Calling All White People, Part 24: Call them the terrorists that they are

(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: Whitewashing terrorism makes terrorism a racist word  

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

Mark Anthony Conditt seems destined to join an esteemed list: White people who committed terrorists acts but will never be called terrorists by the U.S. president or, really, any governmental agency. Or, for that fact, by most white Americans.

We’ve seen mass shooters from Orlando (the Pulse nightclub shooting) to Las Vegas (the Harvest Festival country music concert). Which one did Donald Trump and the rather significant number of white Americans who support him use to launch into talk of brown-skinned immigrants and the so-called Islamic State and stoke fears of terrorism? Orlando, where the shooter was a guy named Omar Mateen. Sure, Mateen claimed to be doing it in solidarity with the extremists of the Islamic State, but that’s not the point. Whenever a Muslim or…well, anyone brown-skinned…does something like this, a whole slew of white Americans get into a tizzy about either terrorists flooding to our shores or Black people being degenerate or Mexicans being murderous drug dealers pouring across the border or some other nonsense.

Heck, if you’re white like Conditt (or like Dylann Roof, who shot dead nine black churchgoers in South Carolina in 2015), especially if you’re young, you get sensitive treatment from the mainstream media about how you seemed like such a nice boy or came from such a nice family or must have suffered from mental illness—like Roof, you might even get not only gentle arrest treatment but a snack at Burger King. Meanwhile, Black and brown suspects and killers have every sordid little item in their past, no matter how irrelevant, trotted out. Hell, Trayvon Martin, who wasn’t a killer but a murder victim, got turned into a villain in the press for having smoked pot and being “no angel” so that murderer George Zimmerman could be lifted up as the victim instead.

And we keep demonizing brown-skinned people in general, and playing up the threat of terrorism from their ranks, despite the fact that domestic white far-right extremists are at least a comparable threat (and possible a bigger one when you consider how the attacks have risen since Trump was elected). Since Trump took office, more U.S. citizens have been killed by domestic white male terrorists than by immigrants, Muslims, refugees or any other groups that have been pointed to by Republicans as being the imminent danger.

And, just for the record, despite the fears stoked about undocumented immigrants in this country, the evidence leans heavily in support that they actually are less likely to commit crimes than are U.S. citizens.

I’m digressing a bit, but I felt I needed to set the stage.

So, back to Conditt and the Austin bombings in the news lately. Well, mostly since March 18, even though the bombings started earlier in the month. But I’ll address that little tidbit a bit later.

Conditt has been called a “serial bomber” but not a terrorist. While his motives appear to be unclear at this point, in part because he apparently didn’t have much a social media presence, he was using terror tactics and his initial targets were Black and brown people. In fact, the White House has made extra special sure to point out there is “no link” to terrorism in Conditt’s actions, even though they leap at the chances to restrict immigration and clamp down on brown-skinned people whenever someone from that end of skin-tone spectrum kills even one person, much less multiple people or masses of them.

The fact is, the Conditt story didn’t even make the mainstream news in any significant way until white people started getting hurt. When Conditt’s bomb with a trip wire set up on the roadside in an upscale Austin neighborhood injured two white men. And then ramped up more when a package blew up in a FedEx facility near San Antonio and then another one was intercepted before exploding in an Austin FedEx facility.

The only reason I knew about the story days before March 18 was because of people (mostly people of color) posting on Twitter about the first three bombings and wondering (a) why it wasn’t hardly being covered in the news and (b) why wasn’t it being treated as a hate crime, since the victims up until that point were all non-white—either Black or Hispanic.

Now, was it a hate crime? Was it driven by racism? I’ll admit that things are unclear on that front. The first three bombs killed or injured people of color. The fourth was in what is apparently a pretty white part of Austin. The subsequent bombs were in packages and there is no word yet on where (and to whom) they were going. I’m not willing to bow out on the hate crime angle yet, though. By the time Conditt planted that fourth bomb, people of color were talking about racism possibly being the cause, and nothing seems to offend racists more than being called racists, so I wouldn’t be shocked if Conditt planted that bomb in a more white area to make his acts look “not racist.”

Also, who knows? The trip wire for that fourth bomb was anchored to a “for sale” sign. Did Conditt see a Black person visiting the house to potentially buy it? Who knows? Unlikely, but we just don’t know. But I’m still pretty suspicious about how un-white the first three victims were and those were in packages that were left at homes—which seems pretty freaking targeted to me. Just like the two FedEx packages had to have been targeted to actual addresses—though we may never know what addresses. That trip-wire one by the side of the road? Again, seems very random, like a diversion from Conditt’s actual “mission.”

But let’s drop the potential hate-crime angle. Again, what he did was terrorism. Whether he did it just to terrorize Austin or whether he did it with some specific twisted social agenda in mind, it’s terrorism. Let’s call it what it is.

Part of the reason so much of America is so willing to look at immigrants and refugees and Muslims and brown skin as “terror material” is precisely because we, as a nation (mostly the white part of the population), are so reluctant to finger white people as terrorists.

Again, let’s go back to some of my earlier links in this post. Going back to the years following the 9/11 attacks, more lethal terror incidents were the result of white people on the far right. Granted, yes, slightly fewer people dead by white hands, but more attacks by white right-wing extremists. And since Trump? Definitely the right-wing extremists are the major threat—and they are pretty much…well, white guys. But while they may get tagged as domestic terrorists in certain statistic-gathering, officials and politicians and average citizens don’t really call attention to that, and more than that, they let whole bunches of other white people who should be labeled terrorists off the hook. That same reluctance—and sometimes completely disregard—does not get afforded to non-white terrorists.

In fact, it seems to me that America is as likely to brand non-terrorist brown people as terrorists as it is to refuse to label white terrorists as terrorists. So I’d argue that any stats showing comparability are likely skewed to favor whiteness anyway and thus are making a false equivalency.

But the bottom line is we need to start naming terrorism by white people as terrorism. Hate crimes in particular are a terror attack. They are part of a systematic—and systemic—form of terrorism that white people have inflicted on Black people in particular since the earliest days of this nation.

Time to stop letting white people off the hook because we’re afraid to call them “racists” or “terrorists.” Time to stop humanizing white killers while failing to humanize non-white ones. And time to stop turning—in some cases—white terrorists into victims or heroes while making their victims into the villains.

Because if we’re only going to really loudly use the word “terrorism” when a non-white person is the terrorist, then we simply turn the word into a useless—and racist—term.


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 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.

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.

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