An old tactic with a new twist: Attempting to erase an entire group’s existence

I’ve long noted on this blog and in other places that the two most oppressed groups in this country are Native American/Indigenous people and Black people. And that hasn’t changed.

Indigenous people were subjected to genocide that reduced them from being the dominant group in what we currently call the United States to one of the smallest demographics. One that was segregated to substandard land as a “fix” for having their actual lands taken. A group that faces constant disenfranchisement, most notably recently with a rule that could bar many Native Americans in North Dakota from voting because they have P.O. boxes rather than street addresses as a result of living on reservations. Indigenous people also face higher rates of police violence—and death at their hands—than any other racial or ethnic group.

Black people were brought to this land as slaves and subjected to centuries of that horrific treatment as mere property—more than two centuries of it under U.S. laws—then when freed were subjected to all sorts of legal, social and political actions, both overt and subtle, to keep them from ever having full rights and freedoms, economically or otherwise. Systemic roadblocks, hurdles and atrocities that continue to this day and have allowed so many Black people to be openly harmed by authorities and average citizens with few or no repercussions (as evidenced by video of unarmed Black people in recent years killed by police still usually not enough to bring violent officers to justice).

So, these two groups are the original and continuing victims of America’s embedded racism and white supremacy. But sadly, another group may be fast on their heels as the third most oppressed group if the current administration has its way. And that would be LGBTQIA people, most particularly trans people.

People who don’t wish to hold to “traditional” gender or sexual norms have always been at risk and their risk, much like that of Native Americans, Blacks, Muslims and others, is on the rise—and here again, I’ll bring it back to blackness for a moment to note that the deaths and assaults of Black trans people are among the most under-reported in media. But in recent decades trans people have been able to be more open, more accepted and more protected by the law.

That could be about to change, and through a time-honored American practice of erasure. This nation loves to erase people. Native American children were stolen from their families and forced into schools to drive their language and culture out of them. Today, Latinx children are being ripped from parents at the border and there are fears—and some signs—that plans might be in the works to place them with white American families instead of reunited  with their parents—more erasure. America consumes things like Black culture and other ethnic culture in blatant appropriation while telling non-whites that they have to “conform” to traditional white American standards to be accepted—even though this almost never results in them actually getting equal treatment.

And now trans erasure.

But whereas you cannot deny that a Black person is Black—their skin proclaims that, no matter how much you erase their culture and humanity—it will sadly be a lot easier to get a lot of Americans to accept that trans isn’t real. That being trans is a violation of nature itself.

And so we have the Department of Health and Human Services reportedly having drafted a memo to federal agencies and considering a policy that would erase the equal protection under law of millions of transgender people by using Title IX to define gender as “immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth.”

In fact, for about a year now, the Department of Health and Human Services has been making a case internally that the term “sex” was never meant to include gender identity or homosexuality, and that by doing so—particularly under the Obama administration—civil rights protections were wrongfully extended to people who should not have them.

Let that sink in.

Civil rights protections wrongly extended to people who should never have had them.

Considering that civil rights protections are meant to help ensure that marginalized groups are not excluded or harmed, that’s basically saying that trans people (and perhaps the larger LGBTQIA community) should not be equal.

And if they aren’t equal and if they are defined as “not existing” it’s not that far a leap to get official policy going that essentially says they are “lesser” or that they are “a problem” or even that they aren’t really “people.” And Black people like me know how easy it is to be painted as less than human or not human at all. Trayvon Martin and other Black youth and men killed extra-judicially are often described as “demons” or having some special immunity to harm that makes them more dangerous, like some rabid wild animal.

A lot of conservatives, and probably no small number of “moderates,” would argue that civil rights protections to transgender and other non-gender-conforming people are “special rights.” But what is “special” or “extra” about expecting to be treated like any other citizen—and other humans?

And yet here we are. In a time when children who cross the border can be put in cages and drugged up and stolen from their families and it’s just another story that trends for a few days and fades away from the public consciousness for most people.

It’s not that hard to see it being very easy to say “trans” doesn’t exist and for most Americans to perhaps hardly bat an eyelash.

The government has been painting non-white people as threats, whether citizens or immigrants (documented or undocumented). Mexicans branded as primarily being rapists and murderers. Black people presented as threatening and scary just by existing.

And in the non-racial realm, trans people being called threats in public restrooms (despite evidence to the contrary). Even the mostly white media painted as a threat to this country for reporting the news.

No, trans people are in real danger.

