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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Calling all white people, part 3: Stepping on toes

Calling All White People, Part 3

(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: Step In and Step On Some Toes
[To find other installments of “Calling All White People,” click here]

White people, by and large, really want Black people to fix the problem of racism. Even the ones who support anti-racism efforts or only realize in some vague way that there are still racial injustices that they can’t quite pinpoint often put the onus on Black people to educate people about racism, to organize things, to somehow be the racial repairmen. There is a feeling that if enough Black people do enough of something, with only a little help from white people, they can overturn the entire problem of racism in the United States.

Even though white supremacy and anti-Black racism was created by white people, who are a majority. Even though white people are mostly the ones who benefit from and prop up every institution, business, and process that fuels systemic racism and institutional bias. Even though most people (even when they recognize something called white privilege exists) who are white don’t really want to share and don’t want to give up any of the benefits of whiteness being utterly centered as the norm in U.S. culture and government.

Somehow, roughly 13% of the population, holding very little of the wealth and almost none of the political or social power, is supposed to do all the heavy lifting.

We white people who “hate racism” but who descend from those who created the problem by elevating whiteness, we who continue to perpetuate white supremacy actively or passively, want to just to just be spectators to the fixing of the problem. That fixing to be carried out by those who are among the most burdened and adversely affected by racism in this country.

It’s like asking the abused wife and children to fix the violent patriarch of the household and make him a better person.

No, the responsibility to make things fair (or as close as possible) and to eradicate racial biases from our institutions and societal systems (as much as is possible) rests with us white people.

Now, I know what you’re thinking already: “I can’t fix a problem that big!” (And yet you expected Black people to? Shame, shame, shame). Well, the journey of a thousand miles begins, as they say, with a single step.

So step up. Step in. Step on some toes.

Whose toes?

Your friends. Your family members. The guy at the bus stop who just told you a racist joke. Your kid’s racially insensitive teacher. The ignorant neighbor. Those people. Those other white people who may not be as aware of you are that racism is still a problem. Or who deep down know it is but don’t really care because it doesn’t impact them. Or who like white supremacy and need to be reminded they have many white opponents to that notion.

It is up to you as a white person at the holiday dinners or social gatherings to be willing to call out other white people who do racist things or make racially insensitive remarks.

It is up to you as a white person to learn about systemic racism and institutional bias and how it came to be and why it still gets perpetuated. There are too many resources and Google is too good at searching for you to be demanding that Black people tell you all this. Many of them have already written about it anyway. And once you’ve educated yourself, it’s up to you to teach other white people and to correct people when they hold on to incorrect views about race and about Black people (and to counter those who perpetuate the lies).

The problem won’t get fixed overnight. But every day you shy away from challenging racist actions directly or fail to call out a person who’s just done something racist is one more day you’ve added to the problem. One more day’s worth of shoring up a damaged system and reinforcing that wall that stands between marginalized people and justice/equity.

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Calling all white people, part 2: I’m not racist (oh, realllly?)

Calling All White People, Part 2

(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: Loudly Denying You’re Racist Is a Bad Sign
[To find other installments of “Calling All White People,” click here]

Jesus did not have kind words or feelings toward hypocrites. As it goes in Matthew 6:5 in the Bible, more or less, “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.”

It isn’t an exact parallel, but I think of this Bible passage when people angrily or defensively (or both) reply to any criticism of their behavior or attitudes toward Black people with some variation of “I’m not racist!”

Like:

  • “I don’t have a racist bone in my body.” (I’m a pretty progressive guy myself and even I have bigoted thoughts at times or do prejudiced things)
  • “I can’t be racist; I’m dating (or married to) a Black person.” (Really? Well, you can be involved with a woman and still be misogynist, right? Same thing)
  • “I have Black friends.” (Usually this means, “There’s a Black person at my job I sometimes share a couple words with”)

The thing is that a lot of the people who get mad when they told (or it’s suggested) that they’ve done or said something racially insensitive and then insist I’M NOT RACIST are, sadly, probably at least racially biased. Maybe openly prejudiced. Perhaps a bit bigoted. Or even a lot racist.

If a Black person tells you that you’ve just said or done something that’s a little bothersome or a lot offensive, your first response should be to actually stop and think. Stop before you say something reflexive, defensive and perhaps stupid. Think about what you’ve done.

If you truly are confused, you can always ask “I’m sorry; what did I do wrong?”

But if you leap immediately to, “Are you accusing me of being racist?” or “I didn’t do anything wrong” or “I’m not a bigot” I’m sad to say you might be suffering from a case of being rather more bigoted than you’d like to admit (either to yourself or to others or to both).

If someone is offended, there’s a good chance you did something offensive. Sure, it could be you were misunderstood, misheard, or whatever. If so, that can get cleared up.

But if you leap to defensiveness when someone is feeling offended or wronged, you’re not showing compassion or understanding. You’re making it about yourself and trying to make yourself the wronged party instead of considering (a) you might actually have done something wrong or (b) might need to correct a misconception.

Fact is that there really aren’t many Black people out there just shouting at white people that they’re racist or even randomly trying to make them feel guilty for doing nothing wrong. Most (i.e. almost all) Black people have absolutely no interest in starting scenes or pissing people off any more than any other human does.

If you’ve been called on possibly having done something racially insensitive, chances are you probably did. Best to own it and see about not doing that thing again.

If you immediately cry out “I’m not racist” or any variation, the likelihood is you don’t really care if you did something offensive. Instead, you only care about not being labeled. Not getting a reputation. And, in that case, you might very well be racist as all hell.

If so, you should fix that not-so-little problem with your soul and your humanity.


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.