Like I was saying about "Countable Negroes".....


Playing the Friendship Card: White Lies, White Denial and the Reality of Racism

Tim Wise

I swear, if I hear one more transparently racist person insist they aren’t racist because they have black friends, I am going to shoot them. But not because I’m violent. I’m not violent. And this I know because I have friends who are pacifists.

Yes, this is a joke, but seriously, it’s getting just about that stupid, and not simply because George Zimmerman’s “black friend” swears he’s not racist (and that that whole “coon” thing he said about Trayvon Martin before he shot him was really “goon,” and that it was meant as a term of endearment, natch). Much more, it seems that everyone who ever says or does something blatantly racist to a black person is quick to wrap themselves in the cloak of their multicolored affinity networks, as if this provided the perfect inoculation against the charge that they were anything less than purely enlightened.
I’d like to think it’s because we’ve made progress — that this feigned ecumenism was the result of a real and abiding shame at the recognition of one’s biases, and the concomitant desire to front so as to maintain one’s own sense of decency. But sadly, I think it has nothing to do with any such societal evolution. Rather, it’s just a bunch of phony twaddle spread by those who are too stupid to know what racism is, or, alternately, so cunning as to hope that the rest of us are.
I mean really now, when even Daryl Dedmon (who ran over James Anderson in Mississippi a few months ago, after saying he wanted to “fuck with some niggers”), has friends who insist with straight faces that he’s not racist, and point to a couple of black associates as proof, you know that the black buddy defense is about as solid as goose shit and smells nearly as bad.

When a cop can call a black scholar a “banana-eating jungle monkey” and yet, still insist that he isn’t racist and has “no idea” where that language came from (hint: it’s racism, asshole), you know that some white folks are so congenitally ignorant as to disqualify themselves from either policing or association with remotely decent people.

When a Republican Party activist in San Bernadino sends around phony food stamp certificates, which she calls “Obama Bucks,” to her friends, and then swears this wasn’t racist — because even though they were adorned with prominent pictures of fried chicken, “everyone likes fried chicken” — you know before the sentence is even fully formed in her throat that she’s a lying crapsack.

When you come to political rallies carrying signs of the president dressed as an African witch doctor with a bone through his nose, or send around e-mails depicting the White House lawn covered in watermelons, or throw “ghetto parties” at your fraternity house, replete with blackface makeup, your claims of interracial camaraderie are not merely irrelevant to the suggestion that you just might be a racist, more to the point, they are blatant effing lies. The people who claim they have black friends and still do this kind of thing are liars, plain and simple. Every one of them. No exceptions.

How do I know? Easy. Every time I’m confronted with one of these people I ask them a series of questions, all of which are splendidly simple, yet, questions that they have never — not even one of them — been able to answer in a satisfactory manner.

First, and regarding their black friends, I ask the most obvious of all questions: Can you name them?

And not just first names please — I mean, who can’t think up “Jamal” or “Keisha” off the top of their head in a pinch — but rather, first and last name. After all, I know the first and last names of all my real friends, white, black, or otherwise.

If they manage to somehow get past this question — and only about a third do — I then ask them where their black friend (or friends if they’re really large-scale liars) grew up? After all, if asked this about a real friend, most of us would be able to answer with little trouble.

Then, for the handful who make it this far — and I mean they can be counted on a few fingers — I ask the final and ultimately fatal question.

Could you please dial their numbers on your cell phone for me, and let me speak to them?

Blank stares ensue, followed by something about how they don’t have their black friend’s numbers in their phones (unlike their white friends, whose numbers are right there, ready to be dialed or texted at a moment’s notice). So I ask for e-mail. Nope, they don’t know their e-mails either.

Mmm hmm… Of course not. And ya know why? Because they are lying.

They don’t have black friends. Not real ones at least. Knowing some black dude with whom you occasionally shoot hoops at the campus rec center does not mean you have a black friend. Engaging in small talk with a black person about your mutual affinity for hip-hop, does not mean you have a black friend. Telling the black person who just bussed your table at the restaurant “thank you,” sure as hell does not mean you have a black friend. Neither does it count if your kid happens to have a black teacher with whom you get along well at parent-teacher conferences, nor when you chat about your respective Final Four brackets with a black person around the office water cooler — nor even when, on occasion, you might go out with a bunch of your colleagues, including the darker among them, to a sports bar for wings and beer.

Friends are people with whom you share the multitude of pain and joy that life has to offer.

They are the people with whom you share real secrets, insecurities, fears, triumphs and defeats.

They are the people who know they could turn to you in a pinch, and to whom you could turn were the proverbial shoe on the other foot.

