Calling All White People, Part 33: Racism isn’t the white person’s call

(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: Sorry, but white people don’t get to define what is racist  

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

I know that most of us white people want to have a say in everything and express an opinion about anything we like, but guess what? We don’t get to decide when we are being racist. And we don’t have any place jumping into discussions and defending other white people who have offended people of color (POC), especially Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC).

I know that probably grates on many of you, but we just don’t have any business defending ourselves or other white people against the vast majority of claims of racism or doing something racist, even if the person isn’t of racist persuasion overall in life.

I’ve done racist things, however minor they might be—or rather, how minor I perceive them, even if I perceive them at all—but I don’t get to say “That wasn’t racist!” Because if there is a person who feels I’ve done something racist to them, chances are that they are either flat-out 100-percent right or at least “right enough” that they have a case to call me on tapping into white supremacy or white privilege in a damaging way.

Period.

I can choose to examine what I did wrong or what I did that hurt someone. I can work to change my behavior. But I don’t get to determine whether my actions were racist on some level, whether overt or subtle or somewhere in between.

I can already hear some people muttering (or even yelling), “But…free speech!”

OK, when the government is arresting people or otherwise oppressing them for their speech, we can talk about whether the First Amendment applies. But it has nothing to do with private citizens or companies or any of that. It’s to protect you against the government. If your speech is hateful or otherwise problematic, you are subject to potential consequences from other people, your employer and more. Deal with it.

And you know, part of the problem with Nazis and other white supremacists these days getting to have platforms and go on TV shows to air their filthy views and all that is because we keep acting like “free speech” is something to which everyone is entitled to in every venue, and it’s simply not true. And Nazis and their ilk shouldn’t be given platforms and humanizing profiles in the New York Times and crap like that. Even if they aren’t talking about extermination of POC or other “undesirables” they talk freely of separating the races. And that’s not to give everyone a safe and level playing field. You see, if we look at Black people, for example, Jim Crow laws were enacted in the wake of Reconstruction following the Civil War because white people didn’t like the gains and progress (and potentially power) that Black people were building. And when they found success in various places, like the creation of “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa and similar progress, white people literally tore down and burned down those efforts to stop them from progress. And in the 1970s and beyond, when the Black Panthers and others were actively protecting Black communities or talking about “Black power” and feeding the poor and things like that, they got labeled as terrorists and sometimes, police would just do things like firebomb them and their kids. And oh, the 1980s? Let’s further set back Black people by sending people to prison and giving them felonies and ruining their lives forever just for using crack cocaine and other drugs. And when we talk about how POC should get college educations to get ahead and then they do…and we still don’t hire them or if we do we don’t pay them enough—instead, they get to earn in many cases the same amount of money or less (and have access to fewer opportunies) compared white guys with high school educations—or even white high school dropouts for that matter.

But, as almost always is the case, I digress.

I was really talking about how we white people want to define whether any of our actions are really racist. We want to talk about our intent, when the fact is that impact is more important than intent.  (And yes, the accepted and accurate description of racism needs to be “privilege/power + prejudice” because being white gives inherent benefit of the doubt, power, access and forgiveness/second chances in society—it isn’t the same as non-racist prejudice or bigotry; the impact is far greater with racism)

I mean, do accused criminals get to define whether their actions are crimes? They may have their day in court and someone might defend their actions and try to downplay how criminal they really were or if punishment is necessary, but if you assault or steal from someone, you don’t get to suddenly jump in and offer an opinion about whether those actions are defined as crimes and then have the rules rewritten.

OK, I probably struck a nerve with some of you with the criminal comparison. You probably don’t like thinking of any “racially insensitive” or “racially charged” acts or words (and the proper phrase for both is racist acts) as being the same as a violent or very harmful crime.

All right…do abusers rightly have a say as to whether their actions are abuse? If someone beats their partner (spouse or lover or whatever) or parents resort to routinely striking their kids for any old infraction because heaven forbid they use words or non-violent punishments and consequences—do they get to say, “But I’m not abuser.” No. “I didn’t mean to hit her; she just pushed me and I snapped.” Sorry, that’s abusive. “But I was really angry and not thinking straight.” Nope, you’re an abuser. “If I don’t do something violent, they won’t behave right.” ABUSE.

