Living in a bubble: The privilege to disconnect

I recently came across an article in The New York Times about a white man, Erik Hagerman, who lives on a farm in Southeastern, Ohio. He decided that, after Nov. 8, 2016, he would “avoid learning anything that happened to America.” Hagerman—“The Man who Knew too Little”—has staved off of social media, refuses to discuss or look at politics, and has asked his friends and family to not engage him on the topic: he calls this The Blockade. He’s even gone so far as to alert the coffee shop he frequents of his blockade. The article is an utterly interesting and engrossing read into the life of a privileged white man.

This works for Hagerman for a few reasons—two of the biggest ones being that he lives on a farm in rural Ohio and is very well-off financially (he was a “corporate executive at Nike”). The Times also reports that he has a financial advisor who takes care of his investments—when the financier sends Hagerman updates, he never even looks at them. In the Times article, Hagerman says, “I’m emotionally healthier than I’ve ever felt. Why do we bother tracking faraway political developments and distant campaign speeches? What good comes of it? Why do we read all these tweets anyway?”

Even as I sit here to attempt to find the words to process Hagerman’s situation, I am at a loss. I am struck by his ignorance. So, Hagerman: You’d been following the news for decades and when a racist, sexist, xenophobic man white man was elected president, you felt that the only thing you could do was to ignore it? Would you be able to do this if you were Muslim? Or what about a recipient of DACA? A Black man? The answer, of course, is no. POC, womxn, LGBTQ+, and differently-abled peeps can’t ignore the reality of life under Trump; it is very much life or death for so many. Cruel policies around immigration could—and have—meant deportation for some. The rescinding of protective laws for transgender people are setting back years of work, protest, and policy reform. Hagerman is only able to ignore this because he is a rich, white man.

I’m reminded of a time, right after Trump won the election, when I was discussing the state of national affairs with a white man. I was saddened that the country had elected this horrid person and the dude I was talking with simply said, “This won’t change anything. I’m not sure why everyone is upset by this.” Sure, nothing might change for him or Hagerman. But for millions of others, lives have been and will be upended.

What about Jorge Garcia, a 39-year-old father, husband, and landscaper from Michigan who was brought to the United States when he was 9 years old, had paid his taxes for years, and has been fighting for citizenship ever since? Things didn’t go unchanged for him. Instead, Garcia was led from Detroit back to Mexico, having been recently deported on Jan. 15—on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Garcia couldn’t just live peacefully and ignorantly and forget everything Trump has been saying and doing to Mexican-Americans. Opting out of the national conversation is just not an option for many people.

Hagerman knows nothing of Heather Hyer, even though his sister Bonnie works and lives in Charlottesville, Va. She says, “He has the privilege of constructing a world in which very little of what he doesn’t have to deal with gets through. …We all would like to construct our dream worlds. Erik is just more able to do it than others.”

I am here writing this to both understand what Hagerman is doing as well as how he is able to do it. Let’s start with the basics. Hagerman is:

  • a cis, white man
  • financially secure
  • owns his own land
  • has demanded that friends, family, and the people in surrounding towns work with him to obey his wishes

Rich white man syndrome strikes once again: his whiteness and wealth allow him to be so controlling and insulated from the world. All of the above factors allow Hagerman to access the benefits of his privilege. The article goes on to speak of a friend of his, an immigrant who just recently became an American citizen. Hagerman has shut her down about speaking about anything surrounding the administration and immigration. Just like the current administration in silencing those around us, this man is doing exactly the same.

OK, OK everyone. I might be digging into this dude a little hard. There is also the aspect of mental health that I haven’t brought up. He could be doing this because he wants to take part in “self-care,” healing his mind so he can help others. I mean once you get to the end of the article, Hagerman talks about a haven he’s making that he calls The Lake. It’s a piece of old coal mining land he owns, and he plans to use it as a rehab facility for others to use as a media escape. This could be an admirable way to use his resources and time to fight the political climate, but excusing yourself from injustice just isn’t an option. Recharging yourself and your mental health and needing to show yourself some love so you can clearly take on the daily battles in your life is utterly important. However removing yourself from the conversation completely is unwarranted. When even one of us—as part of this human race—is hurting, we all are. We need to come together to fight for each other and ourselves.

What this really all boils down to is privilege. Everyone should be able to access that pinnacle of privilege that Erik Hagerman has accessed as a white man: Respect.

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Using regulation and laws to hold up privilege and oppression

So, I noticed recently the story going around about Tennessee fining residents for braiding hair (while somehow also being unable to muster the legislative will to denounce Nazis and white supremacists as terrorists) and it really bothers me on multiple levels.

