The Definitive List of Get-Out-of-Racism Free Cards

Image: Michael Harriot (The Root/GMG)

Last night, during a run, I looked up and enjoyed the view. The stars sparkled against the backdrop of the cloudless indigo night sky, allowing me to easily identify the Big Dipper and Orion’s Belt.

According to white people, I am now an astronomer.

Although I have resisted applying for Neil Degrasse-Tyson’s job, people who believe Morton’s is a seasoned salt often fail to understand that doing something racist is different from being a racist. And for many—if not most—white people in America, being accused of racism is a slanderous criticism that is somehow even worse than racism itself. To guard against this heinous form of abuse, white people have developed a coat of armor that automatically secretes excuses whenever an allegation of racism pierces their tissue-thin skin.

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The exchange between Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Rep Mark Meadows (R-N.C). during Michael Cohen’s appearance in front of Congress on Wednesday illustrates the point. If you missed it and aren’t on black Twitter, here’s a summary of what basically happened:

Everybody: Trump is a racist.

Mark Meadows: Trump is not a racist. And to prove it, I’m going to parade former wedding planner Lynne Patton, whom Trump hired to work at HUD. She will now stand here awkwardly, her black skin serving as a testament to the fact that Trump is not racist.

Rashida Tlaib: Wait ... Using a black woman as a prop is an act of racism.

Mark Meadows: I can’t be racist. I have defended a black person and there are people in color in my family!

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There is a preposterously popular belief that not only can white people define racism, but they can concoct—out of whole cloth—a scenario that absolves them from being called a racist.

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Here are the top 10 most-used racism deflector shields:

10. Your past proximity to people of color.

The people who use this usually grew up somewhere where there was a really light-skinned kid two blocks away on the edge of the black part of town. He was the “black community.”

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Growing up near black people does not mean that you understand the nuances of racism any more than growing up in a white neighborhood makes black people impervious to discrimination. If you believe your barrio-adjacent upbringing means you can wear a sombrero on Cinco de Mayo, you should let me perform open-heart surgery on you with a butter knife and barbecue tongs.

Don’t worry, I grew up near a hospital.

9. That one time you did something for a black person.

If you went to a Black Lives Matter march, volunteered in the “inner-city” or work for a nonprofit, sorry, is still possible for you to commit an act of racism.

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Or maybe there’s a secret white people card like they give out at coffeehouses and sandwich shops that entitles them to a free act of discrimination once they get five “I-was-nice-to-a-negro” stamps.

8. You Dated/Married someone who is not white.

A few days ago, The Root published a piece about Ashley Graham’s cringe-worthy incident on the Oscars red carpet when she asked Jason Momoa to perform his culture at her request. Many white people excused Graham’s actions because she is married to a black man.

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The belief that the antidote for racism is a single dose of white penis or vagina is a myth perpetuated by the safety-pin industry. It is possible to truly love someone of another race and still not understand them. Just as there are sexists who are married to women, there are racists who date and marry black people. Black men are fetishized and black women are beautiful as fuck. Everybody wants one.

I have a theory that a percentage of white women between the ages of 18 and 22 who date black men are only doing it so that one day, they can assure the world they “can’t be racist” because they dated a black dude in college. For some, interracial dating is like an internship that they can put in the “qualifications” section of their racism resumé.

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7. You’re “woke.”

Every time I hear a white person say the word “woke” I want to kick them to sleep.

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6. You’re also a person of color.

I use the term “person of color” sparingly because everyone is a person of color now. White Jewish people consider themselves people of color. People whose great grandfather emigrated from the part of Italy that is close to Africa consider themselves “of color.”

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All non-white people face discrimination in this country. Much of it is due to the fact that people of non-white heritage don’t enjoy the privilege of looking white. We should also acknowledge that white America uses a variety of tactics to marginalize people but, while all racism is evil, it is not all the same. Some people get it worse. And non-white people sometimes perpetuate racism.

Jeronimo Yanez, George Zimmerman and Peter Liang were all people of color.

Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin and Akai Gurley are still dead.

5. You’ve been discriminated against, too.

I have seen people shed bucketloads of white tears as they explained how black kids picked on them when they were in a majority black school. They will explain how they’ve always felt like an outsider because of their acne, their accent or something else that kept them out of the mainstream.

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They never understand how they are actually proving their own privilege by making this point. I would slice off my left earlobe with a toenail clipper I found on the floor of a rest stop bathroom for the chance to live a life so free from bigotry that a single, defining moment of discrimination was embedded in my memory.

