Calling All White People, Part 29: Connection is the way, not collection

Calling All White People, Part 29

(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: Are you connecting with Black people or collecting them?  

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

Fellow white people, we are really showing our asses lately, with everything from Michelle Williams’ fiancé Chad Johnson getting mad (and petty) when she brought up race in a discussion/argument to acting like intersectionality is some plot to screw over white women to calling police on a student (Paige Burgess) for putting her feet up in class to yet another fatal police shooting of a Black man (this time Jemel Roberson) that ought not have happened, especially since that man was one of those “good guys with a gun” that the NRA keeps saying we need more of.

And really, that’s probably less than half the white supremacy/racial ignorance nonsense I saw pass through my Twitter timeline over the course of a less than a week I think—and I really only skim my timeline.

I know to some degree it’s “just” a continuation of everything that’s bubbled to the surface of America once Trump gained the White House and many more white people than ever before decided to boldly and evilly declare that they run things and they get to dictate and if you’re a person of color, particularly a Black one, get the hell out of any spaces we occupy. But whether “only” a continuation or actually an escalation, this doesn’t make us look good. It’s going to be really hard to make any Black friends as a white person if more of us don’t rein our people in and put a stop to this white-induced racial chaos.

Of course, that brings me to another point, the real one I wanted to make in this post, which is to ask the (probably) mostly progressive readers of this piece—and maybe the non-progressive ones too—are you really ready to make any Black friends even if they’re willing to give you a chance? And yes, I mean Black, not just people of color, because the divide between white people and Black people thanks to racism is really the biggest, most gaping chasm of abysmal horror and despair I can think of right now.

And I’m serious about this “are you ready for Black friendship” thing: Even if you seek racial equity and social justice with a full and honest heart, you need to ask yourself if your connections with Black people should be anything more than as an ally or accomplice who is completely respectful but not necessarily emotionally close.

Because you see, there’s this problem a lot of us “well meaning” progressives have—and one that oddly enough even some racists like to pursue—and that is “collecting” Black friends.

Often, it’s that stereotypical “I have a Black friend” thing when anything racial comes up, which often really means “I sometimes say ‘hi’ to this Black person at work” or “Almost every morning, I smile at the Black barista who fills my coffee order.” Which is, of course, to say that many people who say they have Black friends really don’t. It’s not a point I need to belabor, because it really is such a tired, worn-out trope that won’t go away because so many damn white people actually do it.

But there is something more insidious and, while it may seem innocuous at first glance, kind of creepy: The urge that some white people have to actively and purposefully seek a Black friend. When, sadly, what they often really want is a human accessory. They want to have proximity to blackness but don’t really necessarily want to connect with Black people on an actual deep emotional level.

In other words, they want to “collect” Black people rather than really connect with them, which is pretty fetishistic and dehumanizing and already happens too much in romantic and sexual situations, which I’ve talked about before in various ways, like here and here.

For some, it’s a desire to feel accepted by the Black community through a single Black friend or small number of them, as if those people represent some kind of “all access” backstage pass to the Black world. For some, it’s a desire to be part of the group and, as too many white people want to do, use that as a justification for suddenly speaking Black vernacular English or appropriating Black cultural things or occasionally using the N-word. For others, it’s like attaining some kind of achievement badge. And there are a host of other reasons, but often (I’m not gonna say “most of the time” because I have no research on this…but still, “way too often”) those reasons for wanting Black friends aren’t pure ones.

That is to say, they aren’t truly organic reasons for seeking friendship. Y’know, like having mutual interests or making a natural connection.

Too often, the efforts of white people to befriend Black people feel almost desperate and needy, which isn’t good for either person in the equation.

So, first off, let me give you some advice, and the first thing would be to tell you to approach Black people the same way you do most white people. Unless you have a pathological need to be loved by everyone or have some other social awkwardness disorder, you probably don’t try to make friends with every white person you see, nor do you seek out a certain “type” of white person to befriend instantly. You most likely interact with most people on a generally polite level and if things click, you gradually test the boundaries of expanding the relationship to see if friendship is a viable or desirable goal.

I have myself made a few Black friends in my life (mostly workplace-based friendships but, honestly, almost all my post-college friendships have grown out of the workplace). And none of them started with me trying to “make a bestie.” They all started with light chit-chat, being respectful and all the usual jazz of basic human interactions. Black people are humans. It’s trite and dismissive to counter a racial argument with “but we’re all just humans” and pretend that the social construct that is race doesn’t have real impacts, but at the same time we really are all human and to treat Black people as exotic or otherworldly isn’t helpful.

