Debate: Who is the Most Racist Character on Friends

By Glenn and Jake



Most good debates start out with a shocking proposition to grab the reader's attention and produce enough conflict to sustain a prolonged discussion. This one shall be no different: Friends, during its ten year run, was the best show on television. What made it so good? It was the writing, the set pieces and how much money the actors were paid per episode (which seemed like a lot at the time but wouldn't even cause most financial executives to bat an eye now). The only flaw in the show was the undercurrent of racism that flowed through the streams of the many marriages, crazy situations and season finales of those wonderful ten years. This begs the question of who the most racist character on Friends actually was. The only black character on the show, played by Aisha Tyler, dated both Ross and Joey. This gets them off the hook and leaves a thoughtful discussion to decide amongst Rachel, Monica, Phoebe and Chandler who was the most racist Friend.


Jake: I am not as familiar with this TV program as Glenn, but I have still seen a huge chunk of the episodes, even some toward the end with Paul Rudd. I think it is easy to exclude Joey and Ross, since they both dated Talk Soup's Aisha Tyler. On top of that, Ross also dated an Asian woman, when Rachel was about to tell him she has similar feelings for him at that airport. This leaves Monica, Rachel, Phoebe and Chandler. I would exclude Monica because she was never actively upset while Ross was dating more ethnic people. Now we know who isn't racist, but we are still left to wonder who is the most racist. This is where Glenn's expertise of Friends will trump my lesser knowledge of the show.

Chandler, as far as I know, never actively showed any racism. Yet, he did occasionally come off as homophobic because his father was a transvestite, which left him emotionally scarred. This perhaps opens him up to being a racist, but that's not for me to say. Phoebe and Rachel come from very different backgrounds. Rachel is a rich white woman who left her orthodontist fiance at the alter. Phoebe comes from a more impoverished upbringing and is more of a free spirit than Rachel. I would have to lean toward Rachel being the most racist, yet that is founded with a lack of any evidence. I would have to say, as of this point I am on the line between the two female characters. Let's see what Glenn has to say.

Glenn: The way Jake systematically analyzes the racial progressivity of these characters belies a crucial understanding of these Friends and life in general. Of course it's easy to label Rachel as the most racist and I don't necessarily disagree. After all, she's from the wealthiest background and has never shown any interest in social justice or cultures other than her own. Unlike certain writers on this website, I don't want to draw the conclusion of racism from her lack of black friends. If I were to label Rachel the most racist it would have to be because of the episode where she expresses support for David Duke's 1996 US Senate run in Lousiana - "The One At the Big Easy" - and her aforementioned ignorance on diversity issues. She, after all, hired good looking assistant Tag instead of numerous other qualified minority candidates.

None of this is to say Rachel is clearly the most racist. Jake is right in that Chandler never showed any racism. Why I posit he might be the most racist Friend is something that hits closer to home. Other than Ross's passion for science, evolution and need to be right, I find myself relating to Chandler the most of all the characters. If Chandler is me - MINUS the liberal transformation and sociology background from ages 17-20 - he might also have the complex feelings about race that I once did. I'm not admitting that I ever wrote letters to James Earl Ray in prison, just that once while driving during broad daylight in Harlem, NY with my father he told us all to "lock our doors." This "fear of all blacks" mentality, in someone else's life (ie Chandler's), might just produce some honest to goodness racism.

Jake: One point can be made about Rachel not being racist. She dated the ethnic Paolo in season 1 and in an episode of season 2. No matter how many searches I do on Google I cannot find where Paolo is from, but it's possibly somewhere in South America. In a particularly hard-hitting episode Paolo goes to Phoebe to get a massage. While getting the massage, Paolo got a boner, which is natural even if it was from Lisa Kudrow. Phoebe was absolutely disgusted by Paolo's throbbing member. The question is: was she disgusted because he was having a fling with Rachel or because he is not quite white. I would say it's a combination of the two. No matter how liberal Phoebe seems (even going as far as carrying her brother's babies as a surrogate mother) this simple moment looms over her head like a halo made out of racism. I say that Phoebe is the most racist Friends character.

