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.

Trust.

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.

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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.

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Calling all white people, part 20: Appropriation is NOT appreciation

Calling All White People, Part 20

(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: Cultural appropriation isn’t some “little” issue and it’s not respectful  

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

A lot of us white people have a problem with cultural appropriation.

Unfortunately, that problem is not that most of us are particularly bothered by doing it.

The problem is that we do it so seamlessly and casually and without regret or, for that matter, even forethought.

So, in other words, it’s a lot like the other racist and racially insensitive things we have, overall as white people, done for centuries. It’s as easy as breathing and we notice ourselves doing it about as often. Well, that’s not fair, actually. We pay attention to our breathing and concern ourselves with respiration way more often.

One can actually appreciate other cultures and engage in things related to said cultures without being guilty of appropriation. If an Indian family opens a restaurant, chances are they want more than just fellow Indian people to come in and eat there. A museum of African-American history is not generally going to be established with the sole purpose of serving Black visitors. And so on.

But then there is something like buti yoga which, to me, is the current poster child of the worst excesses of cultural appropriation.

First, if you are unfamiliar with buti yoga, what is it? Well, ostensibly it’s a combination of yoga and aerobics. Which is already weird, since yoga is about mindfulness, meditation, controlled breathing, poses and slow movements. In other words, almost entirely the opposite of aerobics. In practice, though, from almost every video I’ve ever seen of it, buti yoga is a combination of twerking and yoga. And shaking and jiggling one’s butt cheeks and thighs is definitely not in synch with yoga.

It’s already bad enough when white people latch on to yoga and then completely separate it from its spiritual components to make it just another hip form of fitness. Perhaps that could be forgiven because there is a bodily fitness component to yoga that is pretty important. But now buti yoga. And beer yoga. And yoga with goats (or cats). All things pretty much driven by white people who have decided yoga is all theirs.

But if you’re going to change it that much from what it was, why add “yoga” to the name at all? And therein lies the problem. That’s the appropriation. You are not even close to appreciating that piece of non-white culture. You’re not even participating in it on a meaningful level. You’ve taken it, claimed it, twisted it and perverted it.

And another reason buti yoga is such a glaring and disrespectful example of appropriation? The name. Buti is pronounced “booty” and that’s what it’s about…shaking the booty while nominally doing poses that are yoga-like. White people not only combined twerking and yoga but made up a word to make it “look” like some legitimate Hindi word and thus perhaps convince people buti yoga has some kind of traditional grounding, while at the same time making an obvious *wink wink* “See what we DID there? You know what we’re REALLY referring to.” That’s tacky and dismissive of a mental/spiritual/physical discipline with entirely non-white roots.

Now, I get that the line between cultural appreciation/engagement and cultural appropriation is sometimes a fine and blurry one. There’s never going to be an easy answer to apply to all situations. If you buy a poncho in a Mexican marketplace, does that mean you can never wear it? If you really love dancing and are drawn to belly dancing, is it wrong to take lessons or dance in shows? There are legitimate times the answers aren’t clear.

But what I want to see is more white people stopping to think about why they are engaging in other cultures’ practices and how they are interacting with them. To maybe at least do some research into something before just saying, “Oh, that’s cool; let me latch onto that.”

And even beyond that, to stop getting so sensitive and snippy when someone suggests that you might be engaging in cultural appropriation or calls you out on an obvious case of it. And, like with the mythical “reverse racism,” to stop accusing non-white people of having appropriated Western culture because, for example, they wear a suit to work.

Seriously, I saw a white guy argue this point online very recently. He was going on (of course) about how oversensitive non-white people are being when they talk about cultural appropriation. How whiny they are and how they need to shut up or, if they’re going to complain, they need to stop wearing suits and ties and such.

And here we have a prime example of white hubris.

Let’s take that suit and tie, example, shall we?

Who was it that basically decided that the suit and tie was standard male business attire? White people.

Who decided that they would refuse to take seriously just about anyone in a business setting who didn’t wear a suit and tie (with one of the few exceptions historically being Arab men from oil-rich nations like Saudi Arabia who held for a time pretty much all the petroleum cards)? Yep, white dudes again.

So, we white folks made Western attire the acceptable and “normal” way of doing things, and we have typically looked down upon (or gawked at or ridiculed) people who, in America, have chosen to routinely wear attire from their own cultural background. “Assimilate!” we white people cry. Fit in!

And yet, we don’t have any problem taking other people’s cultural accessories, attire, etc. for our own. To play with like toys.

So, white women start wearing their hair in cornrows or other styles typically associated with Black women, and suddenly it’s a daring and sexy style. But when Black women wear their hair in afros or locs or braid it up…all of which are styles that lend themselves naturally to Black-textured hair…they are unprofessional or “ghetto.” No, Black women are often only considered appropriately coiffed when they subject their hair and scalp to harsh chemicals to straighten their hair and make it more Eurocentric.

That is what is so screwed up about white people and the way they tap into non-white cultures and traditions. When the people from whom those traditions, styles and the like originate do those things or wear those things, they are refusing to fit in. But when white people do it, they are “appreciating” the culture.

That is how white people approach the world far too often. We see it and we want it, and then we take it even when it isn’t sensitive, fair or even makes sense. We get to own and use what we want and change it however we want, and then dictate to others whether they can use their own stuff and how.

That’s not appreciation. It’s theft and abuse.


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.