Michael Cohen called President Trump a racist in his congressional testimony on Wednesday. He claimed he had heard the president make several anti-black statements over the years, including Trump saying “that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid.”

In response, Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) brought out Lynne Patton, an African American business associate of the Trumps who is now working for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The congressman then went on to assert that “as a daughter of a man born in Birmingham, Ala., that there is no way that she would work for an individual who was racist.”

Meadows’s use of Patton to help insulate the president from charges of racism was repeatedly criticized by his Democratic colleagues through the remainder of the hearing. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) argued that “to prop up one member of our entire race of black people and say that that nullifies [racism] is totally insulting.” Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) also made the point that having a black friend does not absolve you of committing racist acts.

But Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) went the furthest in condemning Meadows, saying, “just because someone has a person of color, a black person working for them does not mean that they aren’t racist. … The fact that someone would actually use a prop, a black woman in this chamber, in this committee, is alone racist in itself.”

Meadows took great offense to Tlaib’s comments. He cited family members of color and his close personal friendship with the man chairing the hearings, African American Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), in response to what he interpreted as an allegation of racism.

Regardless of what you think of the racism accusations made against Trump and Meadows at Tuesday’s congressional hearing, there’s one point that simply can’t be said often enough.

Having a black friend doesn’t mean you don’t hold racist beliefs.

The data is crystal clear about this, too. In 2009, Pew asked nearly 1,500 white Americans whether words such as intelligent, law-abiding, honest, hard-working and generous described “most blacks.”

Not many whites in the survey took the overtly racist position of saying “most blacks” lacked those positive attributes. The responses ranged from 9 percent of whites who said “most blacks” aren’t intelligent to 20 percent who said most African Americans aren’t law-abiding or generous.


Source: Pew Racial Attitudes Survey (whites only), November 2009. Graph by Michael Tesler. (Michael Tesler/Michael Tesler)

Yet the vast majority of whites who expressed such explicitly racist views still said they had black friends. In fact, the graph above shows that roughly 9 out of 10 whites who think that most blacks aren’t intelligent, law-abiding, honest, hard-working and/or generous have African American friends.

Of course, there’s much more to racism in contemporary American society than thinking most blacks are lazy or unintelligent. But even that very narrow conceptualization of racism helps disproves the “black friend defense.”

Indeed, the data show that even whites with extremely racist views, such as thinking most blacks aren’t intelligent (essentially what Cohen testified Trump said), are still quite capable of having interracial friendships.

Read more:

What Trump’s attack on Spike Lee can teach us about racial attitudes — in 3 charts

Economic anxiety isn’t driving racial resentment. Racial resentment is driving racial anxiety.

Poll: Only 58 percent of Americans oppose blackface