You’re gonna have to pry the straws from my cold dead hands

Today’s post is a guest contribution from BGIM friend and fellow writer Liz Henry.
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First they came for my cigarettes and I said, alright, makes sense. Then, they came for my smoking outside and I said, you know, this seems like a little much but I rolled with the inconvenience of other people policing the freaking air. And then they came for my Diet Coke with a tax on sugary drinks in Philadelphia even though Diet Coke is full of not even sugar but aspartame so fine, whatever, the chilwran diabeetus. Then, they came for the straws and I knew all bets were off, the turtles were just gonna have to die.

I like beverages and I love them with straws and if that means turtles have to eat it, well then the turtles need to eat it. Even if those turtles are Michelangelo, Donatello, Raphael and Leonardo.

Look, maybe this is making you uncomfortable. There are many moments I’ve been uncomfortable in the past few weeks when straw-banning went from low-key, under-the-radar cause to full-blown self-righteous plague. Like, for instance, the moment I came across a growing list of companies in the process of banning straws and I saw McDonald’s on that list.

I THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO DIE—the turtles had come for me and won. My eyes couldn’t move fast enough through the sentence and by the time I got there and it said, “shareholders struck down a ban” I’ve never been more proud of capitalism in my life.

I raised my Diet Coke and I toasted the motherfucking shit outta those rich white men for holding it down for straws.

So, yeah, it’s been an uncomfortable few weeks for me, too.

I’ve had conversations where we whisper to each other “team straw” because we’re in a group and unsure of the company we keep and once the whispers go around and the eyes have darted and the nods have been reciprocated we let it out that paper straws ain’t shit.

I’ve had people tell me I’m “sad” like I need saving and I want to tell them they can come to my door with that kind of attitude and ring my doorbell so I can ignore them.

I’ve gone the Jurassic Park route and doubled down on evolution: “If turtles beat out dinosaurs, I’m pretty sure they can beat straws.” And, if they can’t, well who sold us “slow and steady.” Maybe turtles shouldn’t been liars.

I’ve also thought FINE, BAN THE STRAWS. I’ll create straw speakeasies and I’ll be rich and you’ll be stuck with adult sippy cups at Starbucks with no whip but Crush from Finding Nemo as your overlord just like you wanted. COOL DUDE.

I need you to know that I stared down the totalitarian talk points of crusading do-gooders, looked them in their profile photos and said, I LOVE STRAWS, and lived to see another day.

I want you to know that when I get a fountain beverage, and put that single-serving plastic straw into my cup, I look at the person next to me and say, “I’m making a political choice and the hate makes it taste better.”

Honestly, I’m having an Allen Iverson “TALKIN ‘BOUT PRACTICE, flashback but with straws, people. STRAWS.

The strawsistence will not be played by fake news. The 500 million plastic straws Americans allegedly consume per day? That number was arrived at by a then nine-year-old conducting phone surveys of straw manufacturers in 2011. How he arrived at that number? I dunno, go pound a calculator.

According to Bloomberg, if all the alleged 8.3 billion tons of plastic straws found on global coastlines washed into the sea, they’d “account for .03 percent of the 8 million metric tons of plastic estimated to enter the oceans in a given year.”

The greatest threat to marine life and our oceans isn’t plastic straws, Bloomberg reports, but fishing nets and other abandoned fishing gear.

Which leaves me so freaking pumped right now that we’re making the lives of people with disabilities that much harder because Johnny Jackoff filmed a video of one turtle with a straw booger and then everyone else was like BAN STRAWS!!!

So how many straw boogers would it take for women to get some rights up in this bitch? Just spitballing here.

And that’s why, you’re gonna have to pry the straws from my cold, dead hands. Which, if that even happens, I will haunt you with a glitter plague on your home and paper cuts on your person with Melania pumped through some Bose giving Michelle’s speech ad infinitum.

WE’RE TALKIN’ ‘BOUT STRAWS, MAYNE.

BIO:
Liz Henry writes good stories and makes bad choices. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post and the anthology, The Good Mother Myth. She lives in Philadelphia and marks her territory in Diet Coke.


