“Some of my best friends are black” is a phrase whites use to prove they are not racist. They also use it when they are about to say something racist: “Some of my best friends are black, but….” As if that gives them a green light to say any racist thing they want.
My first reaction is to doubt the quality of said friendships. But giving them the benefit of the doubt, it has become clear that black friendship has little effect on white racism:
A white Boston police officer said this in an email about the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr, a black Harvard professor:
If I was the officer he verbally assaulted like a banana-eating jungle monkey, I would have sprayed him in the face with OC.
Later he said in his apology:
I have so many friends of every type of culture and race you can name and I am not a racist.
A white high school student who went to a whites-only prom did not think he was racist either:
I have as many black friends as I do white friends. We do everything else together. We hang out. We play sports together. We go to class together. I don’t think anybody at our school is racist.
A white commenter, the first I kicked off this blog, only called black commenters names, never white ones. To one black commenter he said:
That’s right. Go play on train tracks and get hit by a train. No one wants you alive.
But he did not think he was racist either. To prove it he said:
Oh and by the way, four of my best friends have been black… My brother is married to a black a girl, too. So you really have no argument kiddo.
If anything the black-best-friend argument shows that the speaker does not know much about racism and is blind to it.
I used to think that whites who marry black or live in black neighbourhoods were not all that racist. But even that is not true! While they do tend to have less stereotyped views of blacks, they still hold onto their sense of whiteness and the racist views used to defend it. They still see things from a self-serving white point of view.
Come to think of it, even blacks can be racist against blacks!
So having a black best friend proves little.
Racism in America is built partly on a separation of the races and the stereotypes that fill in the lack of first-hand experience. Like the sea monsters on the old maps of the Atlantic. A black best friend can help remove some of those sea monsters, but not if you think your friend “is not like other blacks”.
But more than stereotypes racism is also built on the need for whites to feel good about themselves living in an unequal society where blacks get screwed. Black friends, neighbours and lovers will not make that need go away.