They are the people who — were they really in your life — would jack you up were you to say or do any of the incredibly stupid-ass things that you seem to do or say over and over again. And they are the kind of people that having jacked you up over your asshattery would make sure you knew exactly why you should never say or do that kind of thing again, or why, if you find it impossible to curb your stupid, should yet make damned certain never to use them and their friendship with you as a cover for your actions.

Of course — and here’s the bigger point — even if one does have black friends, this doesn’t mean that one is free from racial bias or could never act in such a way as to further racism. I mean, if personal closeness to people of color were all it took to insulate oneself from a charge of racism then, by definition, male heterosexuality would be the perfect defense against charges of sexism: to wit, all straight men could answer allegations of misogyny, no matter how blatant, with a simple, “but I’m married to a woman!” every time they ogled a woman’s breasts in public, called a woman a bitch, claimed that women who get raped “probably asked for it,” or ruminated about how no woman should be president because of, ya know, that whole menstrual cycle thing.

In short, personal affinity for someone who is of color, or a woman, or LGBT, or whatever, says nothing about how one views the larger group from which those individuals come. After all, there were many whites who supported enslavement and segregation as social systems, and yet, managed to conjure personal kindness for individual black people on a case-by-case basis. Their friendly relationships notwithstanding, they were complicit with evil, and thus, were themselves instruments of that evil. Whites who claim to have black friends (and perhaps even do), and yet view the larger black community with disdain, or view their black friends as exceptions to a general and more negative rule (like the ones who tell their black friends that they “don’t even think of them as black” as if that were a compliment rather than the prejudicial calumny it is), are indeed racists, however unwilling they may be to wear the label. Sadly, based on the social science research, this applies to most of us, for indeed, the white community in particular does (by our own admission) continue to adhere in large measure to any number of hostile and racist stereotypes about African Americans. That we may be willing to carve out a few exceptions — our own personal Cliff and Claire Huxtables — does nothing to alter this sad fact.

Even more distressing, the systemic inequalities that continue to plague our nation are capable of rendering even genuine interracial friendships moot by virtue of the fundamentally different treatment provided to those on the respective sides of that racial coin. So, for instance, I grew up with mostly black friends, for the first several years of my school experience. Having attended pre-school at an early childhood ed program at a Historically Black College (Tennessee State), most of my early peer group was black. It was black kids with whom I identified early on. It was black kids on whose ball teams I played. It was black kids with whom I hung out in the cafeteria, with only a few exceptions.

And yet, a few important facts are worth considering: facts that make those early friendships far less important to understanding my own racialized experience than they might otherwise seem.

First, my genuine affection for those friends did little or nothing to prevent them from experiencing institutional racism and race-based mistreatment in those schools. Routinely they would be punished more harshly than the white kids (myself included) for minor behavioral infractions, even though they committed those infractions no more frequently than we did. That we were friends did not imbue me with an understanding of what was happening, let alone the nerve at the time to speak out and interrupt the process to which they were being subjected. Likewise, most all the black children in those early grades — so many of whom were truly friends of mine — were tracked into basic and remedial level classes, while most all the white kids were tracked into advanced and honors classes, even though we showed no more promise (and sometimes quite a bit less) than they. And again, my closeness to those kids, personally, did not prevent me from taking advantage of my race-based privileges — or indeed, even allow me to notice that they were race-based privileges at the time — let alone to protest the unfairness of it all. So although the friendships were real, their impact on racism as a functioning social reality in the lives of my black friends, and myself, meant absolutely zip.

Second, and as I’ve written about elsewhere, my genuine connections to black people — in all likelihood far more extensive than 90 percent or more of all white Americans — did not provide an ablative hardening around my consciousness, which somehow prevented the entry of any and all racially-biased thoughts from time to time. I’ve caught myself having racist thoughts over the years, and though I have caught myself and interrupted the thoughts before they manifested as racist action, that doesn’t get me off the hook. It means that like anyone else, I am subject to the influences of my culture. It means that advertising works on us all, and in the case of racially prejudicial imagery, we’ve all been subjected to plenty of that advertising, so to speak. We can deal with that honestly and humbly — and resolve to do better tomorrow than we managed to do today — or, alternately, we can prevaricate and pretend that we haven’t a racist bone in our ostensibly colorblind bodies.

Finally, no matter how many friends of color we white folks may have, unless we are there to intervene every time they get unfairly stopped by a police officer, every time they get followed around at the mall on suspicion of shoplifting, every time they apply for a mortgage loan and face the risk of being charged higher interest, and every time they apply for a job, knowing that the employer may be looking at them as a walking, talking stereotype, then our friendships will mean pitifully little in the larger scheme of things. Only when those personal relationships translate into collective and committed action will they do black and brown folks much good.