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Photo by David McEachan from Pexels

Your new Black friend explains racism

As a white person discussing race, sometimes you are confronted with a Black person who does not want to explain to you why something is racist. The reason you need this explanation is because you probably don’t have any Black friends. Not definitely, but probably. It’s just how numbers work. It’s also how segregation works, but sometimes it’s also because of you. You may have said something stupid and didn’t know any better because you don’t have any Black friends…

It’s a vicious circle and, really, you need a Black friend. So just for this blog post, even though we’ve never met, I am going to be your Black friend.

There.

We’re friends.

Now that we’re friends, I think it’s time for some tough love.

A lot of times it just isn’t worth trying to explain racism to you. For me, there are three reasons.

1: You don’t trust us with our own experiences. Every person of color I have ever met has at least 574 bazillion stories that are all the same: We tell a white person about a racist experience only to have that white person respond with something like, “Are you sure it happened like that?” as though we are incapable of understanding our own experiences.

Remember that time your friend/parent/significant other/coworker/complete stranger was mad at you and no one else could tell? Of course you do. You know that experience very well, but when it comes to race, you’re not willing to allow another person that knowledge of experience. I think it’s important to ask yourself why that is. If your answer is #notallwhitepeople then this list probably isn’t long enough for you.

Oftentimes, if we get to the point where you acknowledge our experiences, the very next thing you say is, “I’m sure they didn’t mean it like that.” Not only is this still saying we don’t understand our experiences, it also means…

2: You think intent is more important than it is. Look, intent is useful in that it’s a predictor of future behavior, but it’s not a particularly good one. A much better predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

There are some dudes in the KKK who don’t hate Black people. Really. It’s just that they live in a rural place with nothing much to do and their cousin is a member and setting things on fire is fun. Their intent may be nothing more than to hang out with the boys on the weekend, but I’ll tell you what. If those boys show up at 3 a.m. burning a cross on my lawn, and you think it’s a good idea to investigate their individual intents, well, again, you’re going to need a longer list than this one.

I told you this was going to be tough love.

That makes this whole thing so difficult because…

3: So much is about your feelings! Just this week I watched two white guys talk about how much it sucks to be assumed a villain just because you’re a white guy. Yes. That actually happened. Right in front of me.

Look, having your feelings hurt does suck, no matter who you are. I’m not going to deny that, but as a Black person, I wish we could get to a place where anything was about my feelings. That would be incredible. I would genuinely love that. Unfortunately, while hurt feelings may be the result of being stereotyped as a white man, as a Black man, being stereotyped, all too often, means I die.

A white guy in a suit is a business man. A Black guy in a suit is a gangster. A white guy with a gun is a patriot. A Black guy with a gun is a gangster. A white guy who loves marijuana is a stoner. A Black guy who loves marijuana… you get the idea.

The point is it’s difficult for me to hear your complaints from inside this coffin.

Still friends?

Good.

Then I’ll tell you the secret to holding onto this friendship as well as forging others:

If your friends say they’re suffering, trust them and ask what you can do to help.

Just like you would with any friend.


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The N-word

The word “nigger” is as American as apple pie and its original purpose was simple: to define an under-caste of sub-humans who were deemed inferior to whites. But over the years, it has morphed to take on different meanings and uses. Many argue that it is a word that can be reclaimed by the people it was meant to hurt but many others say it should be cast out of our vocabulary like the demon they see it to be.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, social and economic order in United States was dependent on a strict racial hierarchy. Black slaves and their free labor laid the bedrock for the country’s economy. This meant slaves had to be kept in their place to maintain profits. Beatings, whippings, shackles, and even murder were among go-to methods. But for casual everyday use, the sharp sting of the word “nigger” ensured Black slaves knew exactly where their place was in the racial hierarchy. For white people, the N-word had no other purpose than to degrade and humiliate Black folks to assert their economic and social dominance.

