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.

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Photo by Estefano on Pixabay

Living and thriving in predominately white spaces: a PoC survival guide

Stand in your truth.  What does it mean to stand in our truth? To my understanding, standing in one’s truth means being in alignment or harmony with all parts of self: mind, body, spirit. Which means there is a voice tugging at our consciousness, telling us something is off. Whether it be physically, emotionally, or spiritually. Often when I am doing something—be it a project, relationship, or in an area which runs counter to my nature—I get a feeling which I cannot shake. To put it simply, I am aware of what serves me and wary of what does not. I am finding it increasingly important to seek out what will allow me to vibrate higher and root out what will not.

Take care of what serves you. Finding what serves me has taken a lot of time and effort and essentially comes down to basic needs. Finding what or who makes me feel good and making sure, to the best of my ability, that requirements are being met to keep them in my life. Whether it be showing up to work and doing the work well, watering my plants more or less so they don’t shrivel up and die, or hanging out with a friend when I may be a little tired. Doing maintenance to make sure that blessings continue to cycle in and out of our lives.

Ask for what you need. People of color are magic. We have always been magic and we will always be magic. It comes as no surprise then to realize that we have been pouring all of our time and energy into places and people which do not serve us. Through conversations with fellow PoC, I am coming to notice a trend. More and more artists, organizers, and the like are moving their gifts from white spaces, which have frequently only served as a sucking void, into PoC spaces which feel nourishing and validating. Because of rampant (often unchecked) racism and appropriation in predominately white spaces, it is understandably difficult for PoC to advocate for themselves and be heard. Lack of support and understanding naturally leads us to find other outlets for our gifts. People of color are coming to understand the depth and breadth of our history on this continent and are finding that makes more sense to divest from what does not serve us and invest in what does. If we aren’t getting what we need from one space, we will create and nurture one that does. This energy is evident in the growing PoC spaces around my own town, which is replicated in many other (thought still not enough) communities. Spaces that span many areas of life from music, to spirituality, to interpersonal.

Make sure you’re being compensated. Should PoC choose to lend our gifts to spaces which may not serve us but serve the greater good, it is important to make sure we are compensated. Creating and manifesting take time and labor, and existing is hard. To ask PoC to invest in a thing which actively harms us (i.e. asking a PoC to enter a white-only or nearly-white-only space specifically to educate) is counterproductive; we need to make sure we are being paid for our time and our energy. This is basic and a realization which has helped me to understand how far people are willing to go down the path to liberation.

Make sure you’re being supported. More than being compensated, it is important to ensure we are being supported. When considering where to place my energy, personally, professionally, creatively, I check in to see if the people, organization, facility I am working with has got my back. Regardless of whether there are PoC, I ask myself, “Are the people I am dealing with down for the movement?” If I don’t know the answer, I ask questions to find out. Where does my request for validity and self-respect meet their boundaries?

Take care of your heart. Beyond all of this I am finding the most important thing to take care of my heart. It becomes easy to get so caught up in the daily grind of it all, crossing off check-lists, putting away groceries, getting through the next thing…that we forget to be kind to ourselves. We need to be gentle with ourselves—as people of color we stay being under an extreme amount of stress while somehow finding a way to dream and achieve our goals. Despite our magic, it cannot serve us if we run ourselves ragged. This is a lesson I am learning for myself; understanding when to slow down, ask questions and when necessary, step away from what does not serve me. This is a thing we all can do by paying attention to what we need, investing in our gifts and taking care of our hearts, we can stand fully in our truth.

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Black suspects or Black victims? Will someone dig deeper?

Maine is an overwhelmingly white state. At 94.4% white, according to the 2010 Census count, Maine remains one of the whitest states in America, which is no small feat given the shifting demographics in the United States.

As such a white state, it means that it is not uncommon, especially in Northern Maine, to encounter living, breathing human beings who have had little to no interaction with non-white people. People whose worldviews about people of color have been shaped by media. People who assume the absolute worst based off nothing but what they have been fed by others and whose lack of lived experience gives them no reason to counter the images that are fed to them.

This is why when Maine’s governor, Paul LePage, stated back in 2016 that “guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty” come from New York and Connecticut to sell their heroin in Maine, and “half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave,” it wasn’t based on any actual facts, just half-cocked assumptions that were both racist and insulting to Black folks—especially the ones who call Maine home.

A quick Google search  will reveal that Maine’s governor holds questionable views on Black people and given that he is the governor of this state, that is very problematic. Maine, like many states, is in the grips of a drug epidemic. But to lay the blame for that at the feet of Black people is simply a tired and worn-out trope that can have real-life consequences for Black and Brown people in this state.

Which is why when this story came across my desk, it made me stop in my tracks. In the Portland Press Herald, a major newspaper in this state, the headline reads “Maine man, 2 women from New York accused of dealing crack in midcoast” and in this story the headline reads “Mainer swept up in drug bust with NY twosome.”

A quick read of both pieces tells us that Raquel Renfro, 18, of Rochester, N.Y., and Shaundrea Fuller, 20, of Rochester, N.Y., were charged with aggravated trafficking in drugs, according to paperwork filed in Knox County Unified Court. Meanwhile, Joseph Malburg, 51, of Warren, was charged with trafficking in drugs. All three were taken to the Knox County Jail in Rockland. Bail for Renfro and Fuller was set at $50,000 cash; Malburg’s bail was set at $2,500 cash.

Two young adults and a man who is old enough to be their father or even grandfather are arrested for drug trafficking but the two young people get the sky-high bail and the 51-year-old gets the $2,500 bail. Seems rather a stark inequity to me. Perhaps it’s just me, but the alarm bells are ringing, especially because these two girls are extremely young and—I am sorry, but I have a hard time believing that a barely-adult and barely-out-of-her teens pair has the connections or means to move drug weight at that level without someone else being behind this. I also know that sex trafficking is a very real thing that happens in Maine and in communities of color. So the possibility that they are being manipulated or forced into this work is rather high.

I also know that the media is very selective in how we frame suspects. Too often, white suspects in the 18-21 age range are still viewed as youth, but that framework is rarely applicable to suspects of color. In fact, too often Black children and tweens are viewed as being adults by white folks, particularly when they are suspected of doing something wrong. And even beyond the skewed perceptions, let’s just talk about being 18 or even a couple years older. Technically, one is an adult at 18 but the science tells us that the  brain is still growing and to be frank, I think this is one of the many reasons that white suspects in this age range are presented as teenagers rather than adults because while they are legal adults, they are also teenagers.

Look, I don’t know the suspects, I don’t know the case and I am not an attorney but I do know that this case isn’t passing my smell test, I know that Maine is a state where race matters and that we have a governor who has on more that a few occasions been very clear about who he sees as the enemy: people of color, whether native to Maine, immigrants to Maine or visitors from other states. I also know that implicit bias is a real thing and that all these factors together means that it is less likely that these young women would be seen as anything other than a problem. It means that if they are in fact part of something they were forced to be a part or were somehow brought here to work, what is the likelihood that someone will see them as victims and not predators? Black girls going missing and ending up in bad situations is a reality in this country. Too often Black girls go missing and their stories rarely even touch the national conscience; Black children are targeted at early ages and deemed to be problems.

Perhaps it’s just the mother and grandmother in me, but I hope that the powers-that-be dig deeper in this case before throwing these young women away.

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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