropped like a stink bomb attached to a grenade, with the grenade not going off until much later when the WP is long gone.

    What I've gleaned from most, if not all, of the comments from PoC with white friends who have varying levels of permission to make certain jokes is that the white friend(s) stood back and let their friend of color decide what was ok and what wasn't. In most cases, the white friend didn't try to control the pace at which that happened. It seems that when the white friend tries to set the structure or control the pace, they hurt their friends (and people they're just getting to know) in the process. Does that seem like a plausible theory?

  79. so in that chappelle show skit called white people dancing, where he was breaking down the musical tastes of different racial groups and illustrating that white people like guitars, black people like drums, latin americans like drums with electric piano. obviously if there wasn't a seed of truth or recognition it wouldn't have been funny.

    i was like yeah white people do that hahaha even though i personally hate electric guitar.

    but i guess it's part of white privilege to be able to laugh at a stereotype of you racial group, see how it may or may not apply to you personally. and not really be affected by it personally either way.

  80. or are you saying there is no truth to any of it and it's all just a comedian capitalizing on a reinforcement of stereotypes that are falase and detrimental and mostly created by white people being too lazy to get to know anyone who's not white.

  81. I'm a little late to this thread, but some of what's said here makes so much sense. I wondered why I'm okay with some (white) friends making certain jokes and not with other (white) friends. And yeah, it depends on whether or not I trust that they 'get it'. And this is awesome. It applies so well to some past incidents:

    And I've also made a new rule. I will not joke with any white friend about race stuff if they can't also talk about it in a real manner."

    a white person's comment will be like a drive-by, and I won't realize what's happened until ten minutes later, at which point the conversation's moved on.

    I've done this so many times. I'll have a gut feeling that something isn't right, but can't quite put my finger on it until days later sometimes. Or, I'll be so shocked that I freeze, or laugh. And one of the trickiest one for me was when the person saying the racist stuff/joke was a poc (who hangs out almost exclusively with white ppl) because I'm not sure how to deal with the possible, 'But I can't be racist, I'm [insert ethnicity]' defense.

  82. @Willow Thanks, I've read those. I think where we differ is I have a higher threshold for what should be taken seriously and what I laugh off. In my peer group, we regularly rib one another about our differences. I was /not/ saying the POC in this situation was just as bad because she might have thought it funny about some other group of people, I was (poorly) trying to illustrate that, when I read this, I thought the "angry black woman" was not the intended subject of the joke.

    I do appreciate your first point though: since the joke made the POC uncomfortable, that does mean it crossed the line. I remembered an ex-friend who used to drive me up the wall when he said "that's gay" about everything. After he started, I didn't like it when he made jokes about gay stereotypes to me and I stopped putting myself in social settings he was attending.

    @Rufus I think you hit the nail on the head. I re-read your story and gained better understanding of how it played out. I didn't pick up from your description if she understood what she was apologizing for- not just her comment but the implications and effects it had- which is why I wondered if it damaged the friendship. I'm glad you valued the friendship enough to address the offense rather than ignoring it; out of curiosity, did you talk about marginalization when you talked? You said she apologized and that was pretty much that and I wonder if you missed an opportunity to discuss a larger racial dynamic with her that might have actually brought you closer still through her new appreciation and understanding?

  83. jas0nburns: I think if you're sincere in your desire to learn more, the best thing you can do is read other posts on this blog (and AND the comments -- and do a lot of that reading before trying to engage.

    Back to the general discussion...

    Thanks for the topic--I don't always have time to read the comments on this blog, but wanted to do so this time because I know I (as a white person) have done this.

    While I understand the point that with friends you should be able to Be Yourself, if you're a caring person, then it IS Being Yourself to watch your language/jokes. As one person pointed out, you can call a white guy "boy", but never a black guy. Following that rule doesn't mean you're not able to Be Yourself, it means Yourself is a respectful/sensitive person. You care enough to respect boundaries, and to allow POC to correct you when you make a mistake.