First, there is the ongoing problem of white people policing Black people’s hair. Being told that things like dreadlocks or big afros (or even short, tight ones on women) or braids and the like are “unprofessional.” Ignoring the fact that Black people’s hair isn’t like white people’s hair and that those are natural and appropriate and healthy ways to work with the different texture and growth patterns. Instead, Black people are pushed to use harsh chemicals to straighten their hair to fit the Eurocentric white style of hair. Because, of course, exposure to toxic chemicals that gradually kill you hair follicles makes much more sense than broadening one’s view of what hair styles are appropriate for people of different ethnic, racial and cultural backgrounds.

Look, I understand requiring barbers, cosmetologists, beauticians and such needing special education and licensing. Dealing with sharp objects like razors next to vulnerable skin and dealing with coloring, perming and straightening chemicals should necessitate some kind of formalized training and oversight. But braiding? Really? That’s the place Tennessee wants to flex its muscles?

And that brings me to my second point and why I’ve filed this post under “Current Events” rather than “Racial and Cultural” here at BGIM Media. Because while racism and white privilege and white supremacy are part and parcel of what I’ve been talking about so far, it’s part of a much bigger issue of regulating people and using laws to strike out at those who are not white, not male and/or not straight.

For example, it wasn’t that long ago that the news went viral of Texas administrators at a university enforcing a dress code aimed solely at female students. Grown women being told what not to wear because they might “distract” men. Or “entice” them to lewd thoughts. It goes back to the victim-blaming of rape victims for getting raped because they dressed too provocatively. It goes back to denying that we have a rape culture in this country and that we excuse men—white men, that is—for “not being able to control themselves.” Because heaven forbid we should focus on men’s accountability and choices and the fact that they actually can control themselves—they just don’t feel a need to because policies, regulations and laws favor men. Particularly white and straight ones.

And what about the queer, gay, lesbian, transgender and other non-cis and/or non-straight people? So often denied the ability to adopt over the generations because they are deemed immoral and assumed to be more likely to sexually abuse children. Laws passed to prevent trans people from using the restrooms of their choice to protect cis-gendered people, despite a total lack of any evidence that a special risk is posed to cis-gendered people by transgendered people in public bathrooms.

Yes, men have taken some hits over recent years. More likely to hear phrases like “all men are trash” and things like that. But still, who controls the vast majority of power (political or supervisory), money and legislation in this country? Men. And most of them white and straight (or at least publicly stressing their straightness while sometimes dallying in gay sex while discriminating against non-straight people). I don’t deny that women can put expectations on men that are unfair; it’s true. There are double standards. But women aren’t controlling the regulation and laws that strike non-white, non-straight, non-cis, non-male people. They are still the overwhelming minority in executive and legislative positions.

How many regulations do we have aimed at white, straight, cis men? Who is telling them that they are distracting or enticing people with their clothes? Who is telling them through policies that they are deviant and untrustworthy and incapable of making adult decisions on their own? Who is holding them back?

No one. And if this Tennessee braiding news, on top of University of Texas clothing policing and LGBTQ-unfriendly bathroom laws and adoption policies and all the rest is one more thing to remind people that white privilege and male privilege still rule in this country (and most others), well, I’m here to remind you.

Current events tell us that the current event…the ongoing event…the overwhelming event that plays out day after day after day…is toxic masculinity and white supremacy and all of their cousins and children.

Do better. Stop using laws, regulations and institutional rules to prop up the patriarchy and white supremacy. If you’re really better than the women, the people of color, the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups, prove it on a level playing field.

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Calling All White People, Part 24: Call them the terrorists that they are

(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: Whitewashing terrorism makes terrorism a racist word  

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

Mark Anthony Conditt seems destined to join an esteemed list: White people who committed terrorists acts but will never be called terrorists by the U.S. president or, really, any governmental agency. Or, for that fact, by most white Americans.

We’ve seen mass shooters from Orlando (the Pulse nightclub shooting) to Las Vegas (the Harvest Festival country music concert). Which one did Donald Trump and the rather significant number of white Americans who support him use to launch into talk of brown-skinned immigrants and the so-called Islamic State and stoke fears of terrorism? Orlando, where the shooter was a guy named Omar Mateen. Sure, Mateen claimed to be doing it in solidarity with the extremists of the Islamic State, but that’s not the point. Whenever a Muslim or…well, anyone brown-skinned…does something like this, a whole slew of white Americans get into a tizzy about either terrorists flooding to our shores or Black people being degenerate or Mexicans being murderous drug dealers pouring across the border or some other nonsense.

Heck, if you’re white like Conditt (or like Dylann Roof, who shot dead nine black churchgoers in South Carolina in 2015), especially if you’re young, you get sensitive treatment from the mainstream media about how you seemed like such a nice boy or came from such a nice family or must have suffered from mental illness—like Roof, you might even get not only gentle arrest treatment but a snack at Burger King. Meanwhile, Black and brown suspects and killers have every sordid little item in their past, no matter how irrelevant, trotted out. Hell, Trayvon Martin, who wasn’t a killer but a murder victim, got turned into a villain in the press for having smoked pot and being “no angel” so that murderer George Zimmerman could be lifted up as the victim instead.

