Calling All White People, Part 58: The kids might not be as all right as we think

TODAY’S EPISODE: Looking to Gen Z to end racism? Maybe get your glasses checked

There have been so many times that I’ve seen people post something online about social awareness or activism among younger people and talk about how they will usher in the end to bigotry and hate.

But I’m not sure we should be so quick to assume that the older racist people retiring or dying off means that racism is going to slow down much. Because those older racist people keep handing down racist beliefs to their kids and grandkids, and they keep feeding racism to younger people in general in tough times and during impressionable periods to convince them not to change the status quo and perhaps to reverse it in time a bit.

Now, I’m not saying Millennials and Gen Z aren’t an improvement in oh so many ways on the Baby Boomers in particular but also in comparison to Gen X. They really are. In a number of social, environmental, and other areas, they look like they might break some bad habits of previous generations. Also might institute some bad habits and poor decisions of their own, but that’s life.

But for the purposes of the subject matter you usually see here at BGIM Media, I will confidently say this: There seems little sign of Millennials denting racism so far, and I think there is little chance that Gen Z will put much of a dent in racism—assuming they manage to dent it at all.

And sure, Millennials and member of Gen Z have more friends of color than my Gen X cohorts and I did—and again, certainly more than the Boomers or even older generations than them. But that doesn’t always mean racial awareness and a true desire to usher in an anti-racist society. If you are a white person who is Millennial or Gen Z, chances are you still don’t really see how deeply embedded white supremacy and white privilege are in your day to day lives.

You know one of the things that I see on newer social media like TikTok? Interracial millennial couples trotting out their biracial kids like accomplishment trophies or making some of the most banal observations about how their relationships are changing things. Unions between people of different races—and those between Black people and white people are no exception—are nothing new.  And sexing up a Black person or making biracial babies doesn’t inherently mean you aren’t racist any more than a toxic guy loving women means he can’t also be misogynist.

I don’t think that we’ve moved the needle nearly enough on unconscious biases or on racial naiveté that we’re going to see a seismic shift even with Gen Z

People who think I’m being too glum might look at the way Millennials handled LGBTQ+ issues better than generations before them and how Gen Z seems to be even more accepting of the wide range of gender, sexual, and other identity choices.

And I will grant you that one. Sensitivity to pronoun choices and openness to accepting and exploring more fluid identity constructs seems much stronger in Gen Z than I’ve ever seen before among any group of people. But that doesn’t mean crap for racism.

I will repeat: LGBTQ+ support and similar areas of embracing identity and sexuality does not have any impact on lowering racism.

Why? Because as much as the struggles and pains of bigotry toward LGBTQ+ people and bigotry toward people based on race might sometimes look similar and even be similar, they are far from the same. I could break down all the ways in which they can typically differ in practice and how they’ve different in terms of historical treatment, but I don’t need to.

I just need to point out that there are white LGBTQ+ people and non-white LGBTQ+ people. And white people still overwhelmingly will split the two into different groupings. In fact, when they categorize an LGBTQ+ as non-white (especially Black or Indigenous), that sexual and/or gender identity may become irrelevant. In fact, it might not even get respected anymore as valid for that non-white person.

I suspect a white Gen Z youth will show more support for fellow white Gen Z LGBTQ+ youth because they connect in terms of whiteness. They see each other’s humanity and difference, but only within the context of whiteness. Older white generations may be warming to embracing LGBTQ+ identifications and concerns, but that’s because they see their white kids and grandkids dealing with these issues.

As ever in the United States, race is often the defining factor of worth (we could talk about class, disability and others, too, but race is what we handle here mostly). With white supremacy in effect—and it is very much still in effect in the United States and so many other parts of the world—race still “matters.” Whether you get to be at the table or build your own table or even be allowed to be in the vicinity of a table depends on your race and in particular on the color of your skin. The darker you are, the less you are valued.

And while it’s hardly scientific, my Gen Z daughter points out plenty of racism among her peers.

And, as long as we’re mentioning the scientific, the research seems to be backing me up that we shouldn’t assume too much about racial change coming from Millennials or even Gen Z.

For example, despite positive racial attitudes, racial discrimination is prevalent among millennials; it may be that they are just as racist as their parents overall; and it’s quite likely they may be more racist than they think (intent vs. impact, y’know). Meanwhile, it seems that Gen Z isn’t nearly as anti-racist as so many of us like to think.

