Calling All White People, Part 28: Halfway isn’t the way to justice and equity

Calling All White People, Part 28

(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: We always give white racist patriarchs room to maneuver  

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

I have a wooden chair in my house with a loose leg that I repaired using probably half a roll of basic silver duct tape—yes, it’s secure and usable again and it was a quick and easy fix, but it’s ugly and hardly presents a welcoming seat for visitors. I have more than one room where I mostly painted the walls and then failed to finish off the details. I have ceiling damage in one room that I couldn’t afford to repair, so now a floral-patterned fabric hangs in a billowy manner in that window space like some sort of valance-like treatment to hide the damage.

I could call all of those measures and many more in my home, on my property and in my life half-assed. But that wouldn’t be fair. They did the job more than halfway.

Still, they kind of suck.

And you know what sucks more? What we do with any kind of social progress in the United States. Because rarely do we do the job in even a half-assed way. Quarter-assed would be too much credit. Too often, we start the work or get some momentum going, and then just walk away and assume that what we did will hold—worse, we assume that it will somehow flourish and grow without any effort on our parts.

And when you continue to see the word “we” as this piece continues—and you will, many more times—I mean “We the white people.”

So, we decide slavery is bad and we abolish it. Then we keep our eyes on the former slaveholders for a few years and walk away. And then here comes the Jim Crow era and laws that held Black people down every bit as firmly as slaver-drivers with whips. Oh, and we never did confront the rampant racism in the North that pushed Black people to the margins, either. By the way, we also didn’t get rid of slavery—we just said you could only be enslaved as punishment for a crime (so it should be no wonder why white people are 64% of the U.S. population yet only 39% of the prison population).

Oh, look, now we have the Civil Rights Era. Voting Rights Act. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. This time we’ve finally arrived. We’ve reset the game. …No, we didn’t. Yes, gains were made and some wrongs were righted and some programs came into being that gave Black people some help, but no one addressed the core problem that almost every American institution was controlled by white people and incentivized to continue putting white people in first, second and third place. Honorable mentions only for the people of color, especially the Black and Native American/Indigenous ones. And then when the 1980s rolled around shortly thereafter, we turned away our eyes as the crack cocaine epidemic became not a clarion call to provide counseling, medical care and economic reform but instead an excuse to incarcerate even more Black people simply for having addictions that we helped create to begin with.

Women got some control over their own bodies with Roe vs. Wade and then we acted like it could never be reversed, and plodded along, most of us (women included)  tucking our heads down and looking at our feet as state after state found ever-more-creative ways of limiting access to abortions. And then we ended up with the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief Donald Trump who has now tilted the Supreme Court to a very, very right-wing slant and installed Brett Kavanaugh with a very obvious mission to help bring down women’s rights even more (there are other agendas, too, but that’s the first I think). Oh, and by the way, we the white people put Trump in office. Even if we didn’t vote for him (and a lot of us did, including 53% of white women voters in full support of white patriarchy and white supremacy), most of us propelled Trump to office by assuming he couldn’t win, treating him like entertainment (or a joke) or voting for third party candidates instead of Hillary Clinton (or refusing to vote at all because Bernie Sanders didn’t get the Democratic nod).

We elected a Black president in Barack Obama and gave him two terms and declared ourselves a “post-racial” nation, ignoring how white supremacist violence increased and also being unwilling to name Republican resistance to his policies and practices as the blatant racism that it was. And we got the Tea Party and a move so far to the right in the Republican party that even Ronald Reagan might have been appalled. And then we assumed (wrongly, in case you haven’t noticed yet) that the far-rightward shift would be the death of the GOP—instead, they are going strong and sending decades of progress in this country (such as it was) backwards at a breakneck pace.

I could go on, but I already have, and I think it’s enough.

We start the work, but we don’t finish it.

We give marginalized groups a little something extra, but never enough.

We say we want to create a balanced and fair world, but we aren’t willing to give anything up ourselves.

