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I Have a Black Friend

Khulile Mjo

Everyone has friends, but we tend to stick to people we share similarities with.  Sadly, this means that we usually hang out with people with the same personal traits – and let’s be frank – it’s mainly divided by race, religion, language and culture. The truth is that we like to believe we live in a melting pot of cultural exchange and integration (pride, gees, ubuntu and all that), reality hits us when we realise that we live in a mosaic (at best).

However, occasionally there is a group or collective of mutual friends that may have a ‘token’ person of colour (the token is not limited to race, but it’s the most prime example). In the midst of conversation and so called ‘exchange’, we can often see tensions building between the majority verses the ‘tokens’ of the group.

Here, we identify a different type of racists – those I like to call “closet racists”. Closet racists have developed many phrases that offend people of colour due to  the lack of comprehension towards differences in our culture, situation, and lived experiences.

Here are a few examples:

“I have a black friend, I’m not racist.”

Do you really think your friend of colour wants to be the representative of a whole entire group of people? I’m sure that no one wants that amount of responsibility. Just knowing one person of colour does not give you a pass to make racist comments at will.

Also, this logic is incorrect – so you can call someone the ‘k’ word, whip out the friendship card you have with a black friend, and that person must assume you’re not a racist? Clearly the wrong kind of thinking would drive someone to say this classic phrase.

I don’t see colour

This comment usually has good intentions behind where people are trying to say – they want recognise people for who they are and not the colour of the skin. But saying you’re colourblind, and believing it, means you fail or choose not to recognise your own privilege or the other person’s lived experience and circumstances that are attached to race.

Coconut

The major problem with this phrase is that it largely undermines how beautiful and wonderful it is being black, and makes being white seem like something that is superior. It implies that acting, talking or behaving in a “refined” manner is inherently white and that if you act in this manner you need to be associated with white culture.

It’s not racist it’s fact/ I don’t want to sound racist but…

This problem mainly stems from people not knowing how facts work or how they are calculated. Please be aware of where you found your facts. Assuming but not conceding the fact that all facts are true, it’s wrong to take facts out of context as undigested lumps of “I’m right”. And just because something is true, don’t take it at face value – if university can teach you anything, it’s to be cynical of the production of knowledge.

You may sound cool saying things like “a huge percentage of black males are arrested for crimes” but when you use statistics like this at face value, you fail to recognise the many, many many circumstances that make this the reality.

What circumstances you ask? Maybe being the product of hundreds of years of racial oppression and slavery has something to do with it. But that’s never the fact that typically follows the “black people are poor, therefore poor people are black” argument.

My nigga(er)

People really want to say this word, but it doesn’t really make sense. It’s a word you have to be a part of a group to say it.

The word holds holds an inherently negative charge, as it was used as a label for slaves and a weapon for oppression. But in recent history, this word was reinvented and reclaimed as their own as a word of inclusion, collective struggle, and ultimately it’s now used to refer to “brother” or “sister” to show their bond. Do you really want to risk coming off as a plantation owner, because you want to sound “cool” for your friends?

 

Primarily, I have used the example of race to address the broader issue. But, as I’ve mentioned, this issues applies equally to differences in culture, religion and so on. To the closet racists out there, we can see through these problematic phrases. Just because you hide behind facts, ingroup slang, or saying things in jest, it’s obvious that you’re just finding fanciful ways of being offensive.

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