I do think that racist attitudes in terms of discrimination and abuse might see some decline as Millennials and Gen Z gain ever more sway. But the underlying privilege of being white is still a hell of a drug, and that is going to hold back a lot of the progress those two generations can make, especially as their non-white members realize that siding with whiteness may bring them more comfort and gain in harsh times than doing the right thing.

I do hope I’m simply being pessimistic. But a lot of people thought the flower children of the 1960s were going to change the world for the better. Instead a ton of them became the kind of Boomers (which is to say, most of the Boomers) that so many of us are complaining about for ruining everything. Millennials turned out to be a lot more susceptible than people thought to going conservative and buying into the GQP nonsense. Gen Z is still very impressionable.

Let’s do our best to help uplift these two younger influential generations to make positive change, but let’s not assume they are just gonna do it—whether right now or long-term. Let’s stop looking for a savior generation and all band together to get to work—to get our house in order on race and so much else.

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

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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Calling All White People, Part 57: Is personal racism still worth fighting?

TODAY’S EPISODE: Taking it personally…racism, that is

Personal racism is not the problem.

To be clear: It is a problem. A big one.

Also, it is a huge contributing factor to the bigger problem, which is systemic racism, institutional bias, and the other big-picture items that adversely affect Black people, Indigenous people, and other non-white people.

But personal racism, as bad as it is, is not the core issue. No matter how much the needle moves on more people recognizing racial bias and bigotry in their own lives and actions, it doesn’t change the fact that racism is baked into the politics, the business practices, and the institutions on which the country is based and through which it operates.

Changing the bigger picture and truly ending racism in society requires a ton of changes beyond awareness and altering our individual actions and feelings. It requires top-down and bottom-up reconstruction. It requires white people being willing to give up strangeholds on power and resources for the greater good.

It’s a big job. It will take generations probably.

And as that fact is pointed out more and more—and as Black and other people of color note that changing individual hearts and minds isn’t enough—how important is tackling individual racism?

It’s still really important, actually.

Challenging people who are racist in your friend and family groups still matters. Confronting public displays of racism is still important. Countering right-wing groups who march in favor of racism and fascism is still important.

It’s true that none of this will do much, if anything, to deal with the systemic and institutional parts of the equation. But we still must call out racism on smaller scales and in individual encounters.

We cannot allow racism to go unchallenged. We cannot allow people to be comfortable—as they have become in very recent times in very large numbers with four years of a president who supported bigotry and hate publicly—in expressing their racism.

When a person is caught on video, as so frequently happens these days, being hateful because of racism, they should be identified if their identity isn’t clear. They should be shamed publicly. They should in many (or perhaps most) cases lose their jobs. They should hurt. Their hate should be punished.

This isn’t about revenge. It’s about reinforcing that these racist behaviors and actions will not be tolerated in a country with so many different types of people. It’s about showing them their white privilege and racial advantages do not entitle them to act like mini-gods over people’s lives. They don’t get to act with impunity and without repercussions.

We still must call out racism, as hard as it is for many people to do, as part of the larger process. If we allow racism and racist actions to go unchallenged and unpunished, it emboldens the people who put in the most effort and do the hardest work to prevent systemic changes.

They need to know that they are not the majority.

Yes, the majority of white people in this country are very comfortable with the current systems because they don’t like change or don’t see the problems. But the people who actively want to prevent or turn back progressive and fair and morally correct change are not the majority.

We cannot allow their very loud voices and sometimes violent actions to set the agenda and stall progress—that progress is already moving so slowly that we cannot allow derailments.

Personal racism and other bigotry will always exist. Even before “race” in terms of skin color was invented (and there have been huge portions of human history where skin color mattered little if at all), people have found reasons to hate one group or another for senseless and cruel reasons.

It is possible to erase or sharply reduce the racism and other bigotry from our systems and institutions. If will take an incredibly long time, but it is possible.

Erasing racism and bigotry within people will never go away. That’s a sad fact of human nature and how some people will view the world.

But we cannot allow ourselves to willingly give them power. We cannot hand free ground to them nor allow their momentum to grow. They must be pushed back. If they won’t stop being racist, they need to learn to keep quiet or retreat to the shadows.

We must stand up for each other when fellow humans are subjected to unwarranted hate or abuse for nothing more than the color of their skin or country of origin (or sexual orientation or whatever else). Standing up for our fellow humans means actually standing against those who embrace hate.

Calling them out, revealing them to the world, and handing out consequences is our responsibility. Evil doesn’t stop evilling except when it is confronted with strength and determination.

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

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.

