Real Simple’s Modern Manners columnist Catherine Newman explains how to deal with this hurtful situation.

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Q. Not long ago, a close friend (whom I’ll call Sally) started making incendiary racist remarks, including using the N-word. I’ve repeatedly asked her to stop making these comments, but she continues to do it. I have started distancing myself from Sally because I find the behavior intolerable, but I miss the good things about her. How should I handle this?


A. This is tough. But Sally has crossed the line, and you have to stand by your beliefs. When it comes to racism, I have a zero-tolerance policy. And here’s why: Stereotypes and derogatory expressions perpetuate discrimination. If you don’t speak out, then you are colluding in bigotry, whether or not that’s your intention.

You’ve already confronted Sally about her comments. Now try to educate her: “I know you don’t think racially insensitive remarks are a big deal, but they promote inequality and do real damage. I cannot abide them, and you shouldn’t either.” And if the offensive behavior continues? Say, “We’ve been friends for a long time, and I will miss your company. But if you keep making racial slurs, I will not be able to see you anymore.” Perhaps the prospect of losing you, if nothing else, will prompt her to change her outlook.

Catherine Newman

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