But beyond all that, which shouldn’t need saying but based on my experiences and observations apparently does need saying, you need to ask yourself if you are really prepared to be friends with any Black people. For example:

  • Are you willing to not bring up that Black friend in interactions with other people as “proof” you aren’t racist or racially insensitive?
  • Are you willing to not  try to instantly gain credibility with other Black people by mentioning this Black friend completely out of context?
  • If this Black friend is confronted with racism in your presence, will you step up to protect or support them in that moment?
  • Are you willing to probably end up at some point having very real and possibly uncomfortable discussions about racism and white supremacy, including possibly that you yourself have just done something racist?
  • At the same time, are you willing not to automatically try to initiate racial discussions just because you want free education from a Black person or to appear “woke” to them (a term we progressive white people killed for Black people, by the way)
  • Are you willing to have your feelings hurt, such as when at some point your Black friend may very well point out that sometimes being around you is uncomfortable or triggering because you look like people who oppress them regularly in society ?

This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but I hope it gives you some context. There is inherent tension between  Black people and white people overall because of white supremacy in this country (and frankly much of the world). Making a true friendship across this particular color line requires some commitment that goes a bit beyond the basics. It requires some fortitude and openness and humility. It’s not to be taken lightly.

And, also, it doesn’t mean you will be invited to the cookouts. But if you are, please refrain from bringing potato salad with raisins in it or anything like that.


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Treating the cancer of racism

Despite two years of teeth gnashing, soul searching and disbelief, American white people are still grappling with race and how racism is embedded into the DNA of America.

Recently, America’s favorite progressive politician, Bernie Sanders, played with the truth in a recent piece in the Daily Beast, where in the aftermath of the recent midterm elections he admitted that many white people have a hard time voting for Black politicians. I think you know there are a lot of white folks out there who are not necessarily racist who felt uncomfortable for the first time in their lives about whether or not they wanted to vote for an African-American,” Sanders told The Daily Beast, referencing the close contests involving Andrew Gillum in Florida and Stacey Abrams in Georgia and ads run against the two. “I think next time around, by the way, it will be a lot easier for them to do that.”

Like I said, Bernie played with the truth. See, it’s true that white people struggle to vote for Black politicians, but the reasons that they struggle are deeply rooted in the fact that they don’t see Black people as their equals. They are fully indoctrinated in the myth of white superiority.  To be fair, it is the myth that white people were born into and unless one is intentional in challenging it, it lives deep inside of you. It’s why even in anti-racism spaces, racial tensions flare up.

In short, they are racist, Bernie. But because white people have realized that being openly racist is not socially acceptable, most of them keep it undercover or don’t discuss it openly nor self-examine their motivations. They stick to polite racism for the most part. And, in the end, they only see racists as those who openly use racial slurs, burn crosses, carry tiki torches in alt-right marches or who openly antagonize and denigrate Black women like a certain orange guy living in a white house.

The average white person is seemingly ignorant of the fact that they they can be nice people, they can have Black or other POC in their lives and can still be racist. They remain ignorant that many of the preferences they hold (starting with the desire often live in “good” neighborhoods with “good” schools) are based on having few or no non-white people around. That they lessen Black and of POC routinely in their worldviews as a result of the white superiority indoctrination process.

Even when well-meaning white people want to do better, it still becomes a process that leaves non-white people out in the cold as the struggle to move beyond whiteness literally sucks all the air out of the room. It’s one of the reasons that talking heads in this era of hate insist on civility and hearing both sides.

That type of equivocation allows people to avoid looking too closely in the mirror and questioning themselves and maybe even facing the uncomfortable reality that they too may hold truly racist thoughts.  

Racism is a cancer that robs people of their life and liberty and yet we don’t treat it like the cancer that it is. Imagine going to the doctor, complaining of a host of ailments, only to receive a diagnosis of cancer and then deciding to forego treatment that could either save your life or at least create a better quality of life and extend it. Of course you would do it; when cancer does knock on our doors we do everything we can to live.

Yet when the cancer of racism makes itself known, we do everything to avoid treatment because it’s uncomfortable. Last time I checked, traditional cancer treatments are hardly a walk in the park, but very few willingly choose to avoid them.

