I, like Daniel Radcliffe, have a lot of racist friends.
And if you went to a Flemish school, then you can say, without any doubt, that you have (had) a lot of racist friends as well. They would never admit it, because surely, they’re convinced that they’re not. They’re convinced that they’re good, tolerant, accepting people. And it goes without saying, that when I first befriended them, I didn’t know they were racist. Not knowing that I was an exception, I just assumed that if they were friends with me, then, logically, they weren’t racist. I was wrong.
I have a lot of racist friends.
I need to repeat it, because it’s something that you train yourself to ignore, when you live in Belgium. (Probably more, when you live in Flanders.) Because those racists are the people you see every day, those are your classmates, those are the ones who would help you move, who would lend you money, who would take you in if needed. They are amazing to you, and if you had to stick to people without any prejudice, you might end up all alone at school. So you train yourself to ignore that these friends, these amazing friends of yours, are racist.
And I admire people who erase all people with intolerant beliefs from their lives. I admire people who can do that, because I always put things in perspective: they’re not bad people, they just have bad ideas. They’re not bad people, they just believe the wrong things. They’re not bad people, they’re just unaware of the issues. No, they’re not bad people, but they’re racist.
I have been writing about intolerance (be it racism, Islamophobia, homophobia…) for a little while now. I am perfectly aware that it annoys some of my friends. I am perfectly aware that some think I’m exaggerating. I am aware that some simply pretend I’m not doing it, because, for some reason or another, it bothers them – and they don’t want to think about it, they don’t want to be confronted with it. And I am aware that some just don’t care because their lives are good, and other people’s circumstances don’t matter to them. I am aware of all of that, and I just ignore it.
And when I was still living in Flanders, I tried talking about some racist encounters I had had. I was told that they weren’t really racist, that that person didn’t mean it that way, that I shouldn’t take it that bad. So I told myself that I was maybe seeing things that weren’t there. After I moved back to Brussels, I talked about it again for the first time. People were shocked, people couldn’t believe how calm I had stayed during those encounters, people didn’t understand how I could laugh about it. Then it hit me: my friends weren’t empathetic with me, they were empathetic with the racist. My friends didn’t understand me, they understood the racist. My friends weren’t defending me, they were defending the racist. And maybe there is something wrong with that. But I just ignored that, as well.
Why? Because I love them. I ignore it all, because they’re really good to me, and they love me, possibly unconditionally (even though they might only love me this much because they consider me to be ‘worthy’). They have done things for me, that other non-racist friends have never done, and will never do. We have been through things that I will never go through with anyone else. I love them with all my heart, I love them so much that I just ignore it all. Every time they say something intolerant, I point out how wrong it is; but ultimately, I know that they don’t contradict me to not get into a debate, and that they still very much believe that intolerant thing they just said. Every time I walk in Ninove, I realize that half the people there voted for (extreme) right-wing parties, – knowing, in my heart, but also ignoring, that it means that half my friends also did. Every time I see their pictures on social media, I ignore the fact that they seriously lack diversity. Every time I read their posts, I ignore the fact that they don’t seem to be bothered by anything happening in the world, or simply outside of their lives. I ignore, I ignore, I ignore.
But it’s time to say that I wish I didn’t have to. It’s time to say that I wish that the friends I have had the longest would care about what happens to the world. That I wish they would understand what it was like to grow up as a black woman in a majorly racist country. That I wish they would care enough to try to. That I wish that I could affirm, with a 100% certainty, that my friends stand behind the dream I’ve had to change the world, to make it better, to eradicate all the forms of injustice. That I wish that they were simply bothered by the injustice present in the world, even if they don’t try to do anything about it. That I wish that I would know, with 100% certainty, that in this battle between me and racism, they stand by me. That I wish they wouldn’t vote for parties that want to deport all my non-Dutch-speaking family members. That I wish I could show them my articles without being afraid that I’ll lose their friendship. That I wish I could talk to them about politics without being afraid to have my heart broken (again). That I wish I didn’t have to put things in perspective, when it comes to them. That I wish that I didn’t (have to) tolerate their intolerance. It’s time to say that I wish that they weren’t part of the problem. It’s time to say that I wish that they weren’t, simply, objectively, sadly, racists.
In short: I have a lot of racist friends, and I’m sorry if you do too.