And interestingly, white folks who are actually committed to that kind of action, and the change it would portend in the larger society, are the white folks who never feel the need to parade their interracial friendships in front of others, while the ones who wear their black and brown friends on their sleeves like trophies are the ones who rarely ever do a damned thing to alter the institutional patterns that subject said friends to myriad injustices.

Oh, and just so ya know: this is pretty much exactly what your black friends would tell you… that is, if you actually had any.


  1. I was wondering if you caught this from Tim Wise. Damn he was on point!

  2. BlackPeopleSufferFromPTSD4/12/12, 5:55 PM

    What's sad and what Tim himself has acknowledged is that fact that white people are more willing to hear about racial micro and macro aggressions from another white person, than a person of color. It reminds me of how when studying an "exotic" culture, they rely on the observations of other white scholars rather than just asking the people THEMSELVES what it means. God bless AmeriKKKa. smh

    1. Perla Buttons4/13/12, 4:40 AM

      "It reminds me of how when studying an "exotic" culture, they rely on the observations of other white scholars rather than just asking the people THEMSELVES what it means".

      Hell, you even see this in cooking shows. White UK chef (I think it was Rick Stein, but wev) explores Asia, tracking down "exotic" flavours and dishes.

      Who does he turn to for a "local", expert perspective on the cuisine in each episode nine times out of ten? Other. White. People.

      But they got a lot of B-roll footage of market vendors and Possibly Rick Stein interacting with them appreciatively, so it can't possibly be problematic!

  3. Bookmarking this because I already know I'm going to need to reference this CONSTANTLY.

  4. It also transforms whites into experts on all things black overnight; giving license to spout bigoted- foolish assertions as long as they have one black friend who agrees with them.

    I tell you- it’s harder for a white person to call another white person ‘Racist’ than it is for a leopard to change its spots. Such a person tends to share some of the same sentiments as the offending party. The implication being: I know I’m not racist (KKK Racist) so it stands to reason Bob- or Martha or your friendly neighborhood police officer is not racist either. What they said was stupid yes- unfortunate maybe; but racist? Oh gracious no. Conversely, if you caught that same white person red-handed, lighting a cross on their black neighbor’s lawn; singing a rousing chorus of “Carry Me back to Old Virginny,” while dressed in their finest white robe and cap, they’d swear they weren’t being racist. I was being snarky maybe; a bad joke at the very least- but racist? Oh gracious no.

    "First, and regarding their black friends, I ask the most obvious of all questions: Can you name them?"

    And tell me, when was the last time you broke bread in their home- or worshiped together in their church? Or attended an intimate affair where there weren’t a majority of people who looked like you?

    "After all, there were many whites who supported enslavement and segregation as social systems, and yet, managed to conjure personal kindness for individual black people on a case-by-case basis. Their friendly relationships notwithstanding, they were complicit with evil, and thus, were themselves instruments of that evil."

    Case in point. I love referring to this clip because even though these two people “Practically grew up together” in the same house, only the white friend knew the significance of staying in one's place. But call her character a racist and she easily cites her friendship with Johnny, The Big Hollywood Star as proof-positive she's not anything of the kind.

    To grab a line from Firedoglake's "You might be a racist if..."

    “If you track down the one black guy at a Glenn Beck rally so you can get your picture taken with him while holding a “Do We Look Racist?” sign… well, I’ve got some disappointing news for you.”

    1. Soooooooo good to have you back at the bar.

  5. I've actually moved past the infuriated stage into the laughing stage when it comes to white folks counting the Negroes they know. It's a defense that's so pathetic it's a non-defense.

    What made me laugh was the opening paragraph. What moved me to repost was that typical Tim Wise method of asking his fellow white folks the easiest GED questions in the book and watching them fail miserably.

    These are very simple questions; we're talking "1 + 1" level questions. It's like the time he asked the white folks in New Orleans who was to blame for the devastation of Katrina, and they immediately blamed the Lower Ninth Ward residents, saying that's where all the problems started.

  6. Ankhesen Mié
    "What made me laugh was the opening paragraph. What moved me to repost was that typical Tim Wise method of asking his fellow white folks the easiest GED questions in the book and watching them fail miserably."

    I'm reminded of Jack Webb's admonition to witnesses in the television series Dragnet; "Just the facts, ma'am." Don't try to derail- or defend your bigotry; just answer the darned question. I'll wait.

    It reminds me of how when studying an "exotic" culture, they rely on the observations of other white scholars rather than just asking the people THEMSELVES what it means.