What will it take for most of America to wake up and demand an end to this? How many people will have to die at the hands of bigots? Or will it take millions of people being rounded up and sent to concentration camps and literally erased (murdered) like in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s?

Or would even that be enough?

It starts with erasure of humanity. That process is well underway for many groups, trans people among them. You can’t make entire groups truly disappear, but you can make it easy to destroy their safety and lives. And we’re getting really good at doing that again across the board in this country.

Vote. Demonstrate. Resist. Adjust your own feelings and assumptions about the world and the people in it. Whatever. Do something. Maybe it doesn’t feel like some of these reinvigorated policies of oppression (and new ones) affect you personally. But they affect your fellow humans, so they do. And if you don’t step up now, it might be another group you care about—or are part of—that gets targeted next.

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Photo by Sandeep Swarnkar on Unsplash

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.

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Colin Kaepernick and Nike: The good with the bad

Do you think Colin Kaepernick ever gets sick of his agency being stolen from him? I do. I get sick of it. I mean, if every time I did something people went out of their way to find whatever they could to be offended by and no one even tried to understand why I did that thing, I’d probably get sick of that pretty quickly.

What will it take to get some of these white people to actually acknowledge just one of the things Colin Kaepernick is talking about?

I mean, he says, “Let’s talk about police brutality.”

Here are their responses so far:


That’s it. That’s all of their responses. Sure, it’s dressed up a little bit. Sometimes it sounds like

“That’s not how you address this issue.”

“Shut up and do your job!”

“Protest on your own time!”

“I don’t agree with what he’s saying, but I respect his right to say it!”

“Nike is bad!”

All of those responses are a refusal to address the issue.

And that one about Nike though…

There’s a man starving to death. He’s crawling slowly, panting. Dying. Then he finds, of all things, a Twinkie. He unwraps it and takes a bite. He immediately starts to improve. His blood sugar begins to balance. His heart rate evens out. His vision is clearing. He begins to take a second bite, but just before he can a very well-fed man with a mouthful of cupcakes interrupts him to explain how just how unhealthy Twinkies are.

The well-fed man doesn’t see the situation of the starving man. He doesn’t give the starving man healthy food or show him how to get it. He definitely doesn’t consider what could have led to their food disparity in the first place. No. Instead the well-fed man continues to lecture the starving man, all the while convinced he is helping. But he’s not helping. Can’t even understand him, talking with his mouth full like that.

Right now, this is how it feels to listen to some of these white people talk about Colin Kaepernick and Nike.

Like it or not, our world is run by governments or corporations. Too often it’s just a terrible knot of the two. As a Black person, I look at the government side and I don’t see myself represented. But from the police all the way up to the president, what I do see is a whole lotta motherfuckers who’d just as soon see me in prison or dead.

Then I look to the corporate side. Not much there either, but now I see Nike. I know it’s not ideal. It’s not even good, but it’s a whole lot more than what I had just a few days ago.

Yes, I know Nike does some very evil things and no, and there’s no excusing it. They exploit brown people in every way around the globe. But what they’re doing right now, giving voice to a man who is trying to stop the police from killing me and mine, it’s a good thing.

Both things can be true.

Yes, they are just trying to capitalize on a social justice movement, but they’ve also supported LeBron and Serena.

Both things can be true.

The American Broadcasting Company (ABC) is evil. Giant media conglomerates perpetuate all the evils in the world. The whole planet would be infinitely better off without any of them. But ABC brought us Shonda Rhimes, who has helped to normalize Blackness in immeasurable ways. You don’t stop the evil that is ABC by clutching your fucking pearls at Shonda Rhimes.

Black and brown suffering on one part of the world does not cancel out Black and brown suffering on another part of the world. It’s not zero sum.

Both things can be true.

But really, the thing is this. I don’t give a fuck what you think of Kap’s choice of corporate sponsor if:

  • You haven’t already stolen the agency from every white public figure with a corporate sponsor.
  • You haven’t acknowledged that the actual problem is a world in which a Black man needs a corporate sponsor for you to even acknowledge him.
  • You own shoes or clothes or a car or a device or any other goddamned thing produced by brown, enslaved hands.

We live in a world of corporate hegemony that is an overwhelming horror tangled into a generations-long knot made from every kind of string, wire, rope and chain. It’s a knot that needs to be untied and I hope you’re one of the people trying to untie it. I just hope you’re not gonna spend all your time on these goddamn shoelaces.

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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Photo of Nike campus courtesy of Nike Inc.