To all who are not people of color (poc), when having a friendship with a black person or another poc, there are some things that are not okay to do, and having a poc friend does not excuse you for these behaviors. Here is a quick guide of 5 main things to avoid to not offend your friend or ruin your friendship.
- You are not allowed to touch and fondle their hair without permission. People are not petting zoo animals. I repeat people are not petting zoo animals. Although you may admire the gravity-defying afros or longer-than-life braids, ask for permission before touching their hair, as everyone has a sense of personal space and deserve to not be fondled unwillingly.
- Do not say stereotypical things around them believing they will confirm it. Everyone is curious about a race other than their own, but asking your friend to confirm or deny a stereotype is offensive. All people from a race are individuals, and your friend is not the spokesperson of their race. Asking them if every person of their race does a stereotypical act or likes a stereotypical thing is not curious, but prejudiced.
- You are not allowed to say racial jokes. No matter how close you are to your friend who is a poc, it is never (and I mean never) appropriate to crack a racial joke. These jokes stem from stereotypes that negatively portray an entire race, and many poc have worked their entire lives to defeat and counteract these offensive generalizations. Saying one of these jokes in front of your poc friend more than likely will offend them, and cause them to want to distance themselves from you.
- Do not attempt to separate them from their group. Telling a poc that they are not like the rest of their race not only isolates them, but strengthens stereotypes about their race. Saying “You’re not like other black/poc people” tells your friend that you are prejudiced and have a stereotype of their race, and that somehow they are different” than others. Many poc have already felt as if they were outsiders in their race, and your statement can cause inner turmoil within that person.
- And finally, and most importantly, Even though you are friends with a poc, you are still not allowed to say the n-word, or other poc slurs. Although your friend might not mind you saying these phrases, it can offend others of that race and can cause you to lose other poc friends, and even be labeled as a racist. These words have negative and vile histories, and although poc have reclaimed these words for ourselves, it is inappropriate for a non-poc to use these words.
Having a friendship with a poc can be an amazing experience, as we bring comradeship and lifelong partnerships, but respecting our culture, racial history, and personal boundaries are necessary to maintain the relationship and to not offend us. Think twice before you say a racial slur or other offenses, or you can lose a friendship forever.