How Performative Friends Enable Racists

Updated: Jan 28

Recently a friend of mine brought up an unfortunate recurring event in her personal life. She noticed that a certain subset of her friends don’t invite her out to specific events that would put them in mixed company. As much as she holds these people close to her heart, it’s been eating at her that they seem to shy away from bringing her around their families and close friends including things like baby showers and parties. Unfortunately, she thinks she knows the reason why.

My friend is a Black woman and her friends are white women. My friend is also someone who, like me, doesn’t take racism lightly. For people like us, there’s no such thing as just a little amount of racism to not be bothered by. Racism is racism and needs to be dealt with on the spot. If someone is brazen enough to do something racist in front of you, especially towards you, then they should be brave enough to know why that’s not going to continue right then and there. Pleasantries go right out the window. But as a result, she feels that she’s persona non grata at close friend events even though they hang out pretty regularly outside of those things.

So I’m sure a bunch of you reading this have probably thought the next thing I’m going to say. “Obviously she’s a time bomb just waiting to go off at a moment's notice. I wouldn’t want her around ruining my events either! There’s a time and place for everything.”

And sure, that’s a way to look at it. I also happen to think if that’s the angle you’re coming from then maybe you guys aren’t really friends as much as you think you are, but instead, just a Performance Friend. Real friends stick up for each other, back each other up and keep each other comfortable to make sure everyone can enjoy the same things in peace. Also, if you’re mad at your friends calling out racists that you associate yourself with then maybe you don’t actually mind racists. And if that’s the case then we definitely aren’t friends.

You know how people in public office, especially government officials, keep popping up with documented racist history? It’s usually from a party of some sort or multiple parties where people got together, did something REALLY racist and then 10, 20, or 30 years later the world got to see that, “holy shit, it’s obvious you’re a racist because a person of color would’ve stopped you!” Instead, those people felt as though someone complaining about doing obviously racist things would ruin the vibes and, well, you get it. Unchecked racists eventually and always rear their heads.

Let’s take it back to letting racists slide on little stuff. Say you’re at one of your parties and everyone is having a good time, people are drinking and then suddenly somebody decides to call the only Black woman there a monkey as an off-handed comment to that person within earshot. When the Black woman confronts the racist, what is your choice? A) Side with the Black woman because you’re not going to tolerate that type of disrespect towards one of your friends or, B) side with the racist because the woman is causing a scene? How dare she demand to be treated with respect.

Here’s the thing about everyone who chose B: you’re an enabler of racism. Period. You’re the same type of person who stood by as atrocities happened down the street during the Civil Rights era and did nothing to stop it. The same people who complain about Kaepernick protesting. It’s always about time and place and no matter what that time or place is it’s always an inconvenience to you. You would rather they play nice at the time and wait to bring it up between the two of you so you can give a stern warning to the person so they’ll say they meant nothing by it and it was blown out of proportion. We know, it happens a lot. Again though, all you’re doing is prioritizing the comfort of a racist over your friend. You’re also showing that, not only will you not stick up for your friend in the moment, but there’s absolutely no way that you’re speaking kindly about them in private. When it’s go time, you stop. You’re not actually a friend, you’re a Performance Friend. Your friendship is fake at worst and an acting job at best. Congratulations, you’re the person that says, ‘I have a Black friend!’

On my end, I felt bad for her being in that situation because I do feel as though I associate myself with people who will not only stick up for me around people I may not know while I’m there, but will go to bat for me when I’m not there or others like me when they’re in a private group. I have white friends that will break up a boys club situation and yell at a racist when there’s nothing but white people around. I have white friends that will hold off on plans or events until I get there because it’s not the same without me. I have a couple of rare friends who I genuinely believe have my interests as a Black man at heart and we don’t even agree politically. I can have calm conversations with them, talk about our differences, and then also watch them talk someone they know down for coming at me wrong. I’ve been the only Black person in situations, not because I’m the token, but because others were invited and thought they might be the token instead but really, we were all invited. And I don’t say this as though I have some superior friend group because I’ve noticed some people shift and express their real views that put us at odds and so I backed away from them. If I don’t feel you’ll stick up for me when the time comes, I don’t want you around. I expect friends to act as a shield, not leave me wide open for attacks. Otherwise, I’m just performing by keeping you around as well and none of us need that. Let’s just call it what it is.

The revolution isn’t something that’s coming in some faraway future, it’s here now and a lot of people are failing as allies. People are showing up to doors right now, pulling us off the street right now, being racist to us right now in public, getting killed right now without being antagonized and somehow they think that they can just push racism back to the side for a bit. Do you ever think that things would be better without the racists showing up to begin with? You don’t have to stop the commotion if you don’t bring enable the person that causes it. But this is the job of a Performance Friend. Keep the peace and enable bad behavior. Tell your oppressed friends that you understand their plight but, you know, you don’t want any trouble.

Now go back and replace a racist with someone who makes disparaging remarks about gay people and your best friend is out. Imagine this being a misogynist who thinks women who are raped deserve it for dressing up to go out. Go back and replace the racist with a close family member. Hell, they’re probably one and the same. Who are you when it comes down to it? Are you a Performance Friend or are you a real one? The problem is that online a lot of you will pick the right scenario because it’s being told to you. You’ll post a comment in solidarity and when it comes to real-life you’ll pick identity politics over real friendship and action. And really, who does that help? I’ll tell you. It helps your friend that you’re supposed to be an ally towards know that you’re not on their side and so that alienates them. It helps show racists and bigots that they can be comfortable enough around you to never change or be held accountable. And for you? Well, I guess you’ve got a great party now that the person calling out shitty behavior wasn’t around.

Enjoy the press in 20 years when they find the pictures of whatever goes down that night. The best performance will be explaining to people how you didn’t know better at the time because there wasn’t anyone there to tell you any differently.

And scene.