On the “nice racists” in our lives

by Ashia Ajani 

During lunch, where some of the most uncomfortable conversations take place, one of my peers brought up the death of Justice Scalia, who in my opinion, need not be spoken of anymore than necessary.

Despite Scalia’s bigotry, his history of habitually flunking Black students under his instruction when he was a law professor, anti-reproductive rights views and a whole slew of other no-nos, the only thing this person could say was “well, on reading some of the articles about his death, he seemed like a genuinely friendly, charismatic human being.”

As a Black queer woman, it has become increasingly harder to thrive in an environment that is so hell-bent on excusing the actions of racists and “politically incorrect” people. I eat lunch with them. I go to class with them. I see them on the streets, on the news and on social media.

This is not a new phenomenon: In 2013, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about “The Good, Racist People,” those who do not embody our modern concept of racists: blatant, monstrous beings who take pleasure in the subjugation of others, but fall under the category of “well meaning” people who just make mistakes, vote liberal and heartily believe that we live in a post-racial society.

On a large scale, people of all backgrounds are willing to eat it up; I call this “Nice Racist Syndrome.”

Nice Racist Syndrome is what allows Quentin Tarantino to consistently use the same Black actors in his movies, while simultaneously filling up the lines of non-Black actors with the n-word for shock value, and still get praised for his work.

It is what protects Taylor Swift from judgement while degrading Amber Rose in one fell swoop. It is in all of our mouths whenever we qualify a person’s faults with all of their redeeming qualities: “well, they are really nice,” “he paid for coffee once,” “she has a great sense of humor,” “they just made a mistake.”

“Nice Racists” are able to free their tongues punition, and, due to their charisma, still remain in good social standing.

A friend asked me where I draw the line; where I am able to forgive racist individuals and move past their faults. When confronted with this, I thought about the occurrences of the “nice racist apology.” The apologies of “Nice Racists” can be quite compelling.

As demonstrated by Paula Deen, all you really have to do is say sorry, assert that you are not racist, that you work with or talk to or know one Black person, and you’re golden. It is gotten to the point where I can never really tell if the apology is sincere or not.

Generally, the format of a well thought out apology starts with “I’m sorry”, follows up with an admittance of responsibility, leads into “I understand what I did was wrong because A, B and C” and closes with “this is how I will conduct myself better in the future.”

From all of the apologies I’ve seen and been compelled to endure personally, none of these follow this format, and I’m less than willing to consider them genuine. Putting faith in “Nice Racists” starts to become a drag after a while, because usually, there is always a follow up. Through enough of these encounters, I’ve finally learned how to respond with; “I forgive you,” instead of “It’s alright.”My mother constantly gets on me for surrounding myself with like-minded people and never branching out to meet people with opposing views. Most of my friends are liberal, most of them are women of color, and a good number of them are queer.

I purposefully built a support system that would allow me to express myself freely without constant repudiation. In my opinion, as long as their views do not have the potential to do me (black, queer, neurodivergent) serious harm, I welcome their company. We can bond together over all of the “nice racists” we’ve encountered in our lifetimes.

On the flipside, outside of my friend group, my views are challenged every day. I wake up ready to head into battle. I put on my sad queer girl smile and brave the world in all its nice racist glory. I myself am trying to remain strong in my ideology and not give in to the “Nice Racist Syndrome.”

I have said problematic things in the past, and will probably continue to say such things (either by accident or out of ignorance), and I expect to be corrected as such. I know that there are people out there who care enough, or at least are tired of suppressing their feelings, to call out problematic behavior and address the faults of another.

This timeline of give and receive, unfortunately, can only help those who are open to it.

The other day, a white man told me that it wasn’t fair to compare past histories to present action (or lack thereof). I suppose goodness has a timeline, too.