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What’s the best way for me to deal with friends who are being racist on Facebook? I don’t think of myself as racist, but it seems really tiring and unproductive for me to argue with my friends online about it.

It would be really easy for me to tell you to simply not have any racist friends, right? But even I know better than to do that. Even those of us with the best of intentions, who consider ourselves anti-racist may occasionally find ourselves dining in a Thai restaurant — like I did just the other night — with a friend loudly “riffing” (his word, not mine) about how car insurance companies probably offer higher premiums to Asian lady drivers than to white drivers, with Asian servers standing just yards away.

The thing is, friends say dumb racist and semi-racist shit sometimes and how we deal with those people and situations will vary according to our relationships with them and the context. Sometimes these statements are deliberate; sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes there are opportunities to sincerely connect with people and have intelligent conversations, but especially on social media, those opportunities are rare. Here are some things to keep in mind:

1) It’s all-too-easy to distance yourself from blatant racists while letting more subtle “jokes” pass by, unchecked.

Just like in real life, there is a full spectrum of racism online. It ranges from the impossible-to-ignore…

To the slightly more subtle…

 

People like Klansman 1865 are ridiculous, caricatures of human beings. This dude dresses in a sheet, follows an account called “HillBilly_Pride” and uses proper spelling and punctuation very inconsistently. (Side note: Although he has only 21 followers, Montel Williams is one of them.) This guy seems so extreme and like no one’s friend in reality that it’s easy to “other” these types of racists. Consequently, when you see someone like Envy Da Tropic post something equally offensive, it can often go undetected or even pass as a joke because it may not punch you in the face. Unacceptable.

2) Don’t always leave it to the affected demographics to call out fucked up shit.

When I respond to racist comments on social media using an avi clearly identifying my non-whiteness, the retort back is commonly “Oh, here we go!” The populations who are the subjects of “jokes” are often seen as being overly sensitive and/or not having a sense of humor. However, when we respond, it’s so interesting that the original content creators suddenly become the sensitive and defensive ones. So let me tell you something, just between us.

This can be exhausting.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am pretty consistently torn between what I see as my moral obligation to not let racism go by unnoticed and my “fuck it” misanthropic attitude that wants to send 99% of society down the toilet and let people just be the shitbags they’re destined to be. But something truly disheartening to me is when I see solely people of color responding to racist remarks. Last year I hosted an anti-racist forum in my city and one of the speakers said (much more eloquently than I will paraphrase here): “Why is it always the responsibility of people of color to educate white people about racism?” I trust that there are anti-racist whites who can speak to racism well. So freaking do it. Please. If I happened to see a racist tweet and then see all of the comments that challenged this tweet were solely from white people, I would put my phone down ever so gently, back away from it, tip-toe out of the room and happily go take a nap.

3) Even though social media is a place where people want to be heard and not a place where people want to listen, that doesn’t mean you should be silent.

I once ran an anti-racist Twitter account with the intention of “exposing” racist tweets. I thought, somehow, that retweeting horrible things that people were saying would somehow bring shame or embarrassment to these individuals. I mean, how could people say these things, right? Oh, how mistaken I was. Yes, there were the periodic individuals who would delete their tweets or respond defensively, but nine times out of ten, my manual retweet would be favorited or retweeted with a positive emoji appending it.

At the end of the day, social media is there to preach to that individual’s choir. Facebook is a place to show off your baby and your gun (and sometimes both in the same photo). When you want to change someone’s mind on social media, you might as well stand against a wall and yell at it with a bucket over your head, because that is the amount of control you have over the conversation.

That being said, I do think that it’s important for people to speak out consistently to reinforce the message that what people are saying is not okay, especially coming from people with whom they have relationships. But is it worth your energy or time to engage in back-and-forth flame wars with strangers or old high school classmates on social media? Probably not. Effective change most likely isn’t going to happen through a series of comments, especially if they are sparked by language that will cause defensiveness. But if you are truly concerned about a friend who has views that you are questioning, perhaps simply commenting “Do you really mean this? It’s racist, and I would hope you don’t mean to be that way” communicates that you’re not attacking the person and simply honestly questioning what they are posting.

Well, I hope that’s a start in helping you deal with racist friends on Facebook. Also, I hope you are not friends with Klansman1865.

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