    My husband and I (both white) have been watching Chappelle's Show dvds, and right after an episode we'll repeat the jokes to each other, but I wouldn't randomly do this with anyone else because the context is gone. (And yes, Chappelle did get out of the business in part because he started to suspect some white people were laughing for the wrong reasons.)

    Of course, there are other jokes you should never make, around anyone, because they perpetuate a stereotype, or are flat-out mega racist. By mega-racist I'm thinking of the time a coworker "joked" that there aren't a lot of black swimmers because their lips slow them down in the water.

    As for how to handle it, I guess that depends on the environment, the joke, and your own comfort level. In the above example, I told the guy to fuck off. But when a white friend of mine heard a 17 year old white girl use the N word once, he was shocked but realized it was something she'd picked up from popular culture--so he took her to one side and gently explained to her how WRONG it was for her to use the word.

    But one way or another, it should be addressed. If a friend came to me 2 months after I'd made a bad comment, I'd still welcome the feedback. There's no statute of limitations.

  84. Let me suggest an alternative way of thinking about it. First, I agree with the notion that if you have to walk on eggshells, then you can never really be comfortable, and the relationship will always be strained. I don't agree that we "should" be more uncomfortable about such comments because our friends are of another race. I could make the argument that that itself is racism. If I'm coddling you because I don't want to offend you, but I would tell a joke comfortably around a white person, why would you want such a friend?

    Having said that, let's turn the tables a bit. Rufus, could a black friend have made the same comment with no reaction from you? If a black friend had made the same joke, might you have laughed? If yes, could that in itself be a form of racism on YOUR part...that your black friends are welcome to the joke but not your white friends?

    I'm from a place where we've been comfortable with race for a long, long time. I grew up in a multicultural environment and I was in my 20s before I had any idea Hispanics were even a different race from me. I can remember making racial jokes back and forth at my friends and back at me since childhood. It's only recently that I feel like I'm freakishly wrong if I do that. I'm supposed to suddenly treat cultural diversity like a dirty secret. I don't need new ways to be uncomfortable.

  85. Nicole...I'll say this as nicely as possible. You've missed the point completely.

    I'm curious...where are you from? Because there are VERY few places in the world, let alone the United States, where race is not an issue.

    I, too, grew up in a "diverse" and "multicultural" environment. And you know what? Racism is still there. It is still a problem.

    I attended schools with kids who made it clear that they wanted nothing to do with me because I was different. I was a POC, I was shy, my hair was too "ethnic", my skin was too light for some people and too dark for others, and I was not considered beautiful...which is often codified in terms of whiteness.

    As a young biracial woman, I'm very aware of how society perceives me. I would also like to add to what some other people have said here about the "Angry Black Woman" stereotype. Do some black women act this way in real life? Yes. I've witnessed it. To say otherwise would be false.

    However, I've noticed some WW and other women of color (besides black) acting in the same manner. No one stereotypes them in this fashion. Unfortunately, most people will remember the loud obnoxious Black women while dismissing all of the quiet, soft-spoken Black women.

    I find that I have to be very careful with how I come across. I'm tiny, only 4'11". I'm very non-threatening. But people seem to be constantly accusing me of having an "attitude". I've been hearing this nonsense since I was a kid. I am not loud. I am not aggressive. I do not act the fool, because my mother taught me better. I try to carry myself with class. I don't bother people. I respect others. I am shy, quiet, and reserved which is sometimes viewed as being "stuck-up". I will only lose my cool when my patience runs out.

    With that said...where is the evidence that I have a bad attitude? I believe some people simply want to label EVERY Black woman as a bitch with a bad attitude. It isn't fair, because rudeness is not limited to anyone of a certain race or color.

  86. Youre lucky no white people will be my friend. I used to have some all they did was make fun of my skin color than or did anything to impress eachother I realized im only good around them if they need someone to make fun of.


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