"I'm Not Racist, I Have Black Friends"

Dear Asian Youth,


During the first Vice Presidential debate, Pence addressed concerns that Trump wouldn’t condemn neo-Nazis with the statement, “President Trump has Jewish grandchildren, his daughter and son-in-law are Jewish.” Yikes. This type of defense has been used so often as a way to deny accusations of bigotry, but why doesn’t it work as one?


The reasoning behind this is clear: people who deem a certain group of people as inherently inferior wouldn’t willingly become friends, share a meal, or enter a relationship with them, right? How could a person who is voluntarily exposed to certain groups be biased against those same groups? Living among a diverse group of people is supposed to bridge divides between them, but building meaningful relationships within these groups can still be difficult. Befriending African Americans doesn’t mean you had a tough conversation about race. Having a gay cousin doesn’t mean you understand their unique experiences. Without these honest conversations that give you an accurate idea of how these factors—like race, sexual orientation, gender, just to name a few—affect them every day, there is only room for a superficial relationship. If you don’t make an effort to understand the struggles that person faces, you cannot exploit them as a defense mechanism against your bigotry.


Furthermore, having a Black friend is not a get-out-of-jail card for you to use when you say something racist. Having a relationship with people of color doesn’t shield you from having racist tendencies. In a study done by Daniel Effron, an Associate Professor of Organisational Behavior at London Business School, he found that when we feel threatened by an accusation of bigotry, we overestimate how our previous non-racist actions—like befriending people of color—indicates our non-racist characters. First, participants were influenced to make a “non-racist” choice, like selecting a white, rather than a Black suspect as the criminal. Next, some were shown “threatening” statements that compared Blacks unfavorably to whites, for example, “Most blacks are more likely to be criminals than whites”, and others were shown “non-threatening” statements unrelated to race. Participants then rated how much their initial selection of the white suspect was indicative of their non-racist attitudes. Participants who faced the threatening statement believed that their selection of the white suspect was far more indicative of non-racist attitudes than those who faced the non-threatening statement. However, in follow-up experiments, people did not believe selecting the white suspect was a sign of non-racist attitudes. Effron found that when their racial tolerance is being questioned, they overestimate how much a previous action signifies their tolerance. Interestingly, he also found that people often see this overestimation of that action’s significance as a sign of prejudice. This conclusion is nothing we don’t already know. But it does imply that when you are accused of intolerance, it can be more harmful to defend yourself by citing a certain action. Because while you see your action as a reasonable defense against prejudice, others can recognize that you are misinterpreting the significance of it.


If someone accuses you of bigotry, reflect on your actions—or inaction—that led to that judgment. And if they truly misjudged you, you shouldn’t feel the need to claim the “Black Friend” defense. Your actions should speak for themselves.


- Erika


Cover Photo Source: Mashable