Dear Miriam | Friend of a Friend’s Comments Create Discomfort

an eraser erasing the word racism on a chalkboard
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Dear Miriam, 

A friend of a friend recently made some overtly racist comments in front of me. I’m a white man, so she wasn’t directly insulting me, but her comments made me deeply uncomfortable nonetheless. I tried to push back while it was happening, but the circumstances didn’t really allow for much conversation. Now I’m being invited to hang out with her again, and I’m not sure whether to decline politely and move on, or whether to be clear about why I don’t want to see this person again. What should I do? 


Baffled Bystander 

Dear Bystander,

Lest anyone worry that I borrowed this question from the 1990 They Might Be Giants song, “Your Racist Friend,” I assure you this is a real question that was really submitted to me. Clearly, this is a timeless question spanning the decades, which means that in every generation we have the responsibility to confront racism wherever it appears. But what that confrontation looks like depends on the situation.

You don’t need to spend time with this racist again. In fact, I’d go so far as to say you shouldn’t, as your presence around this person could be seen as condoning her viewpoints. If she’s inviting you directly, politely declining seems like the way to go. You’re unlikely to cure her prejudice, and she’s not someone with whom you have a close relationship. However, if pressed for a reason, go ahead and say, “Your racist comments made me uncomfortable last time we hung out.” Don’t ever expect an invitation again after that.

If your friend issued the most recent invitation, though, I would encourage you to confront the situation more directly. Tell your friend what the other person said. Explain why these comments are harmful. Say that you can’t be around someone who is so willing to share these dangerous biases. Say that you’d like to know whether your friend would talk to the racist friend about why these comments are unacceptable, or whether your friend would reconsider including this person in future social gatherings. Based on your friend’s response, you can decide where to go from here with this whole social group.

This friend of a friend may have thought that a social setting was a fine place to let her real feelings out. By not giving her an audience, you’re helping to take at least a small step toward making racism something that simply won’t be tolerated.

Be well,



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