Have you ever heard someone say something along these lines after making an offensive comment?
“It’s not a big deal! My best friend is black, I can say whatever I want!”
Or maybe something like this…
“I have a gay friend. We make jokes like this all the time.”
I hear things like this all the time. You have probably heard things like this before. Maybe, you’ve even said something like this before. If that’s you, before you click away from this blog or prepare a comment to share with me, I’m not here to condemn anyone. I’m writing only to educate. I’m hoping we can learn and grow together.
I didn’t think this topic was big enough to write about until I read comments made by Michigan official, Phil Stair. Stair had this to say in regards to the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan (WARNING: NSFW):
“Well, Flint has the same problems as Detroit, f***ing niggers don’t pay their bills, believe me, I deal with them. I don’t want to call them niggers… I just went to Myrtle Beach, 24 guys, and I was the only white guy. I got friends, I mean, there’s trash and there’s people that do this.”
Phil Stair thought it was appropriate to blame a water crisis on “niggers” who “don’t pay their bills”. And how did he excuse such a comment? By insisting that he has “friends”. Stair claimed that he went to Myrtle Beach with a group of black men and said that he had black friends. It seems like he was trying to use his “friendship” with black people as a license to use harmful and ignorant language to paint black people as criminals and freeloaders. He attempted to get away with promoting blatant racism by claiming friendship with the same people he was trying to bring down. This is an extreme example, but this is not uncommon.
We tend to think these types of excuses come from older white men who have never been held accountable for prejudiced ideas. However, I have heard statements of a similar nature expressed by other college-aged people. My freshmen year of college, I confronted a classmate who made a racist joke. I was told to relax because one of his closest friends was black. I have called people out for using homophobic slurs, and similarly, I have been told that because they had a gay friend that it wasn’t a big deal if they called someone a faggot.
When I hear excuses such as these, I tend to question the depth of the friendship that someone must have with a minority that makes it okay for them to use such offensive language. Spoiler alert: there is no excuse for racist, sexist, or homophobic language to be used to put someone else down. And let’s just say your black friend isn’t offended by racist jokes. Your one, two, or twenty black friends do not speak for the entire black community. Just because one person isn’t bothered by something you say, that does not make it wrong for someone to be hurt by offensive language or actions.
On top of that, if you really value your friendship with your minority friends, why would you want to use language that could potentially harm them or others? My best friend is a straight, white man. Because he is my best friend (and a decent human being), he would never even think about using our friendship as an excuse to use racial or homophobic slurs. I cannot imagine him saying to one of his buddies, “I’m friends with Joe, so it doesn’t really matter if I use the n-word here and there.” For one, I would kill him. Secondly, he values our friendship. If you genuinely value the relationship you have with someone, you should never use that bond to allow yourself to escape responsibility for your words and actions.
“But, I really do have a black friend, and he’s okay with the types of jokes and comments that I make!”
Even if that is true, as I said before, your one black friend does not speak for the entire black community. No one ever takes what one white person says or does and applies it to the entire white population. Why would you do the same for a minority? Even if you know of a minority that doesn’t seem to care about offensive comments, recognize that one minority cannot speak for an entire minority population. Not even I can speak for everyone. Even if you love what I have to say, I am not representative of every single American minority. There will be those who disagree with me. Just understand that you cannot make one person the reason why you get away with offensive comments.
All I’m asking is that you educate yourself. Some people reading this may be thinking, “I am so sick and tired of political correctness”. I’m not asking you to be so afraid of offending someone that you say nothing at all. We have the freedom of speech. However, great power comes with great responsibility, and words have power. No matter how you twist or turn it, words are powerful. You cannot just say whatever you’d like to. Take responsibility for what you say. If you’re comfortable enough to purposefully offend, you should be comfortable enough receiving the backlash. And if you think you’re prone to accidentally offending someone, please take this moment to open yourself up to reproach. If you are an adult, you are responsible for everything you do. Use your free speech wisely and allow yourself to be held accountable to those around you.