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AdviceHey, Bonita!

My Unremorseful Friend Said a Slur

Hello,

I don’t know what to do. My white friend said a racial slur, and I’m at a loss of what to do. I was ranting to her about something, and then she said, “Yeah, my little cousin called me a b****r.” I told her that she could just say “the b word” instead of saying it, and then she said sorry. But then when I tried to bring it up later, she dismissed it and got annoyed. I don’t know what to do, especially as a brown Mexican.

Sincerely,

Tired

Hey Tired,

Great pseudonym choice, by the way, because I’m tired of this kind of shit happening, too. I’ve been getting more questions than usual about this kind of situation lately, and it’s disappointing and disturbing to me how many white people there are out there using racial slurs in front of non-white people that they call friends. It’s easy for a privileged person to assume that the concept of social justice is now thoroughly mainstreamed to the point where we can think of life in America today as “post-racial,” but nothing could be further from the truth. Of course you’d think life was hunky-dory for a brown Mexican or a Black person if you have no frame of reference for institutionalized racism or how it affects the daily lives of visible people of color. I assume that your friend sees your dark-but-not-African complexion and smooth hair texture, then applies her teeny-tiny worldview and determines that your visible proximity to whiteness somehow diminishes or negates your identity as a person of color. It happens to people of color with lots of white friends all the time, myself included. I can’t count how many people I’ve cut off in recent years upon realizing that they don’t actually see me as a Black person in any salient way, and that they think that since I go to punk shows then I should be OK hearing them talk about their lifelong fear of Black men that they feel is completely justified, and that I should validate their racism (true story). Honestly, this dummy probably just thought that you wouldn’t care about them using a slur since they call you a friend, as if the indisputable ugliness of that act is lessened by your relationship. Because hey, she’s obviously not a racist if she has a brown Mexican “friend.” This dummy reminds me of a bartender’s buddy who expects to drink for free.

The best thing you could do for yourself is to cut her off and tell her exactly why you’re doing so. She doesn’t respect you or your identity enough to just be humble and apologetic when she’s clearly made a mistake—that’s bad friend behavior in any context. But her disrespect becomes exponential when she’s out here using slurs to your face and getting defensive when confronted about it. Just let her know that you can’t be friends with someone who might insult one of your loved ones with impunity—you cannot bring a white woman like that around your extended family, can you? Imagine her talking crazy like that to an uncle or your grandmother, and now look—you and your cousins have to drag her in the yard and crack her face for talking crazy to your elders.

Jokes aside, I know these conversations can be really hard for people to have, but this is the hard work of racial justice. If you’re white and committed to antiracism, then you’ll grit your teeth and humbly correct course for the sake of being a better person and a positive force in the world. Your rude friend can’t do that, Tired, so you’re better off without her. Trust me on that. I don’t miss a single person that I’ve cut off because of casual or even overt racism, and sometimes it’s not necessarily the end of your friendship. You two could always take space and then reconnect in a few years so that she can make a proper amends. But right now, I think you should focus on having a great summer and not coddling someone who thinks they can talk to you like that.

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