Today, the descendants of those white people still use the word as a weapon of hate and a way to express self-appointed superiority. It has also evolved to be used in everyday conversation to indicate something is undesirable or inadequate. Phrases like nigger-lover, nigger-lipped, and nigger-rigged are said with a certain air about them that suggests a deep cultural antipathy towards Black people.

For many people, the N-word rightly elicits sharp pangs behind each of its syllables and harkens back to a dreadful history. But for a lot of Black folks, a simple softening of the “-er” at the end turns the word into an expression of camaraderie and a badge of struggle.

The lightening of the word entered popular culture primarily through public figures like Richard Pryor. It peppered his routines, oftentimes used every few seconds. And Pryor used it with intent much like many white people did (and continue to do). But his calculation was different. He wanted to de-weaponize the word and snatch the whip from the slave master’s hand.

“Nigger. And so this one night I decided to make it my own. Nigger. I decided to take the sting out of it. Nigger. As if saying it over and over again would numb me and everybody else to its wretchedness. Nigger. Said it over and over like a preacher singing hallelujah.” -Richard Pryor, Pryor Convictions: and Other Life Sentences, 1997

Pryor is credited for coining phrases like “nigga, please” which is readily used among Black people today. Other Black comedians carried on his tradition like Eddie Murphy who had jokes with names such as “Niggaz of the ‘70s”. On the HBO hit television series Def Comedy Jam, “nigga” was used like a punctuation mark. In the late ‘90s Russell Simmons said, “Twenty years ago, ‘nigger’ was self-defeating. When we say ‘nigger’ now it’s very positive.” This effort to take back of the word has permeated all facets of African-American culture.

Today, hip-hop and rap music are by far the most influential forces when it comes to the integration of “nigga” into the lexicon of Black Americans. It has laced tracks in both genres for much of the last 30 years. Any rap or hip-hip giant that you can think of has had the phrase in any number of their songs and song titles including pieces from Grandmaster Flash, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Tupac, Notorious B.I.G, Busta Rhymes, 50 Cent, and a Tribe Called Quest.

The introduction of this renewed way to speak the N-word has gradually given the word an increased casualness over the years and for many, it’s no different than calling someone “bruh” or “dude.” But does this new benign usage represent reclamation?

Many people would say yes. Take for instance Nia Ashari Harris, a Black NYU student and writer for Affinity. In an article entitled “How Black People Are Reclaiming The N-Word and Embracing Their Heritage,” she argued that being able to use the N-word is like belonging to an exclusive club, asserting that you’re only granted access to the word if you are Black. She talked about how our Black ancestors were revered as kings and queens and that reclaiming the word felt like an assertion of her greatness a Black woman. She said that the redefinition of “nigga” has allowed people to define their Blackness in broader terms.

“Through the word ‘nigga’ and redefining it for ourselves, I feel like we have been able to redefine what it means to be black. Expanding the scope of blackness is everything to me, as it denounces the idea that there is “one type” of ‘nigga’. Blackness is Barack Obama, but blackness is also the Migos. Blackness is whatever a n*gga wants it to be, and that’s lit.” Nia Ashari Harris, How Black People Are Reclaiming The N-Word and Embracing Their Heritage, 2017

But even the man credited with starting this movement to reclaim the word had a change of heart.

After taking a trip to Kenya, Richard Pryor had a poignant realization. His trip was spent in an environment where everyone was Black: in advertisements, in government, on TV, on the street, etc. And he asked himself as he looked out of his hotel window, “Do you see any niggas?” and he responded to himself by saying, “No, and you know why? Because there aren’t any.” Since that point, Pryor rarely uttered the word and didn’t like when other Black people said it to him. He said it was a word that described “our [Black people’s] own wretchedness.” And just like Nia Ashari Harris, he went on to talk about how he came from kings and queens and how that was part of his decision to abandon the word.

Another perspective that both Pryor and Harris shared is the idea that Black people can choose for themselves how they want to use the word, an idea that says there is no one shoe fits all an, in many ways, that is a very humanizing realization. With such a long history, with so many definitions, it’s hard to harness this word without fairly detailed context. If there is anything absolutely certain about the N-word, it’s that white people cannot use it under any circumstance.


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.