In a recent interview with the Hollywood Reporter, actor Daniel Radcliffe said, “I know some really f***king racist people, friends I vehemently disagree with.” He continued, “They’re not white supremacists, they would never be that extreme, but they are anti-immigration … I’m still friends with them because I don’t think that friendship should be drawn along those lines.” This comment by the Harry Potter actor has drawn serious criticism in the last few days.
Many people disagree with Radcliffe, declaring that such values and beliefs should be considered in friendships, and one shouldn’t remain friends with someone with who they “vehemently disagree.”
I agree that it is not fair to chalk up racism (or any form of bigotry) as a difference of opinions or opposing world views. You don’t disagree about who was the best world leader or the efficacy of an economic policy, you disagree about the inherent value of a person. A belief that has gravely impacted people of colour for generations.
So you disagree with a dear friend. You don’t condone their views because you are a progressive, liberal citizen who values all beings equally. What do you do?
It’s understandable to want to remain friends with someone, even if you don’t see eye to eye: It’s human nature to want to stay close with a loved one. And the problem isn’t with the actual friendship, but what that friendship creates. That continued friendship is acquiescence, complicity, and willful ignorance. That friendship is the perpetuation of a detrimental belief system, and complacency in the face of racism.
Every time a friend says a racial slur and you don’t challenge it, we go one step backwards in the civil rights movement. Every time your friend makes a racist ‘joke’ and you give a little chuckle, it adds another nail in the coffin. If you are a true ally, if you care enough about ending racism, you cannot be complacent.
Bottom line: it is a privilege of white people to continue friendships with individuals who perpetuate racism. People of colour don't have this privilege because they have to remove themselves from such relationships as a survival mechanism. To get through their daily struggle of life, people of colour need to separate themselves from individuals who fetishize, tokenize or demean their people. They can no longer handle choosing to react as the ‘angry black woman’ or keep quiet and effectually condone such beliefs. Severing ties, which often comes with difficult ramifications, is a necessity for people of colour who want to stay strong in a society that tears them down.
The privilege for white people, or anyone not directly impacted by specific bigotry, is the ability to move on. I can be friends with someone who rages on and on about “dirty natives” at the bar, and I can think to myself “That’s horrible. I do not agree. I am better than that: I accept everyone.” I can even approach my friend and tell them I disagree and why. But at the end of the day, if we can’t see eye to eye and we agree to disagree, that is a privilege. It is a privilege for me, as a European settler, to be able to set aside an issue of race. I am not directly impacted by this person’s beliefs, so we can continue our friendship and ignore that topic. We, together, can ignore systemic racism.
Some critics have said that one’s admission that the beliefs of their friends are not enough to make one consider breaking ties is part of a larger conversation about what it means to be an ally. They say it’s not enough to disagree; you have to do something.
I disagree with this sentiment. I believe disagreeing in and of itself is doing something, if in fact that disagreement is out loud. Of course, nothing changes if you stay silent. Silently disagreeing accomplishes just as much as silently agreeing or ignoring the issue. But actively disagreeing with your friend is a bold move. It is a very difficult thing for a person to so blatantly disagree. It takes great courage to confront a loved one and tell them your disagree with their values, or that you are offended by their beliefs. That is not an easy conversation to have.
It is the responsibility of white people to call out other white people on their bullshit: black people have had to do that for far too long.
And in fact, calling out a friend, or sitting them down to explain why you disagree with their views, can create tangible change. Not always, but sometimes, people hold a view simply because that is what they’ve been taught or that is the common dialogue in their circles. Sharing your perspective, broadening their worldview, can often make a big difference.
So when do you drop your racist friend? That is up to you.
If you are the type of person, or are in a certain type of relationship, where you can’t see yourself confronting your friend about their beliefs, then maybe it is best to walk away.
But if you value the friendship enough, love that person enough, you can choose to take them under your wing and educate them on why their beliefs are harmful, why jokes are never just jokes, and thoughts often permeate into actions.
Walking away from a friendship because that person is a bigot is a bold move and sometimes the only option, but in my opinion this creates little positive change. Abandoning a friend will simply upset them. Talking with a friend shows you care enough to try to make the friendship work and are willing to fight the good fight alongside people of colour. If, after many moons of trying to change their viewpoint you are unsuccessful, then perhaps it is time to walk away from that relationship.
But whatever you do, don’t let your racist friend go unchallenged. Because if you ignore them or remain silent, you’re not much better than they are.