The Gnarly Tentacles of Racism

After a recent lunch with a dear friend, I realized she is racist. We’ve been friends for a good few years now, so I’m baffled that it only came up now.  First, when I say “racist” I mean it. She is not merely un-PC or sprinkling a few off-color jokes around. She said to me, point blank, “I hate Chinese [people]”.

At the time, I uncomfortably laughed it off, saying, “You’re terrible!” with a smile. She was smiling, too. “Maria” (as I’ll call her here) is not ignorant about the fact that she’s racist. She is an educated young woman, living in San Francisco, and well-connected to the general leftist and “open-minded” culture of the City. To boot, Maria is a recent immigrant to the U.S., having just gotten her Green Card.

This is far from the first time I’ve confronted race issues. I remember (now with some lightheartedness) training my father to replace the word “Oriental” with “Asian” when talking about people. But Maria’s hatred is not the product of ignorance or mis-education, as my father’s was. So, I decided to ask for help hashing out this conflict in my mind (on Twitter, of course),

Recently discovered one of my dear friends is racist. Not un-PC, but actually (and admittedly) racist. Anyone else deal w/ this? Advice?

one of the first responses I got was,

We’re all racist to some degree IMO, the question is can you handle the degree to which your friend is?


First, I’ve heard the assertion “We’re all racist to some degree” before, and had up until now generally agreed with it. But the issue with Maria has made me think differently: racism is a choice. One cannot choose to be ignorant if information and opportunity to learn haven’t been presented (not that “ignorance” is a valid excuse for hateful speech or behavior). One doesn’t choose the particular cultural landscape where they grow up, nor their family’s established value systems.

But when you’re an adult, living in a relatively diverse metropolitan area and intuitive enough to know that this kind of hatred is, minimally, hurtful and perhaps just plain “wrong”. That’s when you’re choosing to be a Racist.

With Maria, I almost think her xenophobia is a source of entertainment. She knows she’s being a “bad girl” in the culture of San Francisco, and seems to delight in that fact that she’s knowingly going against the grain. My response to her most likely only fed into these feelings. Real helpful, I know.

At the end of the day, I am left with this. Here is a very close friend who I love and cherish. I adore her personality, her steadfastness, her strength in nature, everything about her really except this one thing. So it eats at me.

Back to that initial response I received, in the second part I’m asked if I can handle the degree to which Maria is racist.

I don’t have an answer for that yet. At this point, Maria and I are in the place where we “agree to disagree”, though I think there’s plenty of room for me to make my disgust known. The thing is, I love her. I don’t want to give her up as a friend for one (what I consider to be) character defect. To be very honest, I’d like to just ignore the issue, pretend Maria doesn’t feel the way she does and get on with it.

Some other responses I received:

hard call. often a personal one. if i think its just remnants of bad teachings & they are worth it? i’ll work with them. but if the racism is part of their identity and how they behave…not worth it. (and by “work w/ them” i mean confront w/care)


I think I’ve established that it’s not remnants of bad teaching. And yes, she is worth it. Is racism part of Maria’s identity? Of course, there’s no binary-perfect answer. As far as I can tell, her racism does not extend beyond her hatred of Chinese people (not that she didn’t pick a rather formidably sized group, in the world, and in San Francisco). But is this my call to action? Is it my responsibility to work with her? And am I even willing to do it? Furthermore, would working with Maria (undoubtedly against her will) destroy the friendship?

If you have not addressed your friend’s ignorance already,it is your duty to do so. Ignoring racism is the same as allowing it.


This is where I get frustrated. I appreciate SILENCE = DEATH. I’ve made it my life’s work to educate and re-educate (willing) men and women about feminisms, sex-positivity and LGBT issues. And here I might find the real meat of my mind’s dissonance: If Maria’s hatred was directed at a group with which I identified, I undoubtedly and tirelessly would work to change her views. It would be a hell of a lot easier to disconnect from her as a friend if it was me or “my people” she hated.

In this case, I have the luxury or the privilege of detaching myself. It becomes less personal, more political. And while I’m passionate about politics, it’s just so much easier to shelve the debate.

I find myself here. Left with questioning myself, my responsibility as a friend, my responsibility as a member of the subaltern and my responsibility as a citizen. Moreover, I question my strength with this load to bear.

How much can I do.


UPDATED: Further responses I felt deserved to be included:

I grew up in Asian in AL, I saw and felt a lot of negativity but I guess if they were racist they wouldn’t be friends w/me


Oof. A *dear* friend? Keep your distance, maybe? Or call them on it? “This is some shit up with which I will not put!”


& by “part of their identity” i dont mean innate. i mean they willfully cling to it due to their own self-image. so we agree…


It’s horribly deflating when someone you care about has that dark, ugly spot of hate in them. Continue to embrace YOUR values.


All that said, the odds of arguing a racist into changing their views is approx. nil. Lead by example,cross fingers, and hope.


Careful, you are who you hang with.



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2 Responses to “The Gnarly Tentacles of Racism”

  1. Ophelia Says:

    Depending on the ethnic background of your friend, I wonder if she was ever the target of a racist attack? I have had people tell me to “go home”, “hey your english is really good” to “are you slanted down there too? hahahaah!”

    Racism is the foundation where hate for everything is built. By her singling out one group to hate, foreshadows her ease to just about hate everyone. And if she “hates the Chinese” to only be a lone wolf, then she has issues with her own insecurity.

    I don’t hang with people who hate, it takes away from me what I hold precious, my integrity. I have little time and no need to build my ranks of friends.

    You love your friend, so maybe to show that you should educate on Racism. Not the Chinese, but the fact that her “hating” is going to leave her with no soul. Just like Dorian Gray’s portrait, what we see behind the facade is not a pretty picture.

    ophelia chong aka Uppity Chink

  2. gregorylent Says:

    racism is just a by-product of stupidity.

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