10 signs you might have a racist friend
I just went to see my all-time favorite band, They Might Be Giants, at the legendary 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., where I live. The gig was part of the Giants’ 65-city tour across the U.S., Europe and Canada featuring their fresh and acclaimed album, “I Like Fun”.
The Giants always deliver a terrific show. You want more, soonest. In DC, They gave the rafter-packed house two energetic sets, perhaps the best of the countless times I’ve seen them. Ecstatic fans belted along to beloved songs from the Giants’ 36 years and 20 studio albums and other crowd-thrillers from their prolific songbook, including an old hit, “Your Racist Friend”.
The Brooklyn-based alternative rock duo of John Flansburgh and John Linnell (plus amazing band) isn’t known for political songwriting. Their lyrics mostly dwell in absurdist/existentialist exploration of the human condition with winding logic, dark yet bemused observation, obscure and oblique reference and lots of kaleidoscopic wordplay. (“Every jumbled pile of person has a thinking part that wonders what the part that isn’t thinking isn’t thinking of”.)
NPR called “I Like Fun” “a series of lugubrious songs about death, dismemberment and other unfortunate events dressed up for a Friday night joy ride.” The Atlantic said in a recent gushing review, “That search for delight amid despair surfaces in each one of They Might Be Giants’ albums.”
Washington being a political town, “Your Racist Friend” made sense for the Giants’ DC set list.
The song, about friend who stands silent while his friend makes offensive comments, declares:
This is where the party ends
I can’t stand here listening to you
And your racist friend
I know politics bore you
But I feel like a hypocrite talking to you
And your racist friend
“Your Racist Friend” was from the Giants’ bestselling album “Flood,” released in 1990. Today, coming on 30 years hence — sadly even tragically — the song is even more relevant.
Trumpism has let racism crawl back out from under its dark, dank, squirmy rock into broad daylight, and even preen with ornery, self-righteous pride and resentment. Whites are now the victims of liberal totalitarianism.
Not just Democrats and the progressive wing are alarmed; old-school mainstream Republicans like our parents fret that conservatism has been hijacked by racists: This is where the party ends.
Race in America is complicated, not to understate the obvious. Over-calling racism can be as ignorant as being racist. And yet, like Justice Potter Stewart said about pornography, we know it when we see it. Now, with white resentment driving our politics and White House, we can see it everywhere.
I know you, dear reader, are not racist. Like me, you would be aghast and offended by the implication.
But as Trumpism frees everyone from the liberal shackles to stand up and speak their minds and righteous home truths (anonymously online, of course), many among us might learn we have a racist friend or two we never knew.
Here are 10 signs that trouble me:
1. Friend fulminates about immigrants and the flood of illegals, even if friend lives in a Pantone 11–0601 TCX Bright White community of former German and Irish immigrants with few if any recent immigrants of color. Like the 6th Congressional District of Wisconsin, 92 percent white and 98 percent born in America, where immigration hardliner Rep. Glenn Grothman pledged, “We’d rather shut down the government rather than go down the path of ruining America.”
Or friend is fine with ICE’s Gestapo-style roundup of people and breaking up families who look Latin American and might merely have a bureaucratic paperwork snafu, unpaid traffic ticket, or expired whatnot like many perfectly American citizens do. (Canada has 100,000 Americans living there illegally on expired work or school visas and you don’t see Prime Minister Trudeau whipping up nationalist hate to spend billions on a big beautiful wall….)
Or friend doesn’t mind the Trump government arresting and exiling innocent Dreamers if he can’t get his big beautiful wall on the Mexican border.
Or friend is concerned that America is turning too brown with new immigrants who don’t assimilate immediately like, say, the Italians did when they flooded our shores starting in the 1880s. (No, actually, they were notoriously slow to melt into the pot. Look it up.)
2. Friend sneers at Black Lives Matter and huffily retorts that Blue Lives Matter, All Lives Matter and White Lives Matter. Even though nobody ever said they didn’t, which is the point.
3. Friend depends on Fox, Breitbart and other white-wing ilk for “news” about racial matters, and especially for views that feed or confirm racial bias.
4. Friend still believes welfare and food stamps are a black thing sucking hard-earned tax dollars from responsible, hard-working (i.e., white) Americans.
