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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Calling All White People, Part 28: Halfway isn’t the way to justice and equity

Calling All White People, Part 28

(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: We always give white racist patriarchs room to maneuver  

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

I have a wooden chair in my house with a loose leg that I repaired using probably half a roll of basic silver duct tape—yes, it’s secure and usable again and it was a quick and easy fix, but it’s ugly and hardly presents a welcoming seat for visitors. I have more than one room where I mostly painted the walls and then failed to finish off the details. I have ceiling damage in one room that I couldn’t afford to repair, so now a floral-patterned fabric hangs in a billowy manner in that window space like some sort of valance-like treatment to hide the damage.

I could call all of those measures and many more in my home, on my property and in my life half-assed. But that wouldn’t be fair. They did the job more than halfway.

Still, they kind of suck.

And you know what sucks more? What we do with any kind of social progress in the United States. Because rarely do we do the job in even a half-assed way. Quarter-assed would be too much credit. Too often, we start the work or get some momentum going, and then just walk away and assume that what we did will hold—worse, we assume that it will somehow flourish and grow without any effort on our parts.

And when you continue to see the word “we” as this piece continues—and you will, many more times—I mean “We the white people.”

So, we decide slavery is bad and we abolish it. Then we keep our eyes on the former slaveholders for a few years and walk away. And then here comes the Jim Crow era and laws that held Black people down every bit as firmly as slaver-drivers with whips. Oh, and we never did confront the rampant racism in the North that pushed Black people to the margins, either. By the way, we also didn’t get rid of slavery—we just said you could only be enslaved as punishment for a crime (so it should be no wonder why white people are 64% of the U.S. population yet only 39% of the prison population).

Oh, look, now we have the Civil Rights Era. Voting Rights Act. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. This time we’ve finally arrived. We’ve reset the game. …No, we didn’t. Yes, gains were made and some wrongs were righted and some programs came into being that gave Black people some help, but no one addressed the core problem that almost every American institution was controlled by white people and incentivized to continue putting white people in first, second and third place. Honorable mentions only for the people of color, especially the Black and Native American/Indigenous ones. And then when the 1980s rolled around shortly thereafter, we turned away our eyes as the crack cocaine epidemic became not a clarion call to provide counseling, medical care and economic reform but instead an excuse to incarcerate even more Black people simply for having addictions that we helped create to begin with.

Women got some control over their own bodies with Roe vs. Wade and then we acted like it could never be reversed, and plodded along, most of us (women included)  tucking our heads down and looking at our feet as state after state found ever-more-creative ways of limiting access to abortions. And then we ended up with the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief Donald Trump who has now tilted the Supreme Court to a very, very right-wing slant and installed Brett Kavanaugh with a very obvious mission to help bring down women’s rights even more (there are other agendas, too, but that’s the first I think). Oh, and by the way, we the white people put Trump in office. Even if we didn’t vote for him (and a lot of us did, including 53% of white women voters in full support of white patriarchy and white supremacy), most of us propelled Trump to office by assuming he couldn’t win, treating him like entertainment (or a joke) or voting for third party candidates instead of Hillary Clinton (or refusing to vote at all because Bernie Sanders didn’t get the Democratic nod).

We elected a Black president in Barack Obama and gave him two terms and declared ourselves a “post-racial” nation, ignoring how white supremacist violence increased and also being unwilling to name Republican resistance to his policies and practices as the blatant racism that it was. And we got the Tea Party and a move so far to the right in the Republican party that even Ronald Reagan might have been appalled. And then we assumed (wrongly, in case you haven’t noticed yet) that the far-rightward shift would be the death of the GOP—instead, they are going strong and sending decades of progress in this country (such as it was) backwards at a breakneck pace.

I could go on, but I already have, and I think it’s enough.

We start the work, but we don’t finish it.

We give marginalized groups a little something extra, but never enough.

We say we want to create a balanced and fair world, but we aren’t willing to give anything up ourselves.

We point to how evil the oppressors are, but we don’t actually resist them. Instead, we take the “high road” and give them platforms to spread their hateful thoughts, under the guise of “listening to all views.” We see them coming with guns blazing and doing all kinds of shady shit, and we bring along butter knives and boxing gloves to the fight.

We white people who often think ourselves so progressive and fair and open minded too often give white male patriarchs (as do a quite sizable population of white women who don’t want to lose what privilege and power they can get by proximity to them) all the room in the world to maneuver, scheme and undo whatever gains are made to advance racial equity, religious freedom, worker’s rights, women’s rights and more.