We point to how evil the oppressors are, but we don’t actually resist them. Instead, we take the “high road” and give them platforms to spread their hateful thoughts, under the guise of “listening to all views.” We see them coming with guns blazing and doing all kinds of shady shit, and we bring along butter knives and boxing gloves to the fight.

We white people who often think ourselves so progressive and fair and open minded too often give white male patriarchs (as do a quite sizable population of white women who don’t want to lose what privilege and power they can get by proximity to them) all the room in the world to maneuver, scheme and undo whatever gains are made to advance racial equity, religious freedom, worker’s rights, women’s rights and more.

There is no halfway in the fight against injustice. There is no end. Can we (reminder: we white people) for God’s sake stop half-assing social change, trying to have our cake and eat it too and assuming that the death of all the old people will end their legacies of hate? Their children and yes, even we “progressives,” all carry that same corruption. As with cancer, you’re never truly “cancer free.” There is always the chance (even the likelihood) tumors will return one day—particularly when we stop paying attention or put on those rose-colored glasses and gorge ourselves on optimistic bullshit.

We need to stop thinking that the current state of rising uber-conservatism, fascism, Nazism, misogyny, racism, Islamophobia, transphobia, homophobia, gun violence and all the rest “isn’t the real America.” It is. And that’s the problem. We keep believing a better America was hidden under a pile of garbage. It isn’t. We have a pile of garbage we need to burn so that we can create an entirely different America. If you want justice and equity to reign, that has to be the goal. Nothing less. No compromise. No halfway.

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 27: Taking up less space

Calling All White People, Part 27

(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: We white people need to take up less space  

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

People with an interest in environmental issues will often talk about “reducing our carbon footprint.” Well, those of us who are interested in racial equity and who are white might want to think about something similar, except it would be “reducing our Caucasian footprint.”

Now, one could argue for the need to reduce such a potentially damaging footprint in all kinds of ways, from reducing our propensity for colonialism (which is still practiced in such places as Puerto Rico today) to ending the practice of overwhelmingly putting white people (particularly men) in charge of corporations and federal law, way out of proportion to their actual percentage of the population or sometimes even their ability to do the job.

But no, what I want to talk about is reducing how much space we white people often take up.

You may have heard people of color talk about “white people taking up too much space.” If you haven’t , you might want to pay attention more, because you might be one of the folks crowding them. And no, I’m not talking about literal space, though white people do have a bad habit of invading the personal space of people of color, too. What I mean is that we tend to make ourselves the center of attention when it comes to discussions of racial matters.

(If you’re the kind of person who says at this point: “Well, if Black people or whoever don’t want us white people around to help undo racism and they’re just going to complain about us all the time, I’m just gonna take my marbles and go home” then you probably don’t really care about racial justice and…why are you here, anyway?)

No, it isn’t that people of color, particularly Black people, are tired of constantly being surrounded by white people and having to always adjust to white norms because it hurts them figuratively or gets them literally hurt if they don’t do exactly what white people want and expect all people to do regardless of cultural or historical background. I mean, they are tired of that, but my point isn’t that we white people need to be literally absent from the scene more often (because really, white supremacy and racism is something white people created and continue to nurture, consciously and unconsciously, so we need to do most of the work of undoing it).

My point is that we need to stop making ourselves the center of attention.

And that is often what is at the core of people of color complaining that white people take up too much space.

For example, you might have a group of people of differing races together, and talk of racism comes up. Eliminating racial disparities, reparations, higher rates of police violence vs. Black people. Whatever. And during the discussion, one or more white people will somehow make it about themselves, either individually or as a race. Instead of focusing on the issue of how things like white privilege and white supremacy hurt non-white folks, they’ll start going on about their feelings of guilt or how hard it is to work for social justice of whatever.

And it’s not that their feelings or the difficulties of dismantling racism or anything else are invalid.

It’s just that too many white people turn that into the focus and want to be heard out on such topics to the exclusion of respecting the people of color, or instead of focusing on the bigger and more important issue, etc.

