The “I have black friends” defense has long been a method of excusing racism, but the phrase also serves a second purpose: it’s a convenient self-absolution for white people who genuinely want to believe that centuries of systemic oppression and racism have left them singularly untouched and without a racist bone in their bodies. Just offering basic courtesies to non-white people and calling it friendship is still very much the only gesture a great many people make toward equality, and most of those people truly seem to believe that not being outwardly unpleasant is a contribution worthy of praise.
In her acceptance speech for the President’s Award during the 51st Annual NAACP Image Awards, Rihanna rightly told the audience to call bullshit on friends and people close to them who build a cache of non-white, LGBTQ, or women friends without concerning themselves with any of the struggles those friends face.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned is that we can only fix this world together,” Rihanna said, before adding that no problem singularly belongs to any one group. “We can’t let the de-sensitivity seep it, the if it’s your problem then it’s not mine: it’s a woman’s problem, it’s a black people problem, it’s a poor people problem. How many of us in this room have colleagues and partners and friends from other races, sexes, religions?”
She went on to point out that these friends are not actually friends if they don’t make efforts not just to understand the ongoing, daily oppression of marginalized groups but also the part their silence plays.
“Well then, you know, they want to break bread with you. They like you. This is their problem, too. So when we’re marching, and protesting, and posting about the Michael Brown Juniors and the Atatiana Jeffersons of the world, tell your friends to pull up.”
Pull up without being asked, but if Rihanna asks you directly, do what she fucking says.