    Oh mercy that's always bothered me. And they're consistent too! Always an Objective white expert at the ready to help put things in the proper context. The collective memories and experiences of indigenous experts tend to be embellished over time; best let the unbiased eye of Europeans define the narrative.

  7. I've read Tim Wise a couple of years ago and I always love what he has to write. He was definitely spot on with this article.

  8. And if they do truly have a black friend, that black person hates their blackness. I know this from experience as I used to hate my blackness and had many white friends. These white "friends" made many racist jokes that I would ignore. I didn't love myself enough to stand up for myself, so I let it go. I felt horrible when they told the "jokes" , but had no self love (also some of the jokes I believed myself). They would call me special and say I was different from the other blacks. And I went to parties with them, and we hung out, and I looked at them as friends. But one day I woke up and started calling people on their s*it. I don't have too many white friends now. *shrug*

    Example of a "joke", this is one of the many that I can remember. It was around the first Obama election.

    White Friend: No offense Erica. But if Blacks can't even run a McDonald's correctly how are they going to run a country.

    Other White Friends: HahaHahah

    Me: O__o *hangs head and half hearty laughs*

    1. Keep in mind that to white folks like these, black people hating blackness is the ideal.

    2. Ankhesen Mié said...
      "Keep in mind that to white folks like these, black people hating blackness is the ideal."

      A few quotes from Archie Bunker come to mind:

      "Well, I'll tell you one thing about President Nixon. He keeps Pat home. Which was where Roosevelt should have kept Eleanor. Instead he let her run around loose until one day she discovered the colored. We never knew they were there. She told them they were gettin' the short end of the stick and we been having trouble ever since!"

      "You bein' colored, you had no choice in that; but whatever made you turn Jew?"

      And lastly:
      I'm not racist! I'll be the first to say it, it's not their fault they're colored!

      The subtext being, I know you people already hate yourselves (for being born black and all) but if it's any consolation; its not your fault. Course... everything after that is; just so you know.

  9. This Just in...
    Tulsa Hate Crime Shooter Swears Some of His Best Friends Are Black:

    “Jake England, one of two men who took part in a shooting spree earlier this month, insists that he isn't racist. In fact — wait for it — some of his best friends are black.”

    Whew! I’m so glad he cleared that up. You see? I knew there was a perfectly good explanation for all of this. I was beginning to think he was a bigot or something. As he so eloquently asserts in the article, some of his best friends are Nig- I mean blacks. I guess what he’s trying to articulate is this:

    "Am I a murderer? Yes. Did I have a desire to gun down non-whites in cold blood? Well yes, I guess you can say that. Moreover, the fact that I purposely went out slaughtered three people who just happened to share the same race as the F---in Nigger who shot my father is a mere coincidence."

    Makes me wonder what one has to do to be called a genuine racist nowadays; because I really thought that F---in Nigger part was more than enough to qualify.

    1. Ankhesen Mié


    2. Leo Princess4/19/12, 4:35 PM

      I laugh to keep from cussing. This ninja CANNOT be serious.

  10. I never had a lot of white friends growing up and the few that I did have never told racist jokes. I guess I was fortunate. I always wondered why people put of with their so called friends racist jokes and continued to claim them as friends. One things for sure, it shows your friends stance on race if love racist jokes. They have to keep reminding you that you are beneath them because you are not white and you should be pleased to be in their presence.


  11. "So twisted has the social discourse become that being a called a racist, homophobe, ableist etc., is deemed worse than living with the ism itself."

    One very good example:
    "Randy continues trying to redeem himself by founding a scholarship for blacks. However, he is soon accosted by a gang of socially progressive rednecks, who hunt "the nigger guy". They criticize him for "slandering an entire race of people on Wheel of Fortune" and say "We don't take kindly to social ignorance." A group of other "nigger guys", including Michael Richards and Mark Fuhrman, scare the rednecks away and invite Randy to join their organization of people who have become pariahs for the use of the word nigger. They successfully lobby Congress to pass a law saying at least seven words must always separate the words nigger and guy."

    The stigma of being called "nigger guy" is worse than the ism he's been accused of. Empathizing with his plight; like-minded whites in congress quickly pass a law to rectify the situation. The irony being; Randy learns nothing from walking in the shoes of black people. His privilege has seen to that. Getting the Anti Nigger Guy Act passed has everything to do with Randy benefiting from white supremacy, instead of addressing what blacks go through on a daily bases because of white supremacy.

    It’s amazing what two white guys can get away with under the banner of satire.

  12. repeat a lie enough times and it becomes the truth. that is the strategy whites have employed in all sectors of the racism discourse.

  13. "they were complicit with evil, and thus, were themselves instruments of that evil"

    my favorite part


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