The woke nazis

Jerry, George and Elaine visit a new soup stand. Jerry explains that the owner, Yev Kassem, is known as the “Soup Nazi” due to his insistence on a strict manner of behavior while placing an order, but his soups are so outstandingly delicious that the stand is constantly busy. – Seinfeld, 11/2/95

The Biden presidency will officially begin on January 20, 2021. On that day his cabinet will begin the work of trying to turn around, clear up, and stop the destruction that the Trump White House has crapped onto us. We, too, must get to work. As we various voices have mentioned in this space at BGIM Media (and elsewhere) countless times before, the work did not stop when Trump lost; the work does not stop when Biden is sworn in. The work has to keep going and the new work, as it is, will require us to turn around, clear up, and flat-out stop some of the nonsense that prevailed—on both sides of the fight—in order for us to create progress and equity.

I’d like to propose a New Year’s resolution: For white people to vow to give up performative activism. I want them to give up their harmful participation in toxic activism. I’m talking about the type of anti-racist activism that is tied to abuse and gaslighting. I think it’s time for white people to give up their obsession with being treated like shit and calling it activism. Repeat after me: “New year, new me! Having another person humiliate me because they do not think I am performing up to their standards of anti-racism is not activism.”

As the Trump presidency wore on, many Americans realized that we were in a bad way. Don’t get  me wrong; we were always in a bad way. But the last four years have brought along a whole crop of folks who wouldn’t believe it if you pointed it out to them on a police body cam. Lots of people, white people especially, showed up and began to lean into the work, study the philosophy, and dig into the frameworks of anti-racism.

We also saw the (re)emergence of a particularly toxic form of white activism, something I like to call “woke trips.” Unlike guilt trips which usually center around Catholicism (or what a terrible Catholic I am…), or being a cheapskate (I ain’t getting my mom nothing for xmas…), or the countless other things people try to use against us (it’s not my fault I sleep so much!!!), “woke trips” are based around wokeness, or the lack thereof. Unlike guilt trips, where almost anyone can make you feel guilty, a “woke trip” can only be administered by a “woke” person. A “woke” person who believes that by simply being an asshole, what they are doing is “teaching you.” A “woke trip” is when a person shames, guilts, yells at, shuts down, and basically abuses a white person in the name of…I’m not sure exactly what.

“Woke trips” are not the domain of any one race or ethnicity. Nope, all you need to be able to administer one is a false sense of confidence, an overarching belief in your own superiority about anti-racism, and serious lack of self awareness. Throw in a few marks who are willing to let you do it to them in public and you are halfway to being an anti-racist star!

Let’s commit to not taking shortcuts in 2021. There are plenty of folks out here claiming they can cure you of your racism. Read some of these books, they say. Listen to some of these speakers, they suggest. Don’t question me or my motives, or that makes you racist! they insist. Some white people are so desperate to wash themselves of the original American sin that they buy up all the stuff these snake oil salesmen have in their travel cases, and wear it with pride. Meanwhile the rest of us doing the work wonder where that white person got that rash from.

The truth is that the only way to cure ourselves of the original sin is to create paths forward that recognize the atrocities committed to get us here, while at the same time committing to rejecting the benefits and privileges that come from those atrocities. It means committing to uplifting the voices and perspectives of our marginalized community members and rejecting easy answers in order to achieve progress. It means not perpetuating systems of abuse. Being yelled at because you are white is not a thing. It may feel like a thing, but trust me, it’s not actually a thing. You just make all of us look stupid and Fox News look like a Pulitzer-winning organization. Please don’t make Hannity think he is right.

It’s toxic to the community of anti-racist activists who spend the time and energy crafting and delivering their perspectives and knowledge. It’s harmful to folks who are actually putting in work, putting themselves on the line in order to create equity. It’s the worst kind of performative activism—it’s built on a foundation of outrage and shutdown. For the last four years (and especially the last few weeks) we’ve lived in an ecosystem running off of outrage and shutdown. It gives white people the idea that in order to be anti-racist they first step is to give up your dignity. That’s the opposite of what we need. We are fighting for dignity.

In the Seinfeld episode I alluded to at the top of this post, “The Soup Nazi,” none of the crew (Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer) are willing to stand up to the Soup Nazi because his soup is just too damn good. They compromise their dignity in order to be a part of a special group of people—people who get the soup. Sure, maybe the soup is seriously good; maybe it’s the best soup they’ve ever had. But the problem is that the soup will eventually run out. The shop won’t be there forever. In real life all of the damage that the crew sustains, all in order to be a part of a select few, will have lasting effects. I see “woke trips” in the same way. It may work for now, but you are creating real harm when you participate, whether as the victim or the perpetrator. We need standards in this work. One standard should be that we do not use humiliation, degradation, and verbal abuse as a strategy. Another standard should be that we do not elevate those who do that.

We should always speak truth to power. We should be willing to stand for what we believe and we should be willing to say those things out loud. There is a time and a place to correct folks, and I would argue there is a way we can do that where they will hear us and listen to us. My strategies and my approach to the work will not work for everyone and. at the same time, they are not the same things for everyone—there is no one-size-fits-all approach. I am not saying my way is the right way—there are plenty of right ways—but I am saying that there are definitely strategies that are dead ends. Anything that requires you to feel bad about yourself, anything that purports to enlighten you by making you feel bad, that’s a dead end. Some might even argue that it’s gaslighting. Repeat after me: “Guilt is not action. Guilt is worthless without action.”

On January 20, let’s stop giving oxygen to Trump and his garbage posse. But before that, on January 1, let’s stop supplying culture vultures, opportunists, and woke trendsters with the attention they need to survive. Let’s leave abusive activism in 2020. No more “woke trips” in 2021. Trust me Karen, we can make you feel like shit while you work on interrogating your fears of Black men—we just won’t insist that you have to feel that way in order to progress and create change.

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Image by Adi Goldstein via Unsplash

A dark graduation for those who deserve better

Dear graduates of the never-ending 2020 election nightmare, thank you for being here, on Zoom, for what should be a momentous occasion, but will forever be remembered as the year we nearly, almost, kinda, but not really rejected fascism.

I think we, the generations before you, fucked up big time. We should have been working hard at making sure Trumpism (which had existed long before Trump) was eradicated like the measles and smallpox. But somewhere along the path we grew complacent. And here we are, again. Oh, and the measles are once again a thing, too.

White people celebrated the Black president, and worshiped at the feet of our queen Beyoncé, and so we all thought, shit…we’re taking huge leaps forward! White people got woke, and so we all caught the spirit—all of sudden things aren’t as fucked up as they have seemed! And so we got book deals, We grew audiences, fostered a culture. We anointed new knights and more queens. Celebrated hot, new, now social justice warriors. And we cut corners. And as a result, we landed in a place that helped us sell the blueprints to our individual success, but continued to make the map towards equity—the one that we all had first set off in search of—that much more abstract. 

Because we thought we were much better off than we actually were, we took our collective eye off the ball. Trumpism (which existed long before Trump) flourished, fed by resentment, fear, and existential dread. Even though Trump lost, we now find ourselves, in many ways, even further back on the path to equity.

And here is what you have to deal with: Trump is gone but he has emboldened a whole army of people who have always felt like things should be done their way and only their way. They were relatively quiet before Trump. White people who have always lived in a world where their experiences, expectations, and perspectives are what create the backdrop of everyone else’s personal narratives—the events that shape my experiences—yet and still, they complain that they are forgotten, ignored and left out. Trump’s rise fed these people. Trump’s defeat does not affect them. They too are now woke, and more importantly—not all of them voted for Trump.

You are graduating into one of the most devastating economic landscapes since the Great Depression, with a biomedical disaster threatening your existence and an ecological nightmare waiting for you in the wings should you survive the Rona and that’s the good news. The good news is that those are the tangible things you are dealing with.