In recent weeks in particular, America’s past sins have collided with our present reality and made it clear that hate is and was a foundational building block in this country. The only way that we can shift from our current course is to actually move to action. That action starts with the personal work that must be done to decolonize one’s mind and then extends to looking at what systems you can disrupt. It also will require a shifting of resources and requires white people to give up something, whether that is time, money, advancement opportunities, etc. This work requires losses for white people on multiple levels; one cannot continue to monopolize the power, money and opportunities and also create an equitable society. White people don’t have to become “losers” in the process of bringing about racial justice but they need to accept that they have too much in this society in terms of access, privilege and consideration. If you really want justice and equality and equity, you can’t sit in the warm embrace of whiteness, reading and staying in your head with the idea of fighting against racism. It requires action. And right now would be a great time to take action.

Study up, roll up those sleeves and slip on the gloves, and go after those tumors of white supremacy.


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If we don’t universally shun the hatred, little will change

It wasn’t until 1847 that anyone even suggested surgeons wash their hands. The idea was openly mocked by the medical community for the next 30 years and the doctor who suggested it was eventually killed by bacteria.

I think about that a lot. Fighting against an enemy that seems invisible to most, but the evidence of its destruction is everywhere you look…

From the moment that the very first enslaved African escaped bondage, there have been systems put in place to keep Black people wherever white people would prefer. The enslaved African escapes, so slave patrols are created.

Slavery ends, slave patrols become the Ku Klux Klan.

This type of reactionary attempt to re-marginalize Black people is a constant throughout American history. The white power movement was a reaction to the Black Power movement. No one bothered to interrupt us with “all lives matter” until we began explaining how Black Lives Matter.

Hate was attached to us when we were fully at the margins and no matter how far any of us have come since, this country has never put forth an honest effort to separate us from that hate. But the thing about hate that this country never seems to remember is that it ruins everything. It causes collapse. As a personal foundation, hate will ruin your health, and as a systemic foundation it can cause the entire system to collapse.

At the time of this writing there is a law in Florida that keeps former felons from voting. This law was originally written to specifically keep Black people from voting, but things changed. Now the majority of former felons in Florida are white. That hate wasn’t going exactly where it was intended anymore, so they’ve had to make adjustments along the way to keep focus on the intended target.

The electoral college was created out of racism as a means to help out slave owners. That’s the system that gave George W. Bush the presidency even though he lost the popular vote by 500,000. The next republican to become president is the one we have now and he lost the popular vote by 3,000,000. That’s six times as many votes as Bush. If that pattern holds it’ll be 18,000,000 next time.

Those are just two obvious, historical examples. I’m not even getting into the more subtle or personal ways in which hate is attached to us, but it is clear that as we move into the mainstream, this historically attached hate comes right along for the ride.

We point to the bad actors, like the president, and blame him. We point to the Richard Spencers and Gavin McInneses and blame them, but we never address the fact that hate itself is just culturally acceptable in this country.

We talk all the time about how much the president stokes hatred, but we don’t try to get rid of the actual hatred. No, I’m not talking about some kinda hippy-dippy, personal and emotional cleanse. And I’m not talking about making any kind of speech illegal, though I do have some thoughts about that.

I am just saying that there are things that are culturally acceptable and things that are not. For example, in absolutely no way is it culturally unacceptable to pick your nose in public. If you arrive at work tomorrow with your finger jammed into one of your nostrils, at first some may laugh, thinking you are deliberately being funny. Keep it up throughout the day and you will find yourself alienated and visiting HR for a mental health check.

Now imagine you acted like this after being told not pick your nose at work.

Have you ever been in a room full of people when someone coughs without covering their mouth? That person hears about it. Somebody says something every time. The cougher is often reminded that there are other people in the room and that they should not let something so toxic come out of their mouth, at the very least for the sake of everyone else. Sometimes the cougher is even told to leave and that they shouldn’t be around people until they become less toxic…

Unacceptable behavior is often deemed that way because of its effect on others and it doesn’t have to be legislated to be understood. But it does have to be recognized.

Don’t get me wrong, I see the same videos as you. And, yes, it’s nice to see all the Apartment Pattys getting theirs. But for me, it’s just not that much of a relief when all of the hate speech, all of the political assassination attempts, all of the internments of children, all of the church murders, all of the Nazis, klansmen, proud boys and fascists all come out of the same, affectionately titled Grand Old Party that is currently in charge of the entire government. And they are in charge of the government in a democracy even though they represent the minority of citizens.

Their hate and their methods are as old as abolition and they’ll either have their way or they won’t. We’ll either figure out how to separate the hate from a people or we will push those people back to the margins. One of those options I am hopeful for. The other the country has always found easier.

Always.


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.

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