Glenn: I totally get where Jake is coming from by thinking Phoebe is the most racist character. Think about her biggest interests: massaging, not believing in evolution, psychics and playing the guitar. None of these things have any place in black culture. It can't be a mistake that she decides to devote her life to things that have no relevance to other races. What we've all forgotten about in this debate is Monica! Jake dismissed Monica at the beginning because she was comfortable with Ross dating an Asian and a black woman. This was part of Monica's plan to be considered racially progressive, no doubt. But what of her feeling towards the Palestinians and possibly Arabs in general? Judging by her TV father Elliot Gould and her obsession with money, we can suspect that Monica is probably Jewish. Though she never outright said it, we have to assume that as a Northeastern Jew with little concern for people of other races or ethnicities that she doesn't care about the plight of the Palestinian people. If she indeed supports the Israeli occupation of Palestine, the mass slaughter of innocent civilians in Gaza, Lebanon, et cetera, than she truly is the biggest racist of them all. Once you dehumanize an entire group of people you cease your claim as a moral member of our society.

Jake: I think we can wrap this "debate" up. When we began this, we knew it was going to be different from the previous debates. It really was a discussion more than an argument. Some may argue that we could have easily turned this into an article instead of our weekly featured debate. Those people may just be right. What we can learn from this is that Phoebe is the most racist character on the "must-see" tv show Friends, yet there may be some questions in regard to Monica's racial acceptance. Even with the questions posed by Glenn's last point about Monica, I think we can still agree that Phoebe is more racist than her. I also believe we can all agree that the entire TV show is essentially racist for taking place in New York and not featuring any cast members or reoccurring characters, minus Aisha Tyler, that are not white. Even Martin had White Mike.

Next week we're going to pick a more hot button topic, so if you have any suggestions, make sure to leave a comment. Even if you don't have suggestions leave us a comment and give us some validation. That validation is the only thing keeping the gun out of our mouths.

26 comments:

  1. i've seen maybe two episodes of "friends" in my life and they sucked. this debate/article didn't suck though. i think everyone on "friends" was racist--and maybe even glenn! guitars have no place in black culture?!?1? HAVE YOU EVER LISTENED TO THE BLUES?!?!

    this was really great though, guys.

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  2. Maddie if you want to be exposed as the person I referred to in this debate re: black friends, keep it up.

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  3. oh wow, i missed that the first time around. how lovely! i'd like to say so many things right now but i'm biting my tongue.

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  4. I love when you two go at it like this. It makes me laugh so hard.

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  5. This was my favorite debate of the year. Jake's sophisticated psycho-socio-cultural analysis of Friends characters' racial motivations demonstrated a level of insight into the human mind approached by only the foremost social critics of the past 100 years - Mencken, Capote, Foster Wallace etc. I am granting, in my capacity as Dean Awesome, an honorary PhD to Jake in the field of Racism Detection. I also like when Glenn makes made up accusations of racism.

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  6. i <3 this debate so very much. however, i think a few people would have something to say to the idea of guitars having no place in black culture- besides the blues greats, how about jimmi hendrix, bob and ziggy marley, and lil' wayne?

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  7. While I enjoyed this discussion, I was upset by the constant declaration that [insert character]'s lack of social black circles identified them as a racist. Not because that's not absolutely true, but you both at least once point blank made this about being adverse to black culture.

    I do appreciate that you mentioned some other ethnicities and made their understated plights minutely more known, but all in all I found your scope of racism limited.

    This was a great idea for a debate, but I think it required more props to Jews.

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  8. Jewish isn't a race, it's a religion.

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  9. Physics doesn't have a place in black culture? Hello! How many times has Neil De Grasse Tyson been on the Colbert Report and Daily Show? And then Colbert had another black astro-physicist on last week! There are at least two!

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  10. everything about this is so funny. i just reread it cos it's in the best of section now.

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  11. This is my favorite debate so far.

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  12. I know this is a few months old, but it seems clear to me that Chandler is the most racist. Recall the story arc where they went to the Caribbean for some paleontology conference Ross was attending. The humidity makes Monica's hair turn very frizzy, leaving dreadlocks as her only option for a hair style. Chandler repeatedly mocks her for this and clearly finds her hair unattractive, which hints that he probably would not find a black woman with naturally "kinky" hair to be attractive either.

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  13. Jesus H Christ, what a pointless debate. Which of these fictional people is the most racist? What the hell have you proved other than between you you clearly have too much time to debate trivial questions rather than debate an actual issue. Next week: Which character from Seinfeld is the most homophobic?

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  14. Part of its humor is that it's pointless. Get it?

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  15. Nope, because apart from some questionable responses below i'm pretty sure you've discovered that no-one's racist (Apart from possibly Glenn and almost certainly Maddie)

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  16. haha, glenn, look what you've done! now anonymous people think i'm racist!

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  17. Haha, sorry guys. I just got really mad at your wasting time while I was reading through months old blog posts on a blog no one reads. BTW, you're all racist, and Elaine is def. the most homophobic

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  18. I always knew a year old debate about a show that's been off the air since 2004 would be OYIT's ticket to fame and glory.

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  19. Chandler. On a the episode with Aisha,when Monica's hair frizzed up into an afro Chandler refered to her as Buckwheat and was acting utterly disgusted with her. And when she got her hair cornrowed, he acted very condescending towards her.

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  20. If anything the show declared to people that even though our races have a bad history we can still co-inhabit this planet & live amongst each other in peace. It shows black as deserving their place as firemen, athletes, intellectuals, academics, lawyers. In fact if anything there's a positive message here. I will in fact make a claim though which I don't think anyone's given much thought to: none of the main female cast ever went out with a black dude. Call it what you will. In the Candy episode that black guy hit on Monica, she seemed flattered by this comment as she smiled after he sed "you live in this building? Mm! Seems like I'da remembered you!", therefore she can't be racist. Chandlers line: "so you're telling me I have to tell racist jokes now?" (This was said because Rachel overheard Monica & chandlers secret phone conversation but put the phone down before she heard the rest of the final word & Monica claimed she ended the call with "Mr Biggot", as opposed to Rachel's claim: "Mr Big"). Therefore this could mean in the reality of Friends chandler could have told a few racist jokes in the company of Rachel; yet this does not mean he was racist, instead it could mean he was simply making sure his & Monica's clandestine affair didn't sink so that everyone found out. And Joey probably has learning difficulties, so in my opinion he's completely ruled out by default, as generally he's coherent enough to understand morals & principles. Not sure if that point needs to be there but I don't care, lol! :P so there ya go. Enjoy.

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  21. if I'm not wrong, it does say on a few occasions that Paolo is from Italy, so dating him doesn't really make Rachel non-racist! It's quite difficult to figure our who's the most racist as there aren't enough evidences to substantiate that point, but in the first look what's most evident is that Ross is the most non-racist among the group. He dated a black woman, an Asian woman, dated another black woman (actually, double dated with Joey), worked in a museum that employed several people from different ethnicity, stood up for a change in lunchroom seating arrangement when Joey wasn't happy with the existing one (not much relevant to race but shows his willingness to accept) and above all he's the most educated of the lot.

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  22. the more i think i can see why you'd want to call Rachel the most racist, but over the 10 yr period she never once mentioned race. The closest she got was when she mocked the Greek accent and about somebody calling her Raki! Chandler's annoyance with his trans dad and his reaction everytime someone calls him gay can be coined homophobic but as far as racism goes, he hasn't said enough to be called racist. He joked about races on a few occasions but without offending anyone's feelings.

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  23. i've watched all 10 episodes several times and i got to say the creators have taken extreme care when it comes to racism and i'd call F.R.I.E.N.D.S the longest running non-racist show in television history! Even though none of the characters are evidently racist, just judging by the personality and behavior one recurring character might actually be a keen racist; and that'll be Dr.Green, Rachel's father. Throughout the show he's shown as a mean, insensitive man who's visibly difficult to handle. He disliked Ross because he worked at a museum, he went straight to Ross' apartment when he knew about the pregnancy without even having a proper chat with his daughter, he treated restaurant waiters with disrespect (everyone, infact, as per Rachel in one of the episodes), etc. Even though none of these are actually racist and he treated everyone alike, his character is probably the closest to being racist out of all.

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