WARNING: extremely offensive, racist language is used while quoting someone else (as well as cursing)
A few weeks ago, I was hanging out with a few friends and acquaintances – we were talking, laughing, and having a generally good time. We were sitting in a circle of various couches and chairs surrounding a coffee table. Then, someone at the party (let’s call this person J) got a text from another friend saying that a third friend (we’ll call this person Z) wanted to drive but had been drinking and would not listen to anyone who tried to tell them not to do it. Person J started complaining to everyone at the party that person Z always pulls stunts like this – they (I’m using “they” because I don’t want to reveal the gender identity of this person – I don’t want them to be recognizable in any way) always do really unsafe things, get really drunk and make stupid decisions, and they don’t listen to anyone else. Person J continued to say that they personally could not do anything to stop person Z because person Z is much stronger, taller, and very intimidating. Person J ranted about how they sometimes wished someone else could put person Z in their place, continuing with, “Sometimes I just wish a huge, fucking 300-pound Black dude would just rape [them]. Just to put this [person] in their fucking place, to get [them] to calm down.” Silence.
I was appalled. Shocked. Horrified. I had never heard such blatant racism. I definitely did not want to let that moment pass without drawing attention to person J’s incredibly racist statement, so I got off the couch and sat on the coffee table in front of person J. I also didn’t want to get the entire room involved in this conversation as I think that would have been too much to handle all at once. First, I said it was terrible to wish rape on anyone. Second, I asked why the aggressor had to be Black. Person J came back with some retort claiming that I was trying to call them a racist (I was) and that I was taking it too seriously (I was not) and that the person did not have to be Black, he could be “Italian or Indian or purple for all I care.” I told them that it’s fine to say that now, but when they were angry and wanted to teach person Z some kind of lesson, they thought the best person to do that would be a Black person. I thought this was a perfect (but awful) example of the association we make between Black people (especially Black men) and criminals, animals, and violence (and I shared this association with person J).
Person J then added that they were not a racist, even though their comment “may have been a little offensive” (said person J). I knew it would not have been productive to try to talk to person J about what being “racist” actually means, especially because they were not sober, but I think I at least got them to rethink what they said. I am glad I said SOMETHING, but I would have liked to say more. What would you have said to person J? I also have not followed up with person J, mostly because I am not close with them, but maybe that’s just an excuse… clearly, it’s still on my mind. Would you follow up with them? Or how have you navigated conversations about racism with acquaintances or strangers?