Calling all white people, part 6: Credit where it’s due, please

Calling All White People, Part 6

(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: Why Not Listen to the Black People Instead? (a.k.a. White People Need Fewer Ally Cookies)
[To find other installments of “Calling All White People,” click here]

Y’know, like most people, I love to be shared and retweeted on Facebook and Twitter. And when I’m posting stuff on anti-Black racism and racial justice/equity issues, it warms my heart when it’s not just my fellow whitefolk doing so but significant numbers of Black people as well.

And that’s because I get to have some confidence that what I’m saying is of value to the overall issue of educating about and fighting racism, and resonates with the people it most effects, and that it’s not complete navel-gazing. But, at the same time, it really, really, REALLY makes me uncomfortable when anyone gives me outright praise for such social media posts. Especially non-white people. Because, let’s face it, posting such stuff, whether to educate my fellow white people or to bring awareness generally is the absolute least I can do. Fortunately, I do actually do some other things, but the fact is I should and likely could do a lot more than I should all the same.

So, when “ally cookies” are being passed out, I prefer to politely decline them.

Also, when it comes time to share other people’s posts on these same anti-Black racism issues and such, I am careful to make sure I’m signal-boosting actual Black people at least as much (and ideally more so) than white people.

Why? Because, well, they’re the ones with the most personal and practical knowledge of that issue. It affects them most of all. They’ve been trying to tell America (especially white people) for decades about this stuff (usually with minimal success at getting through). Also, they are often the people who said it all first to begin with.

Although a lot of Black people won’t say so openly online (though some do), it’s a bit rankling to a whole lot of them to see white people shared and retweeted and praised for saying the things Black people are already saying and getting more credit for it than those Black people do. It’s even more upsetting when things that Black academics/experts have said is repeated by white non-academics/pundits and then the latter get all the credit and attention…and probably book deals.

As white people trying to (at least I hope you are) advance anti-racism, I would hope you don’t go for the attention when you talk about these issues. I would also hope that when you get praise, you give credit where it is due and not to yourself just because it helps you move forward. You aren’t much of an ally or accomplice if you climb up the backs of people of color to profit or improve your reputation.

And, when you look for guidance and education and direction in anti-racism work, it behooves you to listen to and read the words of the Black people and other people of color actually dealing with racism. Don’t just focus on what white people say; that keeps you in a racial silo instead of broadening your racial circles and awareness. That’s not a good look.

Sure, there is a place for white people in anti-racism. A big one, particularly since they have so many other white people to educate and mobilize to do the work of fundamentally changing society. Just as there are places for men in feminism and Christians/Jews in fighting Islamophobia and straight people in fighting homophobia and more.

But when the people who are enduring the oppression, abuse and/or discrimination are pushed to the shadows in the back in favor of people who look like (or live lives like) the ones doing the abuse, we who think ourselves allies are doing something wrong. Very wrong.

So don’t.
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Calling all white people, part 5: Misusing MLK

Calling All White People, Part 5

(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: Misusing MLK…Every Day
[To find other installments of “Calling All White People,” click here]

By God, we sure do like to invoke the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (a.k.a. MLK) a lot, don’t we? And by “we” I don’t mean the collective “we” of humanity—I mean we white people. And by “invoke,” I mean mostly posting MLK quotes online.

So often when a liberal (or moderate) white person wants to appear sensitive, progressive and enlightened, out comes an MLK quote. When someone is feeling a bit uncomfortable with Black activism and wants to “correct” Black people on the scope or level of their behavior (be they outright protests or even mild rebukes toward whitefolk), out comes an MLK quote.

Hell, when outright racists or ignorant trolls want to act the fools, out come the MLK quotes. Better yet, out come MLK quotes along with statements like “If Martin Luther King were alive today, I think he’d be supporting/defending Jeff Sessions and criticizing John Lewis.” (the former being Trump’s attorney general nominee who has a history of racism; the latter being a Black U.S. representative who got beaten up and arrested many times protesting and standing up for what’s right during the Civil Rights-era…if you think MLK would be pro-Jeff Sessions you need some history and/or immediate medical assistance).

But as so often happens, I digress. I’m writing this post on MLK Day; I know BGIM won’t be posting this until sometime after MLK Day, but still, context matters. (BGIM decided this post should run on MLK Day) 

This post was inspired by a humorous fake quote meme I saw on social media with a picture of MLK and this inset with the photo:

“White people, stop quoting me.”
– Martin Luther King Jr.

The problem isn’t that MLK isn’t eminently quotable. He is. But all too often, and mostly by white people, his quotes are misused over and over.

We love to share the feel-good ones but ignore the more pointed ones like this:

I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White citizens’ “Councilor” or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direst action” who paternistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

That’s from MLK’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” by the way. We white people should do a lot more reading and sharing of that and a lot less of the “I have a dream” speech.

