Calling all white people, part 23: No hostage-taking please

Calling All White People, Part 23

(A periodic attempt to mobilize white people for something other than supporting just other melanin-deficient folks and maintaining a status quo of a nation geared toward whiteness as the baseline and the norm)

By An Average White Guy

TODAY’S EPISODE: Don’t hold people of color hostage to your oversensitivity  

[To find other installments of “Calling All White People,” click here]

Has it long been your dream to hold a gun to someone’s head or a knife to their throat and force them to do something?

Have you longed to kidnap someone and then demand a ransom for their safe release?

Do you have a deep and burning desire to extort someone who has done you absolutely no harm?

If the answers to any of these questions is “yes” I cannot imagine you’ve cared what I’ve had to say in 22 previous “Calling all white people” columns here but hey, rhetorical questions for the snappy intro, right?

The impetus for these three stark questions comes from BGIM’s most recent post on this site, “A little bit of this, a little of that” (yes, I know, one of my columns recently was also inspired by one of her posts; I promise this won’t be a regular new trend). Around halfway through that post, she noted:

A few days ago, I shared a piece over on the BGIM Facebook page by a fellow blogger that admittedly had an inflammatory title but which I believed had the ability to stimulate a deeper discussion. Instead, the conversation was derailed by individuals who believed that I was issuing a call to kill old white people despite never saying such a thing. I lost a day to a slew of messages from individuals expressing their disappointment in me and in some cases threatening to pull their support. The most fascinating part of this was that I did not write the piece, It was written by a middle-aged white man who is on his own journey of grappling with white supremacy.

Being aware of the story she shared and its admittedly provocative headline (and the fact that the writer of the story she shared was a white man dealing with his own attempts to confront racism in himself and the world)—plus being both nosy and concerned—I of course asked BGIM if she would be willing to share a bit more about what the hell happened.

One of the most shocking things about BGIM’s response to me was to discover how one particular irritating and pesky complainer had essentially (to paraphrase) said the following:

Not only am I bothered by the headline of the article you shared (ignoring entirely the actual content and intent of the piece) but you have a strong voice and have power in the world to shape opinions, BGIM, and so you should be careful what you say. Because if you make white people uncomfortable, we might not want to be allies and we won’t give you money.

Wow. I hope that most of you can see that’s a form of extortion—a kind of holding hostage of BGIM. And it’s not just against BGIM, of course; it’s the kind of thing said often to many who fight against social inequities or are activists. Don’t be too harsh with those of us who are part of the group primarily oppressing you. Don’t be too blunt. Don’t make us feel bad. Don’t make us consider our own flaws. Don’t do anything that would make this social justice thing feel icky. Make us feel good that we are even listening to you and maybe sort of caring a little or we will abandon you—or maybe even go to the other side to spite you.

First off, folks, is there really any warm and fuzzy way to make people confront racism and other nasty -isms, especially when their friends, family and probably they themselves are doing racist and bigoted things both big and small—probably multiple times a day?

The very subject matter is uncomfortable. We need to feel uncomfortable. Who among us is generally willing to change our bad habits or obnoxious behaviors to which we have become accustomed unless we are made to question those actions and realize others find them alarming or objectionable?

I am deeply offended by the notion of people who think themselves allies of Black people or Native American people or women or LGBTQ people or whomever and then make demands that they be treated with special delicacy or extra affection. They want head-pats, they want “ally cookies,” they want to be told they’re different from the bigots, they want to be given permission to say things like the n-word, etc. etc. etc. That’s not allyship; that’s performance. It’s a sham.

I don’t (usually) treat people with decency so that they will thank me. To do so makes the entire act an illusion—it makes it a narcissistic, self-serving bit of theater. Handing someone a gift I know is made out of something toxic but smiling while I do it.

To tell people of color or any marginalized or abused group of people to make their allies feel good and also to present their wider message to the public more nicely so that they don’t turn off people who are on the fence or anger people who were never going to stand with them anyway is an act of social and personal terrorism. You are basically holding that person hostage with an implied (or not-so-subtle much of the time) threat that you will harm them if they don’t do things in a toned-down, whitewashed way that you prefer. To be honest, that makes you one of the enemies of social justice. You don’t really want equity or change. You want capitulation and assimilation. You want people on the margins to toe the line, know their place and do what you say.

You just don’t want to hurt them quite as badly as the outright evil people.

That doesn’t make you a hero. It doesn’t even make you a decent person.

It makes you a somewhat reluctant but still willing henchman to the big, bad villain.

If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.

Calling all white people, part 22: Trust and believe

Calling All White People, Part 22

(A periodic attempt to mobilize white people for something other than supporting just other melanin-deficient folks and maintaining a status quo of a nation geared toward whiteness as the baseline and the norm)

By An Average White Guy

TODAY’S EPISODE: When people of color says it’s racist, start with trusting them  

[To find other installments of “Calling All White People,” click here]

Back in June, I wrote a piece for BGIM Media titled “Devil’s advocate deviltry” in which I called out our tendency as white people to often question Black people and other people of color (or people who aren’t part of other marginalized groups questioning people from those groups) when they say that they have been victims of discrimination, oppression and other mistreatment by more dominant groups (like white people).