Still probably some hurt feelings among some of you. You don’t like being compared to people who do domestic violence, either? You say that even if you did say or do something maybe a little racist at least it’s not like you put someone in the hospital. And yet abuse is also emotional and/or psychological, isn’t it?…and that still does damage and you know it. And, also, racist acts and words (like calling the police for minor issues or non-issues) can get POC, especially BIPOC, killed. So, yeah, the abuse/violence analogy works just fine here.

But hey, let me cut you some slack. Let me ease up on the violence comparisons. Not that I need to, but hey, let me be more relatable to those of you who are dying to debate me on some, many or all of the points I’ve already laid out.

Let’s take the example of a person going to human resources or an upper-level boss because they are being taken advantage of or mistreated by a person with supervisory power over them or at least some kind of seniority or something.

Not getting the connection? Well, if that’s the case, let me clarify: White supremacy and white privilege put white people at a level of seniority (not deserved, mind you) over POC, especially BIPOC. It even gives them “supervisory” power. How else does someone like “BBQ Becky” (or the dozens of similar women calling police on Black people just for existing) get to call in the police for nothing and typically not be charged with a crime. Also, a white guy can actually beat up a Black woman and threaten her with a gun and get initially charged with a misdemeanor (later upgraded to a felony only because the police and prosecutors realized what a shitstorm they’d unleash if they didn’t) and then the law enforcement folks charge the victim with a felony for damaging the man’s truck after her attack by him (apparently the charges have since been dropped but they shouldn’t have been filed in the first place and they probably wouldn’t have been dropped if not for very public outrage).

So, yes, we white people have an undeserved role of power (seniority or supervision) over POC. And just like you, going in with a complaint at work, don’t think the person who misused you should get to define whether their actions were “just fine” (because that’s why you lodged an official complaint and brought in third parties), the fact is that you know in a lot (maybe most) work situations, you are going to lose. No matter how right you are, that person will get a say in whether they did wrong. And they will get treated to more deference and leeway most likely, because they are in some level of power over you. And it isn’t right. It isn’t the way it should be.

You put yourself in a vulnerable position by lodging a complaint, and your abuser will probably be given the benefit of the doubt and allowed to define whether their actions were abusive and reduce their blowback as a result.

You know that’s wrong.

When BIPOC and other people of color say something a white person does is racist, they are making themselves vulnerable—in particular to other white people who will rush to defend their abusers and even forgive them no matter how much the POC was hurt. Calls of the “race card” or “race baiting” or “reverse racism” will come from the fact they even said a single thing, and maybe the white person will lose their job or something. Maybe. But it’s the person of color who is going to get the endless attacks and harassment for “overreacting”—even death threats.

So, no, we white people don’t get to say when we are being racist.

We do get to say when we are sorry—and realize that even when we are, we don’t automatically (or maybe even ever) earn forgiveness. And whether we are forgiven or not, it is still upon us to change for the better.


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Calling All White People, Part 32: Centering white mediocrity during Black History Month

Calling All White People, Part 32

(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: Did we really need an average white teen during Black History Month?  

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

You know, it was only three weeks ago I was here talking about white male teens at the center of racial controversy and dammit, here I am again with a new spin on the topic. Screw you, Esquire.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, and you could be forgiven because it’s not the same kind of “in the media everywhere” kind of story like the MAGA-hat-wearing Covington teens were but instead more of social media (especially Twitter) backlash, you can go here, here and here for some context. Or just to learn more than you already knew.

But, basically, the March issue of Esquire has a cover story on what it’s like to be a middle-class white male teen growing up in America today, from the perspective of a single white male teen. A cover story on a young guy without much social or world awareness who’s not exactly doing anything special or has any great insight—in a country where being a young white guy who isn’t poor is already a foot in the door of opportunities galore that no other group enjoys. A cover story.

And during Black History Month.