Point is, we need to stop trotting out MLK for the most part, my fellow whitefolk. Sure, there will be times it’s meaningful, particularly when we need to put someone in their place because they’re misusing MLK and need a quote more representative of MLK’s overall and long-term views. Because so many of us who are white don’t know crap about MLK. We see him as this peaceful, soft-spoken man who wanted peace above all else.

But in truth, while he preached non-violent protest, he didn’t preach peace. He preached fundamental change. Upsetting the apple cart. Rewriting society. He wanted not just an end to racism but to reshape capitalism itself because of the way it mistreats the average worker—among other radical social views he held that would uproot most of what we’ve grown accustomed to in this country.

So, think twice before you go quoting MLK or saying you know how he would feel or act regarding some situation or issue when you have only the barest, thinnest knowledge of what he stood for. And I say this as someone who himself has a pretty low-level, basic knowledge of MLK’s  life and times. But the thing is, knowing that about myself, I also don’t go around invoking him. That said, while I may not be an expert, I am eminently qualified to tell y’all that most of you who share my “pale persuasion” skin tone know less than me and really should tread lightly around summoning MLK into any conversation, whether online or off.

And despite my lack of deep knowledge, at least I can say, unlike most white people, that I’ve read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and now, I’d really suggest most of you do, too. Right now. Peace
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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.

Calling all white people, part 4: Enjoy from afar

Calling All White People, Part 4

(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 to Stand Back, Shut Up and Just Watch
[To find other installments of “Calling All White People,” click here]

What I notice every so often about my fellow white people, even the most progressive-minded liberal ones, is how sooooo many whitefolk chafe—how they just ache and itch—about not being able to use the N-word.

It’s like some final frontier they want to explore. They complain: “Why can Black people say it and I can’t?”

In the end, it’s a ridiculous argument. Why is it so important to be able to express that word for any reason, even to be “friendly” or “part of the club?”

And besides, I can tell you why it’s not appropriate. It’s a word steeped in oppression and hurtfulness and white people have used it as a weapon and a way to dehumanize and demean Black people. We are the last people who should take that word lightly and decide how and when to use it, because we almost always misuse it.

I write fiction sometimes, so there may come a time I need to employ the word as part of character interactions (though I’ve managed to skirt it in clever ways so far even when it’s hinted); I certainly don’t need to seek out opportunities to use it as often as possible like Quentin Tarantino does. Now, a white person may have a Black friend that uses the N-word with them or even doesn’t mind if the reverse happens. But c’mon, folks: Just because one person lets it slide or gives you permission doesn’t mean you should take the opportunities cavalierly, and it sure doesn’t mean you have blanket permission to use it with other people.

Let’s take it another way: I don’t use the C-word to refer to women. Sure, there may have been one or two times it got used when I was alone in the car when I was wronged in traffic in a really egregious way. And sure, in a sexual situation where I was referring to a portion of the anatomy of my partner I was trying to pleasure greatly, that word might occur. But I don’t feel I have a right to use it generally speaking nor do I seek opportunities.

Same with the F-word variations used for gay people. Or whatever.

Now, I say all this as a really long-winded education introduction for what will probably be a shorter bit of context. Talk about burying the lead, huh?

Recently, Yahoo! made a typo in Twitter when they meant to say “bigger Navy” and instead hit the key just to the right of the “B” key. Autocorrect failed to save them and they got dragged all over the web for it.

More hilariously, though, Black Twitter (if you don’t know, that’s the people on Twitter who are Black and often have special things and inside conversations with other Black people that we whites often see anyway because, well, most of this stuff isn’t private and we’re nosy or we have Black folks we follow/who follow us) made a meme of it, with all kinds of giggle- and guffaw-inducing comments and pics and such. Much fun was had. And their hashtag included the N-word in full.

Then came the white people asking if they could get in on the jokes and/or share them and many Black people pointing out that this was a time they should just let the people who have more right to determine the appropriate use of that word have their fun in peace. Please don’t contribute; please don’t retweet.

After that, white people who didn’t get the message or give a shit about it made their own hashtag, #NWordNavy so they could get in on the fun without having to feel like they were being offensive.

Except it wasn’t their fun to get in on.

It was like (no, it was worse than) jumping into a conversation at a gathering you weren’t invited to join in on that’s happening near you by accident and you overhead, and you have little or no context or knowledge of, and then you jumping into it.

Don’t do that.

All I can say is, my fellow white people: When Black people are having fun and cracking jokes, I’d suggest that the more racialized it is (like involving the N-word, for example) the more likely it is that you should just enjoy it all from afar, laugh to yourself and stay out of any direct involvement or sharing.
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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.