It’s a terrible habit, and this post is a bit of a follow-on to that one.

So, I pose a question to you, my fellow white people: Do you find yourself questioning the experiences of people of color when they say they’ve been mistreated? Even something you might see as “innocent” like saying to them, “Are you sure that was a racist act?”

Because let’s face it: When you do that, you are literally questioning someone else’s reality based almost always on you having no personal context and no personal experience with that reality.

If a friend or family member says they are being undermined or overworked by a boss or supervisor or if a woman you know says she’s been sexually harassed, do you immediately challenge them, even mildly? Probably not. You start with trust. You believe what they say is either true or that they have good reason to believe they are being mistreated in a way that others are not in the environment or situation in question. As you get more information, you might have reason to pose questions or say, “But are you reading that situation right?” but you don’t start off questioning them.


That’s the key. If you like or love or respect a person, you begin with trust, listening and a willingness to see their side.

But too often even the “well meaning” white people ask: Was that really racist? We shouldn’t do that. When we are not in another person’s shoes and do not have their lifelong experiences, we ought not to be questioning their perceptions and insights out of hand.

Does this mean that people of color and people in other marginalized groups are always right about their negative experiences and their belief that their treatment stems from racism, bigotry, homophobia, sexism and other such things? Of course not. But the vast, vast majority of the time they are right, because they have been through it time and time again.

Let me give you an example, though, to illustrate I’m fair about this and not simply beating on my fellow white people. Imagine the following scenario:

You drive a Black friend to a big-box chain store because they need to pop in quickly and buy something; you wait in the car. The person comes out of the store, visibly upset and empty-handed.

Them: I’m never shopping at this store or any of their other stores again. The cashier ignored me like I wasn’t there and treated my with total disrespect.

You: Oh my god. And the manager backed them up?

Them: I didn’t go to the manager; I was so angry and humiliated.

You: Then why are you going to boycott this store, much less the whole chain?

Imagine the conversation getting uncomfortable at that point. Your Black friend is angry at their mistreatment, and now angry at you for questioning them at all on their actions. However, an hour or two later when they’ve calmed down they realize they overreacted—not about the mistreatment, mind you, but about their larger response to it.

If this seems a very specific scenario, it’s because it happened to me several years ago. It is an example of a Black person overreacting, but there are some important caveats here to point out, because it’s not meant to be an excuse for you to question people or color about their encounters with racism without awfully good reason.

  • I never questioned that the worker had been racist in their actions; only that the lack of going to a manager and the jump to a chain-wide boycott made no sense based on one worker or even one store.
  • I didn’t even question the decision not to seek out a manager; I could tell my friend was rattled and upset. When you finally have an experience that is the proverbial last straw on the camel’s back that break the spine, you might not want to cause a scene or rehash the experience with another person either.
  • This is the only time I can recall in my life in which I actually had a reason to question a person of color legitimately on how they responded (again, not about whether they were right, because I didn’t witness the interaction and I trusted my friend on their assessment that it was racially motivated).

Let that sink in; re-read it if you need to.

Black people and other people of color experience bigoted behaviors all the time, and because they are outnumbered, often out-powered and typically given less benefit of the doubt by the white people around them compared to white people—well, they know the signs.

Absent any clear reason why they are misreading a situation, we shouldn’t be jumping to conclusions based on our white experiences (and even with clear reasons, we must proceed carefully if at all), because we are given more latitude and more benefit of the doubt and overall better treatment. For the overwhelming majority of us white people, our skin color never automatically puts us in an under-privileged and vulnerable position.

And frankly, even when you are in a position to see a situation with a person of color play out and they say it’s racism and you saw the interaction in a whole other way, that still isn’t the time to question whether it was racist.

The first thing again: Trust.

Trust that they, with their lifetime of experience, know more than you do about racism. It makes sense, because you as a white person don’t experience racism. You might every once in a while get some bigotry from non-white people, but even that is exceedingly rare and not nearly as serious in 99% of cases I would estimate as is racism.

You are not the expert.

And even if you still don’t see the racism in the encounter you witnessed, rather than questioning it and saying, “I don’t think they meant to be racist” or “I don’t see the racism there” instead consider saying (if you say anything at all other than “I’m sorry that happened to you”) something like: “I totally missed the racism; what did I not see that you did?”

And then do the thing that follows trust: Listen.

Whether or not you end up agreeing, you will likely learn something about racism and how it plays out subtly as well as obviously. You will likely learn something about what people of color face every day when they walk the minefield of white people and their assumptions and prejudices.