Also, most of the time people use this excuse, it comes off as even more racist. When you explain that you know what it’s like being black because you were poor, you’ve been to jail, your father left you or you are unemployed, it kinda reveals what you think of black people.

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4. You have black people in your family.

Mark Meadows is not the first person I’ve heard say that he can’t be racist because he has people of color in his family. Trump says he’s not anti-Semitic because Jared Kushner, his son in law, is Jewish.

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I don’t even know what that means.

My daughter loves Tyler the Creator but I despise Tyler the Creator fans. I don’t even mind Tyler the Creator—just his fans. I also have a cousin who smokes crack, a best friend who still buys Yeezys, I’ve fallen in love with a woman who eats sardines and Shake & Bake chicken, and I have even hung around people who wear flip-flops. I still think all those people are trash.

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Except for the ones I love.

They’re some of the good ones.

3. You asked: “How could I be racist if ...”

If you hired someone who is black because they were the smartest or most qualified candidate it doesn’t absolve you of being a racist. Nor does being a huge fan of Lebron James or knowing all the words to a Beyoncé song. It simply means you’ve carved out space in your racism for exceptional circumstances.

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I’ve never understood the logic behind this but I’m hesitant to dismiss it out of hand because I always fear that I am going to be framed for a murder I didn’t commit. Every lawyer will probably refuse to defend me, forcing me to represent myself in court. If this happens, I plan to use the same kind of white logic and subpoena everyone I have ever met in my life (except for my mama. She doesn’t need to know about any of this).

I will only ask each witness one question when they take the stand: “Are you alive?” After they respond affirmatively, I will tell the judge: “No more questions your honor.”

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During my closing arguments, near the end of my impassioned defense, I will conclude by walking up to the jury box and saying, with all sincerity:

“How can I be a murderer if I didn’t kill all these people?”

I rest my case.

2. You don’t feel racist.

There are many white people who define racism as an unquenchable hate for any non-white person. They believe racism is a hormone that is secreted from a gland located near the heart and—as long as they don’t think every black throat should be slit—they shouldn’t be accused of racism

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Racism is not a feeling or an emotion. It the result of an action. And white people don’t get to define racism just like men don’t get to judge whether or not an act is sexist or straight people don’t get to judge if something is homophobic or not. Whether it was accidental or intentional you can’t can’t elbow someone in the throat and tell them to keep breathing, it’s not that bad. Only a mother has that privilege. After every whipping, my mama would tell me:

“Stop crying. It don’t hurt.”

1. One of your best friends is black.

The black friend is the most valuable of all get-out-of-racism free cards. Apparently, the 187th law of Thermodynamics says it is impossible to be racist if you have a black friend. There are nearly five times as many white people as there are black people but somehow, they all have a black friend.

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This mysterious “black friend” is never around when the white friend does something racist. I started calling the “black friend” bluff and I tell white people to dial their black friend’s number and put them on speakerphone but they never do it, which leads me to my final conspiracy theory:

All white people have the same “black friend.”

His name is Jonah, he has no facial hair and he never has a good edge-up because he goes to white barbershops. Jonah has all the white friends because Jonah is one of the “good ones.” He enjoys activities like hiking, shucking, jiving and he takes a pottery class on the weekend. Jonah is the vice president in charge of middle management at his firm and wears Dockers, a polo and Asics to work every day.

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Jonah’s favorite band is Imagine Dragons and his favorite movie used to be Crash until Green Book came out. Jonah was in a band once but he sprained his vocal cords by constantly removing the bass from his voice to make sure it never sounds threatening to his Caucasoid friends. He ends every single text message with “LOL.”

And Jonah loves white people. He lets them ask about black-on-black crime and he doesn’t even mind when they use the “hard R” when saying the n-word. Every October, Jonah attends a Halloween party where 24 percent of the partygoers wear blackface. He’s into white girls but—for some reason—white women don’t seem to be into Jonah (except for his college years). He doesn’t mind it when his friends tell off-color jokes because he knows that his buddies don’t see color.

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So the next time a white person presents a Get-Out-Of-Racism-Free card, do not let them pass Go. Do not collect $200. Call them a racist to their face and tell them a world-renowned astronomer said:

“Don’t let Jonah get you fucked up.”

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About the author

Michael Harriot

World-renowned wypipologist. Getter and doer of "it." Never reneged, never will. Last real negus alive.