More than that, during a Black History Month when Black people have already had to deal with a special level of whiteness screwing with their vibe, starting with Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and then Liam Neeson tag-teaming the governor’s blackface issue with his personal admission of hate crime fantasies. And then Jennifer Lopez, who not only isn’t Black but also (or so it seems to me) often presents as white as possible in her career despite being Puerto Rican, was the person picked to do a Motown tribute during the Grammys. This has been more like the anti-Black History Month.

When BGIM is here or on social media or talking to audiences or whatever and she talks about the problem of centering whiteness, I’m not sure there is a more prefect and annoying example of it than this Esquire cover and the article attached to it. And not only centering whiteness but maleness and white mediocrity. One of the biggest complaints of Black people and a lot of other people of color is how mediocre white people so often rise to positions of power, and Ryan Morgan right there on the magazine cover might just end up being one more of those. And, to be fair, while white women have a lot more privilege and access than people of color, they have their own valid complaints about white male mediocrity often winning out over them even when they are far better than men who rise past and above them.

The Esquire debacle here is an act of such profound tone-deafness that it’s hard to tell if the editorial crew over there is just so drenched in their whiteness and privilege that they have tunnel vision, or if they were just doing a variation on click-bait to generate attention by doing something so in the face of Black people during Black History Month and lots of other people generally.

And lest we forget, we just recently passed (on Feb. 5) what should have been another birthday for Trayvon Martin, a Black teen murdered at 17 for walking to his dad’s house after going to the store to bring back some snacks and a drink—because he was Black.

And it doesn’t matter that Esquire apparently plans to profile non-white, non-male youth in future stories. Because the first one, right there on the cover getting the spotlight out of the starting gate, is a white male teenager. Will the other profiles even get cover treatment? Who cares, even if they do. The white guy got it first because that’s who always goes first.

And they did it during Black History Month!

The white male experience is exactly what the news media, movies and television shows, history books and daily life already pay the most attention to. I’m not sure this story made sense to spend roughly 7,000 words telling to begin with. And I’m really unclear as to why it’s cover-worthy. But above all, as the starting point for talking to America’s youth about their lives, and as a cover during Black History Month, it was an absolute failure and an insult to Black Americans. And an insult to our collective intelligence that this would be considered a thought piece. Maybe it’s not as bad as running humanizing profiles of the average daily lives of Nazis and white supremacists like the New York Times and others so love doing lately, but it’s bad enough.

I don’t expect every mainstream magazine to run Black-focused cover articles for Black History Month (though hell, it might be nice…). I don’t expect most mainstream magazines to get stories about Black people and Black lives and Black struggles right. Hell, I don’t know that I’d trust a magazine like Esquire not to screw something like that up. But I do expect editorial teams at national, glossy, big-name magazines not to trip over their own feet to worship a mediocre white male teenager who doesn’t have anything meaningful to add to a conversation about how hard it is to grow up in American and do so during Black History Month.

Seriously, we white people need to get the hell over ourselves already and how important we are. We have ill-informed, mediocre white people all over the television screens telling us how the world works when they don’t even know how much a damn loaf of bread costs or how you pay for it in the store. We don’t need a celebration of the very blandest that white America can offer.


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And for the last time, it’s Black History Month. Have some damn respect.

Calling All White People, Part 31: Those Covington teens are no angels

Calling All White People, Part 31

(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: Wearing MAGA hats should have been the end of the debate  

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

I don’t know how you could have missed the news, but in case you don’t know what I mean when I say I’m going to talk about the Covington teens and Nathan Phillips, here is a link to a Vox article that I feel may be among the more balanced/neutral of the bunch.

So, we started with a viral video that had people decrying the teens as racist and aggressive…then we had the release of a much longer video that shows a group of Black Hebrew Israelites having shouted unpleasant things at the teens and other occurrences that add a ton more context and nuance. The release of that longer video had conservatives shouting “fake news” and saying that the teens were rushed to judgment, though frankly a lot of people have noted that the longer video, while it may make the adults look less sympathetic, might make the teens look as bad as before, and maybe even worse.