And also, as a side note, it doesn’t always matter whether the person “intended” to be racist. We as white people need to start learning not to treat people of color in ways that mistreat them and/or put us in positions of power or judgment over them that we aren’t entitled to. Intentions don’t matter if we do things that cause actual harm because of our preconceptions and/or ignorance. (Example: If I run someone over accidentally, my intentions mean very little compared to the harm I have done.)

Trust first.

Trust and believe.

And learn something about how prevalent and pervasive racism is in the world so that you can better identify it in yourself and others. And challenge it, head it off or avoid committing it yourself.

If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.

Calling all white people, part 21: Look; don’t touch

Calling All White People, Part 21

(A periodic attempt to mobilize white people for something other than supporting just other melanin-deficient folks and maintaining a status quo of a nation geared toward whiteness as the baseline and the norm)

By An Average White Guy

TODAY’S EPISODE: People of color aren’t pets; don’t pet them (or do any other kind of uninvited touching)  

[To find other installments of “Calling All White People,” click here]

Recently BGIM posted a piece here titled “Touching my hair and stealing my humanity” and then later, on social media, shared a comment by a reader that lamented how the incident (just the latest such incident; far from the only one in her life) was likely just meant as a compliment and people do that kind of thing like touching people’s hair and why does it have to be about race? (I paraphrase of course, but that was the jist.)

Well, let me as a white person set this fellow white person and others straight and save BGIM the trouble of having to explain what should be obvious: It’s racial because white people really don’t do that to other white people as a general rule, certainly nowhere near the level they feel entitled to with people of color, particularly Black people.

OK, OK, yeah, I know. Middle-aged and older white ladies frequently touch the hair and faces and shoulders etc. etc. of white children they don’t know. This is also wrong. Don’t touch the children of people you don’t know. It’s creepy and wrong and invasive. Word to the wise: You do that to my child and your hand and/or wrist may not come back to you in the same condition they arrived in my kid’s personal space.

But back to the point.

I’ve had plenty of opportunity to see white women in particular feel no compunction about saying “Your hair is amazing” or something similar to a Black woman and then asking to touch it. Which is already creepy, but at least they ask. The problem is that many of these women don’t wait for a response; they ask and then just touch. Or, worse yet, they don’t ask, and touch or…the worst yet…they walk away and just before they get out of arm’s reach, they pet that Black woman’s hair when she can’t see or avoid what they are doing (actually, getting a “no” and then ignoring it is equally bad, but that should be obvious).

Why do this “drive-by petting?” Because they know they probably won’t get permission, so they just do what they want to.

And they far more rarely…far more rarely…do that to fellow white women. I know, because I’ve seen many a white woman say of another white woman…”those colors in your hair are amazing” (because there’s a rainbow of hues) or “your curls are fantastic” (because they are)…but they don’t touch. I’ve yet to see a white woman touch another white woman’s hair without permission in these cases or any other. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but considering Black woman are vastly outnumbered by white women and I’ve seen multiple Black woman subjected to this treatment and as yet no white women…well, if you can’t do the math you’re being deliberately obtuse. (By the way, I’ve yet to see a Black man subjected to this, but I’ve seen Black boys get this treatment…regardless, it’s all wrong. And, of course, you can substitute Black girl for Black woman, because I’ve seen too much of that, too.)

This is an invasion of space. It is a demeaning of another human being. You are reducing a human to the level of a pet. Worse, because white people usually ask other white people before they pet their dogs if they don’t already know the dog and owner.

Touching hair is intimate. Hell, touching any part of a person’s body is generally intimate…to do so, you should be spouses, lovers, family, good friends, etc. (and even then permission or invitation might be called for). But hair…c’mon! You know it’s intimate. This is like how sex workers typically don’t kiss clients. Because in a very real sense, kissing is more intimate than sex. Touching faces and hair and the like is not some casual thing.

Now, you may be wondering, “Why is An Average White Guy picking on women alone?” Well, because men generally know this is bad territory to go into, even with white women. Do you think most guys are going to just touch a woman’s hair when they don’t know her and not expect some kind of response negatively? If they do it, they do it knowing they are exerting power and that’s assault pure and simple. And if they do it while the woman’s partner/spouse is there to see it, they should know they might get knocked out.

But hey, let’s go into guy territory why don’t we? You know what the white woman touching a Black woman’s hair without permission is like?

Like a man walking past a woman he doesn’t know and fondling her butt.

And worse yet, in such cases when she complains or strikes him, that man saying, “Hey, you should take that as a compliment.”

It isn’t a compliment. It’s a violation of another person and a means to reduce them in comparison to you. It’s not a compliment when the man gropes a butt or a breast or, as Trump has done, “grab some pussy.”

And it isn’t a compliment when you touch the hair of a non-white person when you know you wouldn’t do the same to a white one. So, simple rule: Don’t do it.

And if you ask to do it, expect a “no” and expect to be viewed as a creepy and suspect person.

If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.