A Sobering Experience

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?

4 thoughts on “A Sobering Experience

  1. WOW. That was pretty shocking. Honestly, i do not know what i would have done in that situation. I feel like i am still pretty new with feeling comfortable enough to talk about these issues so i would have been terrified. But i think what you did was great. You got person J to stop and think, and i think that is the most important thing. He/ she tried to use the rhetorical device that “They are not racist” but that was clearly a racist comment, so it was great that you asked them, “Why a black person.” I can’t believe they would honestly wish rape on one of their friends. I think i also would have brought up the association of black people with crime, and explained to them that comments like that are only reinforcing the stereotype to other people. But since person J was drunk, i might have tried to continue the conversation at another time to make sure that they understood the implications of the comment.

  2. What an awful thing to say, for so many reasons. Good job starting a conversation with the person who made that remark. I think you did a great job!

    I thought your analysis of the stereotypes this person was using was spot-on. I also want to add that there is a history to white people falsely accusing black men of rape and lynching them for the fabricated crime. This was especially frequent in the South in the late 19th century. It’s possible that this historical association slipped in as well.

    I’m also curious as to the effects of drunkenness on implicit racism. Do you think people’s conscious egalitarian values give way more easily to racially biased implicit attitudes?

  3. Wow! Reading your post was shocking that someone could actually say something like that, even out of such anger. Good for you for speaking up and trying to explain to this person everything wrong that he said. It can be awkward trying to tell someone that they are wrong or need to reevaluate what they had just said. You did a great job in talking to this person about the comment that he made. I think if it were me, I would have approached it in a very similar manner as you did. When it comes to following up with this person, I like to think that i definitely would follow up with this person to make sure that they understand, but I’m not really sure I actually would do that. Sometimes confrontations like that, with people who do not really understand or unwilling to understand can be very awkward.

  4. My mouth is literally wide open as I read this post. Firstly, I seriously commend you for speaking up. It is not always easy to find the nerve to speak up as well as get your point across the way you want to. I am also seriously shocked that somebody could make a statement that is so loaded with issues, from blackness and criminals to rape. It is hard to know which concept to tackle first – the blatant racism or the horrible notion of wishing rape on somebody to “set them straight”. I can’t say that I know, if it were me, whether I would follow up or not. It would take a kind of courage I am not convinced I regularly have. But it does leave me with a deep desire for this person to understand what they are saying and why they are, in my opinion, unequivocally wrong in saying it.

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