There is no halfway in the fight against injustice. There is no end. Can we (reminder: we white people) for God’s sake stop half-assing social change, trying to have our cake and eat it too and assuming that the death of all the old people will end their legacies of hate? Their children and yes, even we “progressives,” all carry that same corruption. As with cancer, you’re never truly “cancer free.” There is always the chance (even the likelihood) tumors will return one day—particularly when we stop paying attention or put on those rose-colored glasses and gorge ourselves on optimistic bullshit.

We need to stop thinking that the current state of rising uber-conservatism, fascism, Nazism, misogyny, racism, Islamophobia, transphobia, homophobia, gun violence and all the rest “isn’t the real America.” It is. And that’s the problem. We keep believing a better America was hidden under a pile of garbage. It isn’t. We have a pile of garbage we need to burn so that we can create an entirely different America. If you want justice and equity to reign, that has to be the goal. Nothing less. No compromise. No halfway.


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Calling All White People, Part 27: Taking up less space

Calling All White People, Part 27

(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: We white people need to take up less space  

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

People with an interest in environmental issues will often talk about “reducing our carbon footprint.” Well, those of us who are interested in racial equity and who are white might want to think about something similar, except it would be “reducing our Caucasian footprint.”

Now, one could argue for the need to reduce such a potentially damaging footprint in all kinds of ways, from reducing our propensity for colonialism (which is still practiced in such places as Puerto Rico today) to ending the practice of overwhelmingly putting white people (particularly men) in charge of corporations and federal law, way out of proportion to their actual percentage of the population or sometimes even their ability to do the job.

But no, what I want to talk about is reducing how much space we white people often take up.

You may have heard people of color talk about “white people taking up too much space.” If you haven’t , you might want to pay attention more, because you might be one of the folks crowding them. And no, I’m not talking about literal space, though white people do have a bad habit of invading the personal space of people of color, too. What I mean is that we tend to make ourselves the center of attention when it comes to discussions of racial matters.

(If you’re the kind of person who says at this point: “Well, if Black people or whoever don’t want us white people around to help undo racism and they’re just going to complain about us all the time, I’m just gonna take my marbles and go home” then you probably don’t really care about racial justice and…why are you here, anyway?)

No, it isn’t that people of color, particularly Black people, are tired of constantly being surrounded by white people and having to always adjust to white norms because it hurts them figuratively or gets them literally hurt if they don’t do exactly what white people want and expect all people to do regardless of cultural or historical background. I mean, they are tired of that, but my point isn’t that we white people need to be literally absent from the scene more often (because really, white supremacy and racism is something white people created and continue to nurture, consciously and unconsciously, so we need to do most of the work of undoing it).

My point is that we need to stop making ourselves the center of attention.

And that is often what is at the core of people of color complaining that white people take up too much space.

For example, you might have a group of people of differing races together, and talk of racism comes up. Eliminating racial disparities, reparations, higher rates of police violence vs. Black people. Whatever. And during the discussion, one or more white people will somehow make it about themselves, either individually or as a race. Instead of focusing on the issue of how things like white privilege and white supremacy hurt non-white folks, they’ll start going on about their feelings of guilt or how hard it is to work for social justice of whatever.

And it’s not that their feelings or the difficulties of dismantling racism or anything else are invalid.

It’s just that too many white people turn that into the focus and want to be heard out on such topics to the exclusion of respecting the people of color, or instead of focusing on the bigger and more important issue, etc.

If you’re not getting what I’m talking about, think about fellow white people you hang out with or have been around in the past who “suck all the air out of a room” or who always dominate conversations or try to be the center of attention. It’s not that all of those people are bad or even annoying generally. They might be fine humans or delightful company most of the time, but still, their antics are often exhausting and exasperating.

And when this kind of thing is brought up to white people by people of color, nowadays it isn’t that uncommon for the white people to ask if they can have a separate space (in the virtual world or the physical one) where they can talk with each other and process their own emotions about racial issues. Which isn’t a bad thing, because often it’s tiring for people of color to have to always hold our hands or listen to us weep or gnash our teeth about our struggles with overcoming white supremacy both outside and inside ourselves.

So, creating white spaces to deal with white feelings can often be an example of taking up less space. And yet, even there, white privilege and white supremacy ironically can still rear their ugly heads. I’ve witnessed and heard about all too many examples where white people in racial justice or racial equity circles get those “safe spaces” and then spend more time on talking amongst themselves about their feelings than actually working against racism. Or they start asking for time, space or resources that distract or detract from the work of people of color or that exceed what the people of color get in trying to take down racism.

Basically, as I’ve often heard it said: “Whiteness is a hell of a drug.”

So, let’s kick the habit of being quite so white-centered and self-centered and try to be a lot less prone to dominating spaces and conversations about problems we created to begin with. Don’t metaphorically be the person who recklessly ran down someone with a car who then asks the victim’s family to listen to them cry about how hard it is to be charged with vehicular manslaughter.


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.