Regardless, I’m going to focus on the teens. All indications are that their school is fine with racism (students in blackface taunting opposing Black athletes at games) and that their parents are largely racist as well, because that’s where kids tend to learn this stuff the most strongly.

And I am going to say this: Those teens, especially the smirking future Brett Kavanaugh we see in the face of lead Covington teen Nick Sandmann, are racist.

I said it. I’m not taking it back. They’re racist.

Whether or not the adults in question made the best choices, and whether the initial story was skewed, those teens are not victims here. They were heralds and foot soldiers for white supremacy, and in my mind they got what they deserved.

And no, don’t give me arguments about how they’re just kids when Black children and Black teens are so often killed or harmed by police and civilian white people and we’re told “they should have known better” or “if they had just complied better”…

More importantly, if you’re one of the people who initially thought “those teens were repugnant” and now, in the wake of the longer video and wider discussion, you are ready to defend them or cut them slack, let me break some things down for you:

Those teens were in DC to march against women’s bodily autonomy. Yeah, so what if that’s not related to racism? It sets the stage. The kids weren’t there on some random, innocent trip. They were there as religious foot soldiers. They were there to agitate and apparently did engage in taunting of women while there. Certainly, any pro-choice woman would have rightly seen them as aggressors and opponents, and rightly so. Sure, the teens have every right if they want to espouse extreme views that advance a religious and patriarchical agenda that takes away women’s autonomy. But it establishes that they weren’t innocent bystanders.

They were wearing MAGA hats. This is the most damning thing of all. The whole “Make America Great Again” motto, and especially with those red hats, is a rallying cry of the Trump regime. He has marketed and used it profusely. And the “great again” part of that clearly aims to elevate white people generally and white men in particular. If the teens’ purpose was to rally for the right to life on behalf of unborn children, why are they so prominently wearing what is essentially the modern-day equivalent of a KKK hood? Because they were there to proudly declare their allegiance to Trump’s agenda, to white supremacy and to intolerance, not simply to a “pro-life” stance.

They took that shit right to some Black people. Say what you will about whether the Black Hebrew Israelites were obnoxious or out of line. Perhaps they were. But those teens took those MAGA hats and their MAGA agenda to a spot where there were Black people. Bottom line: Wearing a MAGA hat and approaching any person of color, but most particularly Black or Indigenous people of color, is an act of aggression by its very nature. You might as well be wearing a Nazi patch or some white supremacy pin on your jacket.

They surrounded, blocked and mocked an Indigenous elder. Even if you argue that Phillips should not have intervened to try to head off potential trouble between the Covington teens and the Black Hebrew Israelites…even if you say that his chanting and drumming was “in the face” of Sandmann and therefore aggressive…that boy stood there defiantly with a smirk on his face and a MAGA hat on his head blocking Phillips, and his friends were all around that old man, and they taunted that Indigenous elder with “tomahawk chops” and “war whoops” which is about as classically anti-Native American racist as you can damn well get. And threatening, too. Multiple high-schoolers against a single old guy?

Those teens stuck their foot in it, and they got pushback. If you don’t want trouble, don’t start trouble. And they were there to start it. And when they got caught going too far, they suddenly cried “victim” and the mainstream media gave them all the airtime in the world to humanize themselves. The most peaceful person in the situation, Phillips, is made into a villain, as countless Black and Indigenous and Latinx and Arab and Muslim people have before him.

Whiteness is always allowed that chance to redeem and humanize itself in this country, while people of color rarely get that chance. And that is the ultimate “race card.” Sandmann and the other Covington teens and their parents are playing that card…that “Get out of jail free” card that most white people get in multiples while non-white people get few second chances…and that makes them racist. Out in the media crying “foul” when they were the foul ones to begin with.

Not just racist, but white supremacist. Trayvon Martin and other Black youth have been tagged as “they’re no angels” after they became victims, as a way to make them less sympathetic. Well, these white teens are no angels either, and they aren’t victims of anything but their own hubris and cockiness.

And so, while there may be blame to spread around, most of it lies at the feet of white people, yet again. Because they started the shit to begin with.


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.