You are also graduating into a world that was not satisfied with run-of-the-mill liars, grifters, and snake-oil salesmen, and so your new world exalts and props up the shittiest of all people—the gaslighters, the low-budget despots, the wanna-be thugs, the small-dick/big ego morons, the self-entitled self-appointed experts, the red-pilled Red Bull-powered patriotism zealot. You are stepping into the middle of a shitty excuse for a coup, but a coup nonetheless. You are surrounded by a lot of folks—some 70 million—who reject science, logic, and empathy and who embrace racism and xenophobia. People who know that cruelty is the point and call that cruelty  patriotism.

You deserve better than ongoing oppression, never-ending financial instability, all-encompassing bigotry, and constant dehumanization. You deserve better than rampant conspiracy theories; ignorant and dangerous Army cosplayers; misunderstood statistics; opinion being passed off as research; selfish, shameless, spineless politicians; sore losers with guns, badges and pride; racist television networks acting like they are The Word while testifying that they are entertainment. You deserve more than a president who leads with fear and offers nothing but grievance. You deserve better than the uncertainty that is our current state.

I’d like to end with a story about the Before Days.

One night my younger brother, who lives in New York City, was riding an empty train back home, to Washington Heights, after work. It was the middle of the night. The car was empty so he put his feet up. He leaned back, like I had done so many times before him, and planned on getting a little snooze in before his stop. He had a long way before he would be at 191st Street. A cop got on several stops later. He walked right up to my brother, while he was sleeping, woke him up, and wrote him a ticket for “loitering.”

When my brother got home he called me. He was furious. He was hurt. He insisted that the cop just wanted to fuck with him.

“My dude, just be happy he gave you a ticket and not a death certificate,” I replied. There was a long silence.

“Yeah, whatever,” he said.

And then we talked about football. Although I felt horrible for telling him that, for not taking his side in the matter, my desire to see him alive outweighed my desire for racial progress and police enlightenment. I vowed to do better, to be better. This won’t be a thing by the time he has kids, I told myself.

Donald Trump was not the president when my brother called me that night at 3 a.m., crying, asking for answers. 2020 is still ongoing, somehow Trump is still the president for the foreseeable future, and my brother’s daughter just turned three.

You deserve better.

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Cohen and Harris; “evolution” and choices

“I bore witness to the real man, in strip clubs, shady business meetings, and in the unguarded moments when he revealed who he really was: a cheat, a liar, a fraud, a bully, a racist, a predator, a con man.”

— Michael Cohen

Michael Cohen, after apologizing to the country for enabling the monster that enabled the plague, has written a tell-all book about his former boss. Cohen wants to tell the truth, and like Kamala Harris keeps telling us about herself, he has seen the error of his ways and wants to do better. He wants to confirm what most of all already knew—Cult45’s dear leader is a terrible person. The thing is, the people who already believed that will gorge on schadenfreude, and the people who need to hear this will ignore it. Not only will they ignore it, most of them will argue that it’s all a lie. In their eyes, Michael Cohen has not evolved—to them he was and will always be a liar, who wants to hurt the greatest American president America, and Black people, have ever known. I’m not sure about Cohen’s evolution, but I also do not care. More important to me are the reasons he is laying bare as to why we cannot sustain another four years of Trump.

Speaking of apologies, this week there is another big story: the Biden campaign announced that Kamala Harris will be the vice president on the democratic ticket. Heads on the right exploded as they are wont to do when Black people do anything other than coon for their dear leader. Heads on the left receded into their janus phase—she’s the worst, she’s the best; she’s terrible for Black people, she’s great for Black people; she’s a closet republican, she’s going to save the Democratic Party. And so on and so forth.

Harris is a dream come true for the neoliberal Democratic Party 2020—she is Barack Obama 2.0. She is, in more ways than one, a Black politician willing to enact draconian policy that hurts the poor and Black people in particular. She’s like Rush Limbaugh’s wet dream. She’s a female, younger, extremely more coherent, healthier version of Joe Biden without the wild-ass stories. Lastly and best of all she is an updated, less sleazy, not married to Hillary Clinton version of Bill Clinton, who was, if you can remember waaaaaaay back to the 90s, our “First Black President.”

