AdviceHey, Bonita!

Should I Drop a Friend Who Used a Racial Slur?

Hey Bonita,

I’m having a huge issue. A white internet friend of mine is one of my good friends. We talk about the same TV shows and such, and it’s great to have someone to fangirl over them with. But I was on FaceTime with her one day, and we were talking about how this really pretty character was dating an average Joe, and she said, “For real, she’s so gorgeous, and she’s with this n****r.” Immediately after, she said she was sorry, that she shouldn’t have said that, that she didn’t mean for it to come out, and not to judge her. I said, “I do judge a bit,” and was surprised, but I was glad she knew it was wrong. But she proceeded to say that she hardly ever says it and never with a hard “r,” and that she only says it to her (white) dad who also says it. She also said most of the time she doesn’t say the whole thing, just the first three letters. She then proceeded to say the first three letters. I was taken aback and pretty uncomfortable. She also said she only says the first three letters because it’s an inside joke with her dad, and that they are most definitely not racist. This didn’t make me feel any better, because what could the joke be about, you know? 

Anyway, I could really use some advice on what to do. As a white woman, I want to make sure I go about this the right way. I had an old friend who would throw the word around, and I tried to educate her, but she didn’t listen, so I had to end the friendship. And since we don’t live in the same place, I don’t know if she will decide to just not say it to me but still say it whenever else. Please help me! 

Confused and Frustrated

Dear Confused and Frustrated,

It seems to me like you know exactly what to do, because you’ve done it before. This woman knows that she’s completely in the wrong for using a racial slur that is not hers to reappropriate in any way, and it’s extra mind-blowing for me because she uses the term in a derogatory manner with her trashcan of a father while somehow thinking that she’s still a good person.  This is garbage behavior, and she knows so, because she’s only got the stones to use hate speech in front of other privileged people like herself. I find it possible that maybe she was testing the waters and seeing how you’d react if she dropped a casual N-bomb, determining if you were also cool with hate speech. Because she’s definitely cool with it herself.

As a privileged person, you’re in a unique position. I believe that it is not the job of oppressed people to educate their oppressors in 2021, not when there’s so much media and info available that explains to white people why using racial slurs is bad. Also, we usually have to navigate a lot of defensiveness and self-centering out of privileged people who are called to task—look at the Sharon Osbourne situation for a perfect example. That alone can be triggering and fatigue-inducing to the point that the conversation simply isn’t worth it for us. I regularly tell my marginalized friends to walk away from hair-splitting and devil’s advocacy, because the people taking those positions often do so in bad faith and with no desire or intention to learn anything.  They’re just mad because they got called out and enjoy “triggering the libs,” whatever that means.  

I say all of this to point out that you don’t have that particular kind of collective trauma to deal with, plus she will be less defensive when hearing this from someone who looks like her.  Talking to her and sending her a few articles about hate speech could be really helpful for her, but I also support you just ending this friendship if she tries to act pigheaded about all this. She is nothing but wrong, and she’ll either acknowledge that and become a better person, or she’ll lose her friend.

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