In fact, working-class whites are the leading recipients of federal poverty programs (6.2 million whites vs. 4.2 million blacks), and the percentage of whites depending on entitlements for the poor is roughly the same as for blacks (44 percent vs. 43 percent). (See: recent Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.)
5. Friend points, knee-jerk, to the gun crime in Chicago’s (black) south side as proof that even the strictest gun laws don’t work.
This ignores that Illinois’ formerly tough gun laws were eased after the U.S. Supreme Court conservative majority’s 2008 Heller decision disconnecting Second Amendment gun rights from service in an official militia. And also that lax national gun laws and enforcement has allowed the gun industry aided by the NRA-bought Congress and state legislatures to flood urban war zones with cheap handguns.
Pointing to Chicago and black gun crime is a deflection from the reality that whites are responsible for 100 percent of whack-job school and other mass shootings. Including the latest Nashville Waffle House killing of three black patrons and one Latino, with more killings thwarted by the heroism of a black man.
6. Friend favors unfettered Second Amendment gun rights, but would freak the freak out if even one Black Lives Matter activist were sighted or photoshopped in full cammo carrying an AR-15 semiautomatic weapon to a rally against racism. Like the self-appointed play-acting (all white) militia did at the “Unite the Right” demonstration in Charlottesville “to keep the peace”.
7. Friend still defends President Trump after his despicable response to Charlottesville that gave aid and comfort to neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and the racist alt-right movement.
8. Friend scoffs at the notion of “white privilege,” or asks, “If there’s white privilege, where’s mine?”
9. Friend hates or can’t give Barack Obama even a shred of credit for his successful, scandal-free eight-year presidency.
Including rescuing the economy he inherited from near collapse (and reducing joblessness from 9.2 percent to 4.1 percent), drawing down two wars launched by his predecessor, ensuring healthcare for sick and struggling people who need it most, treating the office and even critics with respect, grace and dignity, and inspiring Americans to Lincoln’s “better angels of our nature.”
A truly racist friend still suspects Obama might be a Muslim, thus devoted to a terrorist religion, or was born in Kenya, thus was an illegal president.
10.Friend believes the civil rights, voting rights, fair lending, fair housing and other anti-discrimination and equal opportunity laws, regulations and court rulings in the last 40 years — many still being vigorously challenged — have compensated quite enough already for centuries of legalized slavery and systematic denial of basic Constitutional rights to blacks.
Or friend scoffs that slavery ended over a century ago — at this point, the struggles of black Americans are their own fault. Ignoring there are black Americans today whose great-grandparents were slaves, grandparents who were sharecroppers forbidden to own the land they worked, and parents who lived under Jim Crow laws that enforced separate-and-unequal, denying them equal education, employment, property, justice and life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. It’s a shame on black America for falling behind its subjugators.
Or friend believes affirmative action, even as upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and embraced by everyone not stupid because of the proven benefits of diversity, is “black privilege” unfair to whites.
Or friend thinks blacks need to pull up their socks, stop doing crimes or meeting at Starbucks, and cease playing victim and blaming whites for their self-afflicted ills.
This is my checklist of views that make me suspicious someone is racist.
You might disagree, or be outraged, or think I’m being unfair. And issues like immigration, guns, entitlements and affirmative action can be debated reasonably by reasonable people.
But if you hear a friend spout most or all of these views, is it just a coincidence they just happen to go negative on people of color?
So what to do if a friend sounds racist?
Our first, most generous response might be to try to understand what he or she is saying, what they mean, and why.
Is it sheer ignorance? Or tribalism or nativism, which is endemic across humanity? Or nurture, parroting what parents said and learned from their parents?
We also need to reflect on our own innate racism; sorry to say, but all humans have it. Our better angels recognize, reflect, and fight it.
But is exploring and understanding racist views enough? When do we say, this is where the party ends? Do we make it a deal-breaker and walk away?
Are we duty-bound to argue hoping to convince, knowing it’s a fool’s errand when we all have our favorite sources of information to back up our confirmation bias and motivated reasoning?
Do we reflect on white resentment and look for remedies? Or do we condescend, pat them on the head, the poor dears, and pity their ignorance?
I don’t know. It’s a struggle. I’m asking.
Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer