By ALEX BARNETT
Not long ago, I was having dinner with a buddy of mine and a work colleague of his. Both men are very educated. Both are very progressive politically. Both are white. Ordinarily, their race wouldn’t matter, but it does for this story.
We were enjoying dinner and the conversation when my buddy started to say something racist. I knew this because as he got to the part of the story that involved Black people, he lowered his voice, looked around, and said: “You know, they’re Black.”
If you ever wanted to know whether racism still exists, that’s how you know—it’s the fact that there still are white people who will look around and whisper when they say “Black people.” It’s kind of the way people whisper when they say “cancer” or “death,” which kind of gives you a sense of how some White people feel about Black people.
Meantime, after my buddy whispered “Black” he looked at me and said, “I can’t talk about it. But Alex can. His wife’s Black. He gets a pass.”
Because I’m married to a Black woman I get a pass?! I can just say whatever racist sh*t I want, and then just pull out my pass, and everything’s fine? As if being married to a Black woman is the racial equivalent of having a PBA card that gets me out of speeding tickets? Or, is it more akin to being TSA pre-approved to go through airport security? I can just walk up to a bunch of Black people, and say: “Hey my N-Words!” and they’ll respond: “Hey Alex! What’s up?! Go on ahead. No problem.”
My buddy didn’t actually say anything racist. He said that Black people were Black. Which isn’t racist, except it is, because in his mind “Black” equals “N-Word.”
What’s even worse is that he said, “Alex gets a pass” with envy. Like he’s thinking, “You’re so lucky. You get to be racist out loud. I gotta be nice. I gotta treat those people with dignity as if they were regular people and not — you know, . . . [whispered inaudible racist remark].”
After that, I had to sit there and act like nothing happened. Even though I’m looking at this guy who I thought was my friend, and thinking if my Biracial son was 15 and not 3, and he walked by here in a hoodie, this guy – my friend – wouldn’t say “Hey, remember me?! I’m your dad’s friend. I met you when you were just a little toddler.” No, instead, he’d clutch his wallet, cross the street, and get ready to call the authorities because of a “suspicious character.”
As much as that angered me, I was also terribly disappointed and demoralized. With the issues of racism and racial dynamics that still pervade in our society, it’d be nice to think that we could have open and honest conversations about the topic. As a person in a multiracial family (a White dad of a Biracial son), I’m particularly interested in this kind of conversation. But, as I sat there listening to my friend, I just felt discouraged because I realized as I looked at this man who when he said he didn’t have “a pass” to talk about race, what he meant is that he didn’t think he could talk about race except in racist ways. How can you have an open and honest conversation about race if people can’t get beyond their own racism?
Thing is, even after this episode, I don’t necessarily think my friend is a racist as that term is traditionally used. I’ve known the man for a long time, and he is a good man as that term is traditionally used. That said, I can’t help but wonder how much racial bias he harbors. Eventually, we may or may not discuss the incident. All I know is that right now I’m not in any particular hurry to give him a pass.
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Alex Barnett is the white, Jewish husband of a Black woman (who converted to Judaism) and the father of a three-year-old Biracial son. His writings and his comedy work focus on the challenges of being a parent in a bad economy and the issues that confront interracial families. Check out Alex’s work at AlexBarnettComic.com, or visit him on Facebook or on Twitter @BarnettComic.
Photo credit: US_Mission_Uganda/Flickr