May 11, 2006

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Pinings: My racist friend
by Sherry Hughes sah103@hotmail.com

I have a friend who says things that make me uncomfortable. She uses language that she thinks makes her sound hip (I think) but it really only makes her seem racist -- to me anyway. She is white and I am Hispanic. She uses terms like “bro” and “what up girl?” and even stuff more slangy (that comes from gangsta rap). I don’t know whether to say anything to her because I really like her and she is very nice. I just don’t think she understands that it could be seen as patronizing or something to other people.
Angela

Dear Angela,
For everyone’s sake, say something. If you think it seems racist to you, it probably feels that way to others. In your most gentle manner, tell her what you just told me. Tell her that your friendship means a lot to you but that you need to be completely honest with her – and that she may find herself in a very difficult situation someday if she is careless with her words in front of others. If she uses the excuse that “everyone says stuff like that” tell her that it doesn’t matter what others do, that she is your friend and she is doing something that bothers you – for many reasons.

She is trying to fit in in some way and portraying herself to be someone she is not. Cooptation is the term I would use to describe this – although that might be a strong word. It means that often a certain part of a culture wants to take on parts of another culture. Some Native Americans feel as if their culture is coopted by others when they take on their spiritual beliefs. It’s insulting because these folks aren’t actually Native American, and don’t want to deal with some issues that Native Americans have to deal with: (racism, poverty, alcoholism, homelessness).

Your instincts are right on. Talk with your friend. .

Sherry Hughes welcomes letters from readers at sah103@hotmail.com


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