The Underlying Truth About The "Black Friend Defense"

Ebony Edwards-Ellis
3 min readMar 1, 2019

Wednesday, while attempting to rebut Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony about Donald Trump’s racism, Rep. Mark Meadows, presented a black female employee of the Trump Organization as proof that Trump wasn’t racist.

Called out by multiple members of the congressional committee, Mark Meadows was reduced to near tears. He then claimed that his black nieces and nephews as well as his friendship with Rep. Elijah Cummings absolved him of accusations of racism.

Meadows' statement is the twenty-first century iteration of "some of my best friends are black"--a trite refutation of racial bigotry that has been decried, dissected, roundly mocked, and scornfully dismissed for decades. Even someone like Meadows, someone who continued to push the birther conspiracy long after President Obama released his long form birth certificate, should have realized how, well, corny, this statement was.

And the "black friend defense" completely glosses over the fact that it's possible to have close proximity with someone and still hold highly racist attitudes toward them. After all, the children of slaves and slaveholders often played together. Enslaved black women nursed the very children who would rule over them in a few years' time. White men enjoyed (usually non-consensual) sexual contact with enslaved black women, often fathering their children. On larger plantations, blacks (usually the mixed-race relatives of the white people) often worked in "the Big House" and lived in the servant quarters within. And, no, the white people who held these black people in bondage did not view them as friends. If slavery can teach us anything, it is that one can experience sustained--even intimate--contact with others without ever becoming their friends.

But Meadows "black friend defense" is also indicative of another frustrating reality — most white people, regardless of their racial attitudes, will never have a black friend.

Ebony Edwards-Ellis

Author of "Former First Lady" and "Memoir of a Royal Consort." Twitter provocateur, aspiring shut-in, and newly minted Roosevelt Islander.