Friendships emerge out of combinations of contexts, networks and histories. They can be short-lived or can last for decades. But what to do when those friendships become, well, problematic?

I’m talking about those friends who hold views that are antithetical to your own, but (presumably because they know your views) they don’t say them out loud, instead couching them in humor, their ‘ironic’ jokes just on or over the line on the way to full-blown racism/homophobia/etc.

It’s now a commonly said thing that we can disagree on pizza toppings but not on racism. To those of us trying to be anti-racist this is obvious. And it is easy in theory, but what about those friendships that have lasted so long that they seem like family. Or what if they are family?

I’ve found that subtlety worked for a while. When a friend complains about ‘those immigrants coming and stealing our jobs’, I’ve replied with a counter-argument and the conversation has moved on to something else. Then it hasn’t been raised again for a while until there’s some slip on their part and their views show through.

It’s definitely the case that several things have happened together that embolden people to hold racist or sexist thinking. Brexit, Trump and now a pandemic seem to give people license to speak openly. They’ll complain (to me) about the so called ‘culture war’, that ‘political correctness has gone mad’. I’ll disagree with them, we’ll move the conversation on to something else that binds us, our long histories together and shared interests holding the friendship there even as it feels to me that it’s fraying. It would be easy to blame their views on social media but they don’t necessarily use social media (although Youtube definitely has something to answer for).

Don’t get me wrong, if someone says something outright racist, sexist or homophobic/biphobic I call them out on it. But I’m wondering what to do when it’s less explicit and usually couched in some of that ‘anti-woke’ humor. This pandemic has shown me one thing: that friendships are important, that what little social contact we (can) have is meaningful in that it combats the cabin fever of staying home. As I said, friendships can be deep and long-lasting and based on something (seemingly) ‘non-political’. So what to do when they start to feel problematic. Making friends in a pandemic is difficult, but should we cut ties with our current friends or try to somehow change their views?

Genuinely interested in your ideas. I feel that ‘cut ties’ will be commonly suggested, but in that case, how to do so?

I’ve created a twitter thread on this post so please let me know

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2 comments

  1. I believe in the quote “we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.” Growing up in the arts made me aware of how some people’s outlook is just contrary to being creative. It’s hard to be a fearless performer if you’re surrounded by fearful conformists. For the past few years I’ve been on a journey to writing in a more vulnerable and honest way. That involves a mindset that gets shaken by snark and cynicism. So I just don’t make space for people who live in that mode. Plus, it’s OK for friendships to fade and end.

    1. Yeah I agree that it’s OK for friendships to fade and end. I feel it’s difficult now to make new friends other than online, partly (mostly?) because of the pandemic.

      You’re right that it’s important to surround yourself with people who are creative if you want to be creative yourself in an honest way. My creative urges have felt quite oppressed until recently, partly because of the environment I was in.

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