One example of Harris’ bonafides: In 2011 Harris pushed a law that made it a criminal misdemeanor for parents to allow kids in kindergarten through eighth grade to miss more than 10 percent of school days without a valid excuse. Harris said she was getting tough on parents. She saw a connection between truancy and crime and, she reasoned, if she stopped truancy she might be able to reduce crime. Like any good 1990s democrat she figured the best way to stop Black youth from doing something was to further criminalize their behaviors, introduce them young to the criminal justice system, and offer no support to combat the root of the solution. As the icing on the cake—she punished their wayward parents. $2,500 fines and a year in jail ought to scare her constituents with children straight. Right? The law would force parents, who were not the root of the truancy problem per se, to make sure that their children did not grow up to be super predators. The law had an extremely negative impact on the Black community and ushered thousands of parents to court. Spoiler alert: crime rates did not go down.

Harris has since apologized, numerous times, for that law and for other transgressions against poor and minority communities. She has, in the words of all good democratic officials looking to ascend their current positions, “evolved.” With regard to truancy policy, she knows now that the more effective move is to offer parents help not jail time. It’s not a crime for politicians to “evolve.” I’m no fan of the euphemism but I am heartened by the outcomes. We should expect and demand that our politicians and other leaders reflect, grow, and change. That does not absolve them from their prior harm but it does signal that they will not enact similar policies. At least in theory.

Although Kamala Harris is the nominee for the vice presidency, she is, ultimately, running against Trump. I am choosing to believe that Kamala Harris has evolved, and I will vote for the Biden ticket. It is imperative that we heed Cohen’s words: Donald Trump is “a cheat, a liar, a fraud, a bully, a racist, a predator, a con man.” Harris is not perfect, but perfect is not what we need right now. But something great is what we can begin to strive for.

Some will say that we are being forced to choose between the lesser of two evils. I agree. Some would say that picking Harris is just more pandering to Black people. Some will even say that once Biden is in office he will forget all about Black people and their vote, until the year 2023 comes around. I agree, and I think all those things are possible. But similar to wondering if Cohen is a good person or not, these things are irrelevant to the way I will vote. I believe we will, as Baldwin said, be castrated either way, by the current political current system in which both the parties are becoming increasingly difficult to tell apart. That’s the part I care about and that’s the part I want to change.

I have never put much stock into elected officials, and truth be told I don’t trust any of them. Even the good ones. At the end of the day there are no good politicians. APAB. The system is not set up for good politicians to succeed. It is set up for people who are effective at pushing their party’s status quo. Sometimes if the stars align, good things happen when they are pushing, sometimes things get done. If you’re a sociopath then the sky’s the limit, go crazy! Lock up kids in cages! Use drones to kill people! Kill heads of state in other lands!

People, not politicians, will be the ones to liberate themselves. One step in the right direction is to share your thoughts on your current realities and political landscapes, dig into your critical analysis playbook and dissect the democratic candidates (and vote for Biden). The idea that we will hold Biden and Harris “accountable” when they get to the oval office, is preposterous, but the idea that we learn from the actions, and histories of others is not.

Like Cohen, we have to take responsibility for creating, and enabling Trump. It begins with removing him from office. We must then learn how to better vet the politicians coming up in the ranks, calling them out on their bullshit, and ultimately dumping them when they prove to be terrible people before they reach the Supreme Court, or the Senate, or the Oval Office. Let’s make sure that we help our youth understand civics, and encourage them to think of better systems and more equitable ways to move forward. Then let’s provide them the support and infrastructure they will need to succeed. As adults, let’s engage in civic life in our communities, in one way or another—remember, we don’t all have to march in the streets but we are all obligated to identify the right things and call out the bad, you know, just like Michael Cohen did.

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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