If you’re not getting what I’m talking about, think about fellow white people you hang out with or have been around in the past who “suck all the air out of a room” or who always dominate conversations or try to be the center of attention. It’s not that all of those people are bad or even annoying generally. They might be fine humans or delightful company most of the time, but still, their antics are often exhausting and exasperating.

And when this kind of thing is brought up to white people by people of color, nowadays it isn’t that uncommon for the white people to ask if they can have a separate space (in the virtual world or the physical one) where they can talk with each other and process their own emotions about racial issues. Which isn’t a bad thing, because often it’s tiring for people of color to have to always hold our hands or listen to us weep or gnash our teeth about our struggles with overcoming white supremacy both outside and inside ourselves.

So, creating white spaces to deal with white feelings can often be an example of taking up less space. And yet, even there, white privilege and white supremacy ironically can still rear their ugly heads. I’ve witnessed and heard about all too many examples where white people in racial justice or racial equity circles get those “safe spaces” and then spend more time on talking amongst themselves about their feelings than actually working against racism. Or they start asking for time, space or resources that distract or detract from the work of people of color or that exceed what the people of color get in trying to take down racism.

Basically, as I’ve often heard it said: “Whiteness is a hell of a drug.”

So, let’s kick the habit of being quite so white-centered and self-centered and try to be a lot less prone to dominating spaces and conversations about problems we created to begin with. Don’t metaphorically be the person who recklessly ran down someone with a car who then asks the victim’s family to listen to them cry about how hard it is to be charged with vehicular manslaughter.

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 25: On the subject of digital blackface

Calling All White People, Part 25

(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: Let us not attempt to be “black” when we aren’t  

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

In recent days, we’ve seen a couple rather high-profile stories of famous Black men “falling” in the public eye. There was Kanye West on the one hand, tweeting a picture of himself in one of those signature Donald Trump red “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) caps and a slew of tweets that included praising Trump, calling him a brother and lauding his “dragon energy.” And then on the other hand, Bill Cosby being convicted on three counts of sexual assault.

The two stories don’t share much in common except for that aspect of iconic Black men being at the center—one is a story of a man showing what most Black people and a large number of non-Black ones feel is a highly misplaced allegiance with an open bigot and authoritarian and the other being the culmination of what many feel is a far-too-long delayed bit of justice for heinous acts against women.

But both bits of news got people talking. A lot. A lot of Black people. And a lot of white people. And it’s that second group I want to address (what a surprise, huh?).

First, let me say that I’m not about to say we white people don’t have valid things to comment on with regard to both stories. Shock, relief, regret, disgust, whatever. But I guess before I get into the meat of this post—about a little something called “digital blackface”—I should probably start with a cautionary note. It’s probably too late for some of you with regard to these two stories, but maybe it can help in the future.

And that would be scale and context. I feel like too many white people outraged by West’s supportive tweets of Trump and MAGA (which too often is, of course, really a call to “make America white again”) feel very comfortable calling out the musical artist but aren’t expending the same energy to call out their friends, family and other fellow white people about their own support of Trump. And frankly, even if these people are calling out white celebrities like Roseanne Barr for their Trumpishness, it’s not enough. When we start going in on Black people but don’t do the work with fellow white people in our lives, we fail. This is a case where it’s often better to let the Black people do the major analysis and sometimes chastisement of a person like West. Because we white people have too long a history of holding people of color (especially Black ones) accountable and letting our fellow white folk off the hook.

Same with Cosby. All well and good to cheer that he finally is being held legally accountable for his crimes after years of getting away with them and having them swept under the rug, but are the same white people cheering his fall as eager to hold white men for similar crimes accountable? Or, when it comes to the Matt Lauers and Harvey Weinsteins and Louis CKs of the world, are we satisfied with their public humiliation alone? Louis CK already seems to be recovering his career footing. Both he and Lauer are well younger enough than Cosby to go right back to elevated positions before they retire from the limelight or die of old age. And quite likely they may never face criminal charges for what they did. Weinstein might very well coast on his riches without facing the same late-life conviction Cosby has enjoyed. If we don’t acknowledge the inequities in how criminal justice goes after Black bodies compared to white ones, we fail. If we don’t push for and demand the same treatment across the board, we fail.