And we keep demonizing brown-skinned people in general, and playing up the threat of terrorism from their ranks, despite the fact that domestic white far-right extremists are at least a comparable threat (and possible a bigger one when you consider how the attacks have risen since Trump was elected). Since Trump took office, more U.S. citizens have been killed by domestic white male terrorists than by immigrants, Muslims, refugees or any other groups that have been pointed to by Republicans as being the imminent danger.

And, just for the record, despite the fears stoked about undocumented immigrants in this country, the evidence leans heavily in support that they actually are less likely to commit crimes than are U.S. citizens.

I’m digressing a bit, but I felt I needed to set the stage.

So, back to Conditt and the Austin bombings in the news lately. Well, mostly since March 18, even though the bombings started earlier in the month. But I’ll address that little tidbit a bit later.

Conditt has been called a “serial bomber” but not a terrorist. While his motives appear to be unclear at this point, in part because he apparently didn’t have much a social media presence, he was using terror tactics and his initial targets were Black and brown people. In fact, the White House has made extra special sure to point out there is “no link” to terrorism in Conditt’s actions, even though they leap at the chances to restrict immigration and clamp down on brown-skinned people whenever someone from that end of skin-tone spectrum kills even one person, much less multiple people or masses of them.

The fact is, the Conditt story didn’t even make the mainstream news in any significant way until white people started getting hurt. When Conditt’s bomb with a trip wire set up on the roadside in an upscale Austin neighborhood injured two white men. And then ramped up more when a package blew up in a FedEx facility near San Antonio and then another one was intercepted before exploding in an Austin FedEx facility.

The only reason I knew about the story days before March 18 was because of people (mostly people of color) posting on Twitter about the first three bombings and wondering (a) why it wasn’t hardly being covered in the news and (b) why wasn’t it being treated as a hate crime, since the victims up until that point were all non-white—either Black or Hispanic.

Now, was it a hate crime? Was it driven by racism? I’ll admit that things are unclear on that front. The first three bombs killed or injured people of color. The fourth was in what is apparently a pretty white part of Austin. The subsequent bombs were in packages and there is no word yet on where (and to whom) they were going. I’m not willing to bow out on the hate crime angle yet, though. By the time Conditt planted that fourth bomb, people of color were talking about racism possibly being the cause, and nothing seems to offend racists more than being called racists, so I wouldn’t be shocked if Conditt planted that bomb in a more white area to make his acts look “not racist.”

Also, who knows? The trip wire for that fourth bomb was anchored to a “for sale” sign. Did Conditt see a Black person visiting the house to potentially buy it? Who knows? Unlikely, but we just don’t know. But I’m still pretty suspicious about how un-white the first three victims were and those were in packages that were left at homes—which seems pretty freaking targeted to me. Just like the two FedEx packages had to have been targeted to actual addresses—though we may never know what addresses. That trip-wire one by the side of the road? Again, seems very random, like a diversion from Conditt’s actual “mission.”

But let’s drop the potential hate-crime angle. Again, what he did was terrorism. Whether he did it just to terrorize Austin or whether he did it with some specific twisted social agenda in mind, it’s terrorism. Let’s call it what it is.

Part of the reason so much of America is so willing to look at immigrants and refugees and Muslims and brown skin as “terror material” is precisely because we, as a nation (mostly the white part of the population), are so reluctant to finger white people as terrorists.

Again, let’s go back to some of my earlier links in this post. Going back to the years following the 9/11 attacks, more lethal terror incidents were the result of white people on the far right. Granted, yes, slightly fewer people dead by white hands, but more attacks by white right-wing extremists. And since Trump? Definitely the right-wing extremists are the major threat—and they are pretty much…well, white guys. But while they may get tagged as domestic terrorists in certain statistic-gathering, officials and politicians and average citizens don’t really call attention to that, and more than that, they let whole bunches of other white people who should be labeled terrorists off the hook. That same reluctance—and sometimes completely disregard—does not get afforded to non-white terrorists.

In fact, it seems to me that America is as likely to brand non-terrorist brown people as terrorists as it is to refuse to label white terrorists as terrorists. So I’d argue that any stats showing comparability are likely skewed to favor whiteness anyway and thus are making a false equivalency.

But the bottom line is we need to start naming terrorism by white people as terrorism. Hate crimes in particular are a terror attack. They are part of a systematic—and systemic—form of terrorism that white people have inflicted on Black people in particular since the earliest days of this nation.

Time to stop letting white people off the hook because we’re afraid to call them “racists” or “terrorists.” Time to stop humanizing white killers while failing to humanize non-white ones. And time to stop turning—in some cases—white terrorists into victims or heroes while making their victims into the villains.

Because if we’re only going to really loudly use the word “terrorism” when a non-white person is the terrorist, then we simply turn the word into a useless—and racist—term.

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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