Calling All White People, Part 56: The N-word and You

TODAY’S EPISODE: No, You Shouldn’t Say That Word. Ever. Just Don’t

I can’t remember if I’ve talked about this before, but even if I have, it’s probably time to repeat myself: No, as a white person, you cannot use the N-word.

I mean, you can. You could choose to do it. But you’re not allowed to. Just accept that, please. There’s no good reason to. There is almost never a reason to. No matter how “neutral” or “academic” the context, just don’t do it.

Yeah, I know many of you get that. But I also know that probably a fair amount of you don’t or are still conflicted about the “never” part. So, for the benefit of the first group so that they can explain to others—and for the benefit of the second group, so that they don’t cause hurt or get themselves hurt—allow me to elaborate.

The N-word is one of the most deeply seated pieces of hate speech in the United States. Almost everyone knows what “N-word” refers to. Most people know that Black people don’t like non-Black people using it. Some Black people don’t like Black people using it either, but that’s another matter and not my business as a white guy.

My kid tells me periodically not to use slurs, even when I’m not using them to slur anyone. She doesn’t want to hear them, even in a “neutral” sense to explain something or to talk about derogatory acts and the distastefulness of them. So, I’ve been told not to use the “R-word” even when decrying people who make fun of people with learning disabilities and the like. I’ve been told not to use the “F-word” when calling out homophobes for their verbal abuses or explaining the questionable nature of certain Eminem lyrics. And so on. Though oddly, she seems entirely unbothered by the “C-word” with regard to women and would have no problem if I spoke it, even though I think it’s a bomb that should not be dropped near any woman.

But I digress.

And I’m working on this for my kid’s sake and to be hopefully a better person who doesn’t take words lightly out of my own privilege. But no one needs to tell me that I just shouldn’t say the N-word. Because there is never any confusion about what we’re all referring to.

Someone might be confused by “Don’t use the R-word.” They might think the person means “rape” and doesn’t want to be triggered.

When my kid has referred to the “F-word” I usually think she’s talking about “fuck” which she’s never had a problem with, only to find out we’re talking about the slur for gay people.

So, there certainly is a case to be made that certain slurs might need to be written or spoken at least briefly for context. I’m not arguing one way or the other; just saying there’s one that could be made so that we all know what we’re talking about.

But I have yet to meet anyone of an age to have a solid grasp on the English language (you know, mid  to late grade school) who doesn’t know what the N-word is. Even though most of us white people won’t speak it publicly, it is ubiquitous enough in history, culture, movies, and so on that we know what it is. We are nowhere near a post-racial world in which anyone will be confused.

And even though most racists know better than to use the full actual N-word in front of anyone but other racists with no one else to hear, I feel I need to have this discussion right here with y’all (none of whom, I hope, are proud racists) because there are a fair number of you who probably really want to use the word—even if you like Black people and believe in systemic racism and the poisonous nature of white supremacy.

It’s the forbidden fruit. We’re not supposed to say it, and as a result many of us want to find “innocent” reasons to use it. Or we want to be able to use it in a more collegial and non-threatening fashion like many Black people do with each other. Because it’s pretty much the only word I can think of in the English language that white people have been told not to ever say, and so it becomes tempting.

Don’t be tempted.

Because the N-word was created for one reason and one reason only when it comes to white people using it: For white people to demean, degrade, and dehumanize Black people. It was designed to refer to a group of humans that white people kidnapped from their country, enslaved, bred like cattle, and bought and sold like appliances or tools. Black people were considered chattel and the N-word was used to remind them of that. It is a word loaded with so much hatred, disregard, bile, loathing, and disrespect that I can think of no other word that comes close to being as nasty. It is tied to the horrendous treatment of Black people during slavery and continued to be used during the Reconstruction, Jim Crow times, the Civil Rights Era and on into today to keep reminding Black people that in the opinion of far too many white people, they aren’t really humans in this society.

The N-word, perhaps fittingly enough given the letter “N,” is the nuclear option of words. Don’t launch it.

Also, aside from not letting yourself be tempted to say the N-word, don’t fall into that trap of complaining that Black people shouldn’t be able to use it either—that if it’s so bad, it shouldn’t be said by anyone. And to those of you who might make that argument and might also not like the counterargument that it is the right of a slurred group to reclaim a slur for themselves and use it as they see fit among themselves—well, I would say that isn’t your call to make. Let that be between Black people.

And again, it sure doesn’t mean that you can do it yourself, even among Black friends. Just because I might call my girlfriend “Babe” doesn’t mean you can “Hey, Babe” her yourself. And the same goes 1,000 times more when it comes to the N-word used among Black people vs. spoken by white people.

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

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.