Sorry. As I so often do, I’ve gotten sidetracked. So many issues and layers to racism in this country that it’s hard to just not address them. But back to the intended point: digital blackface.

I’ve now provided two links for you to get familiar with the term, if you aren’t already. I encourage you to click on both. But if you’re in a “too long; didn’t read” mode (I might be judging you if you are), it’s basically the practice of using memes (pictures or videos) of Black people by white people online to react to various events, issues and happenings, usually with relation to those things happening to (or being done by) Black people. It can also involve using Black or brown emojis in texts or posts when you are a white person.

I know some of my fellow white people are still unclear on terms like “reaction memes” despite years of being online; that’s why I want you to use both of those links. Also, the whole concept of tying that to the blackface issue (“popularized” in old minstrel shows but still evident today with white people donning blackface for Halloween or just general fuckery in real life and in online photos) is a complicated and multi-layered one that many of us white people haven’t truly examined. Nor have many of us considered why it isn’t the same thing (nor really even comparable) when Black people use memes of white people in their reactions.

The ever-popular “eating popcorn” meme comes in different colors, as do almost all relevant memes

Not all—but too many—white people have used memes featuring Black people to react to the West and Cosby news and have done so with other issues and happenings in the past. And this rightly rankles a lot of people of color.

Bottom line: I don’t think digital blackface is a good idea. I understand that the intent isn’t always to appropriate blackness nor to be insensitive, but it’s that intent vs. impact thing. If you don’t mean harm, but you do it anyway (perpetuating racially insensitive outcomes), your lack of ill intent is irrelevant.

In the end, it has much the same effect as adopting AAVE (African-American vernacular English) in your speech when talking with Black people, or taking special effort (often convoluted and contextually inappropriate) to bring up your Black friends or past efforts on behalf of racial equity to let Black people you interact with know that you’re “one of the ‘good’ white people.” It’s forced. It’s awkward. It’s off-putting and often insulting.

Believe me, I’ve been guilty of such things in my younger days and I still every so often slip up and do that crap from time to time now. It’s a habit that we need to break. If we’re truly not “bad white people” let’s let our actual actions and treatment of non-white people around us show that. It’s like the old writing rule: show, don’t tell. Your behavior should illustrate where you stand more than the words coming out of your mouth. Or typed by your fingers. Or exhibited by pictures and video and other memes online.

Similarly with emojis.

It was great when recently (too recently; it should have been standard from the start) emojis finally offered varying shades from the yellow (which basically represented whiteness) to shades of tan and brown and black. That was important. But it was important to allow people of color to use emojis that more closely represented themselves rather than being forced to stick to a standard created by and reinforcing whiteness. They aren’t meant for us white people most of the time.

Now, there are exceptions. If I were to be congratulating a Black person in my life for finally finishing and defending their dissertation and posted an emoji of a Black person in a graduation cap with a heart emoji, I’m acknowledging them. But if I use a smiley emoji or frown emoji for my own reaction to something, and I choose a brown or black one, I’m doing digital blackface. My general guideline is that only “reaction” emojis I’ll do in brown or black are things like a thumbs-up or the “OK” symbol for example—and even then only with people of color who are particularly close to me. And even then I periodically shift between various shades. And then only because I’m acknowledging something and because that acknowledgement involves both of us. It isn’t just about me (and isn’t just representing me) and it is a very small way of making sure I don’t always center whiteness in our interactions via text. But for actual emotions/faces? I stick with the “white” versions. Because that’s what I am.

We’re white. Let’s own that. Let’s be white. We can do that and still interact with people of color in meaningful ways. We don’t need to don brown or black virtual skins nor do we need to use Black people as virtual props for our reactions. We don’t need to find another way to appropriate blackness or brownness. There’s a big, wide world of GIFs and videos and the like that express the exact same sentiments but represent our skin. Let’s go find them.

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.