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.


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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.

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Calling all white people, part 19: Chuck white feelings in the wake of Charlottesville

  1. Calling All White People, Part 19

(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: Get real about what Charlottesville means, and get out of your feelings  

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

Look, I’m not going to tell you what’s been happening in Charlottesville, Virginia, the past couple days. If you’re deep enough under a rock that you haven’t heard about it all, get online and hit up Google search, OK?

But I have some feelings about what’s happening in Charlottesville and in particular how my fellow white people are feeling about it. And I have some words for those who are experiencing fear, dismay, outrage, guilt or affront (or anything else) with regard to said feelings.

Fuck my feelings.

Fuck your feelings.

Fuck all of our white people feelings.

I’m not saying we can’t have feelings about the way racists of all stripes straight-up decided to instigate a race riot and declare that white supremacy is willing to harm and kill Blacks and other non-whites to survive and prosper. I’m not saying you can’t be emotionally wrought by this horrific set of events.

But we white people love to get in our feelings, especially when we want to make sure people know we aren’t like “those white people.”

But instead of getting *in* your feelings, get *out* of them.

What are you going to *do* about all of this?

Again, not saying you can’t share tweets and Facebook posts; I sure have. But what are you going to do beyond that? What will you do to demonstrate that you won’t tolerate racism and white supremacy in this country?

You can declare all the outrage you want online or among friends about the racists in Charlottesville but what are you going to do about them and the system that both props them up and that they are trying to preserve? A system that, by the way, nurtures all of us white people at the expense of people of color, especially Black people…and which was built on the blood and backs of Native Americans and Black people.

What are you going to do about the white people around you who feel attacked by the Black people who point to Charlottesville and say, “See, white supremacy at work again, in plain sight and unchallenged by authorities” or will you remain silent because you don’t want to have uncomfortable feelings or don’t what those other white people to feel a certain way about you?

Screw your feelings and theirs.

When they say “The Ferguson, Missouri, situation and all the BLM protests were just as bad,” don’t let them get away with it. It’s not the same. Tell them that. Don’t allow them to have a dissenting opinion that is patently untrue. Don’t let them be entitled to feelings of sympathy for racists that are entirely misplaced and undeserved.

Ferguson was a place where Black people protested an injustice and had shrines and memorials with candles and such that were vandalized, and when they marched they were met with police and they were accused of burning down their neighbors when in fact there were more protesters putting out fires than outsiders or people negligently setting them. And yet they were met with tear gas and tanks and had to deal with being occupied in a military fashion.

Meanwhile, in Charlottesville, you have white people carrying not candles but torches, surrounding a church and being threatening toward people conducting vigils, while other racists dressed in fatigues and armed themselves and helped spur on actual assaults of counter-protesters and one guy drove a fucking car into a crowd of them…and the white people even threw tear gas at the people of color…and the police did nothing. No tanks. No sweeping show of force among the white people.

It isn’t the same and no matter how much Trump wants to say there is hate and violence on multiple sides, that isn’t the case.

The hate and the violence is overwhelmingly on the side of white people, used against Black people and other POC in overt ways like Charlottesville and in subtle ways with daily discrimination.

Fuck. Your. Feelings. And mine.

It’s time to change, and change will begin by standing up clearly for what you believe in. If you believe racism is wrong, stop hiding that from the people it will bother. Stop allowing non-white people around you to be misused or actually harmed and say or do nothing. Do *something* damn it. Something to show you’re on the right side instead of just saying you are. Something to support or protect people of color instead of hoping someone else will be there for them.

This isn’t, as BGIM and others have pointed out online recently, a “both sides” thing. This is a thing where racists are openly using violence and intimidation to ensure that white supremacy not only remains alive and well but shoves people of color down even harder than it has been for decades even with civil rights legislation in place.

You need to stop worrying so much about feelings and start worrying about which side you are on. Because being in the middle essentially makes you a supporter of the villains who will do anything and everything to harm people of color in order to make sure oppression remains the norm and becomes so normalized that it doesn’t even need to be done subtly anymore at all.
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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.