When I was in college, I was friends with a racist. Not on purpose. I was naive enough to believe his derogatory comments about Asians, Muslims, black people and anyone else that did not look like him were simply jokes. My home was not in hotbed of KKK activity or stomping ground for Neo-Nazis. I grew up in Bergen County in New Jersey just outside the racial smorgasbord of New York City and the liberal attitudes flowed into my suburban neighborhood. I was sheltered from bona fide racism. In fact, before I knew about the birds and the bees, I told my parents it was racist that two white people could not biologically produce a black baby.
My racist friend grew up not far from me but in a different demographic. His town, while also considered a suburb of NYC, was more blue collar and lower socio-economic class. Or to be politically incorrect, kind of a white slum.
My friends and I have made racist, sexist, homophobic and other -ist and -phobic jokes. If you think telling a racist joke, makes you a racist person, that is your opinion. I don’t share that belief. Harboring prejudices against people based on their skin color makes you racist. I think if the intent of a joke is to show your contempt against people of another race, you might be a racist. However, if your joke is simply funny, then I think it’s fine. Then again, if you are around people that might take offense or beat your ass for telling a racist joke, then consider another option.
The final straw with my former friend came when we were watching tv together and a commercial came on with Sally Struthers asking viewers to sponsor starving children in Africa. I believe Alyssa Milano has stepped into Sally’s role. His response was there were enough niggers in the world and we should let them die. Due to my naivete, I prodded him to renounce his words and tell me what I wanted to hear – that he didn’t really feel that way and he was just saying those things for the shock value. He looked me in the eye and told me that is how he truly felt and he didn’t give a damn what others thought.
It was then that I chose to end the friendship. When he called me later that week to hang out again, I told him I couldn’t be friends with him anymore and I told him why. If watching images of babies suffering from illness and hunger brings out your scathing comments about population control, you are not the type of person I can call my friend. He was completely surprised by my explanation.
I’m sure he didn’t disavow his racism and I didn’t influence him to sponsor a child so I can’t say I helped someone to see the error of their ways. It was a wake up call to me though, to be more particular in who I call a friend. To really listen carefully, not just at their words but at the tone. I shed a layer of innocence with the ending of that friendship.