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.

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.

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

The gubernatorial moonwalk that could have been…

On Saturday afternoon Pam Northam denied this country—and perhaps the world—an opportunity that it may never see again… But let’s start on Friday.

In case you didn’t know, there is a diversionary and stalling tactic used by politicians called the “Friday news dump.” Basically, if there is unfavorable news that will inevitably come out, politicians will release it on Friday afternoon in hopes that it will either get lost or become irrelevant by Monday.

On this past Friday afternoon, a yearbook photo of two men in costume was released to the press. One of the costumes was KKK robes, the other was blackface and one of the men was said to be Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. Now, keep in mind, this was a medical school yearbook, so Northam would’ve been 25 years old at the time.

Again, normally what happens when this sort of thing drops on a Friday is that it would grab a couple headlines and capture the fancy of a couple talking heads. Then over the weekend 45 would get caught sweet talking a Vladimir Putin real doll or trying to kick the nuclear football and come Monday the pundits would’ve forgotten all about it. If Northam would’ve laid low for a couple of months Virginia would’ve forgotten about it, too. But Northam didn’t lay low. Instead, he did the right thing. He owned it.

“I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now. This behavior is not in keeping with who I am today and the values I have fought for throughout my career in the military, in medicine, and in public service. But I want to be clear, I understand how this decision shakes Virginians’ faith in that commitment.”

Exactly right. This is what we need to expect from not only our leaders, but ourselves. If we ever expect to actually be one nation representing one citizenry, then we need to fearlessly hold ourselves accountable and that accountability needs to be second nature for our leaders. Good for Gov. Ralph Northam.

And then Saturday came. And it came in hot.

Northam held a press conference and it was just so weird. First of all, he took back his admission, claiming that he actually wasn’t in the photo. So, you know, say goodbye to any public worth he may have ever had, but it didn’t stop there. Nope, then Northam admitted to having worn blackface before, but said it was for a Michael Jackson impression he did for a competition that he won because he can moonwalk. Yeah. Now, personally, I don’t know how many times you gotta wear blackface in front of a camera in order to get confused about which particular instance is being spoken about at any particular time, but however many that is, apparently, Northam got there. Congrats on winning that minstrel contest, though!

At one point, he started explaining that he’d already apologized to his Black “close friend” (who had also been his assistant) about the whole thing, saying, “And I said, ‘You know what, Seth, I appreciate you being open with me. I apologize for what I’ve done in the past. And I can promise you I’ll never do that again in the future.’”

The implication seemed to be that “Seth” our democratically elected POB (Pope of Blackness) had already officially absolved Ralph of his sins and that the press conference was just a kindness he was paying the rest of us for the sake of formality.

Honestly, the press conference was just too crazy to completely cover here. There are some pretty great summaries out there, but I want to draw focus to one particular moment.

The moonwalk moment.

A reporter brings up that dance contest again and asks Northam if he is still able to moonwalk. Northam starts nodding and looking around for an open space on the floor. Then he sees one, continues to nod, begins to smile, turns back to the reporter and…

And then Pam Northam denied this country—and perhaps the world—an opportunity that it may never see again. As her husband, the actual elected governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, is nodding and smiling, seeming to be in actual contemplation of stepping from behind the podium into the open and moonwalkable space on the floor, Pam Northam says, “Inappropriate circumstances.” This prompts Ralph to turn back to the reporter, put his hand on his wife’s shoulder and say, “My wife says ‘Inappropriate circumstances’.”

This really happened. It’s truly an incredible moment by itself, but imagine that Pam was there in simple solidarity with Ralph instead of as his much-needed handler. Imagine that she had not interrupted her husband. Imagine that the desperation Gov. Northam felt in that moment drove him from the podium into that open and moonwalkable space. Now imagine that he moonwalked—not the actual moonwalk, but that dumb, shitty thing that old, white dads do at weddings or at home in their socks.

Imagine him scooting backward, half hunched over, slow-flapping his arms in time with his legs and craning his neck forward and back all the while smiling like the doofus he’d spent the last hour proving himself to be.

Can you see it? Now imagine what the country would be able to see at that moment. Imagine the act of watching this absolute fool debase himself increasingly with each step became a sort of national mirror that we could no longer avoid seeing ourselves in. Imagine millions of faces lit up by their phones as they watch Gov. Ralph Northam demean himself and the rest of us into understanding that hatred is not the only motivator for harm. That, while the president and his ilk are deliberate in their actions against women and minorities, in fact it is convenience that motivates the most harm. While hatred certainly created slavery and Jim Crow and redlining, convenience allowed for them to continue. Convenience allows for continued segregation of all types. Convenience allows for freedom fighters’ legacies to be whitewashed into passivity and presidents to be appointed without the will of the people.

And it is convenience that allows white men like 45 and Northam to behave in the exact same, shameless ways for the exact same, shameless reasons despite an overtly obvious difference in potential.

Imagine the sudden, nationwide realization of the evils of this kind of convenience and the change that could come by the sudden rejection of a system that only offers that convenience to some! That realization is the opportunity lost to us by Pam Northam.

Let the man moonwalk, Pam!

Or not. I don’t know. National reckonings are rarely that nuanced, I guess. Anyway, the point is more figuratively than literally it’ll be nice to see him moonwalk his way right out of office. And the good news is that whether Northam is forced out or steps down, this is who will so poetically replace him as governor.

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.

The white-boy smirk and making America great again: It’s dangerous!

I’m going to need a lot of grace on this one; much like the grace that a Native American elder, Nathan Phillips, extended to those punk-ass white boys in Washington, D.C., recently. Let me be clear about my meaning of “punk-ass white boys,” defined as privileged white boys who are confident and comfortable hiding behind their shields of white supremacy, to taunt and dehumanize Black and brown people. Without that sort of corrupt power and privilege, those white boys may actually have been the angelic ”kids” that White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and many others claimed they were; but clearly, the devil beamed through the face of young Sandmann and his klan of fellow students. 

I commend Nathan Phillips for being a peace-maker in the midst of several Trump-clones, reiterating the ridiculous and pointless idea of building 45’s wall. Face-to-face, eye-to-eye and toe-to-toe with MAGA hat-wearing white boys, is not a situation I’d ever want to be in as a Black man; those sort of demonic smirks are dangerous and could easily snatch a man’s heart like mine or Elder Phillips, right from his soul. As much as I would’ve been tempted to punch that white boy, Nick Sandmann, right in his face, as a Black man, I also realize that would not have gone well for me. The situation in general had me furious beyond measures, and I’m sure you’ve noticed that by now. 

I have never been this angry in my entire life. I’ve experienced a lot of evil things in this corrupt world that could’ve easily turned me into Lucifer’s puppet years ago, but lately, the one thing that has been pushing me over the edge (as I’ve told my therapist), is white people who have been emboldened by Trump’s racist rhetoric. White hate has been served to many Black and brown communities over and over, throughout history, continuing right into 2019; whether it be the theft and murder of indigenous people and their land or the enslavement and destruction of Black people and our prosperity. 

The regurgitated “BUILD THAT WALL. BUILD THAT WALL” mantra, whether those Covington students chanted it or not, was evident and has erupted into the winds of America once again. Those red, white-lettered stitched hats are no different than the white hoods worn by Ku Klux Klan disciples and belligerently announces that America is being made great again—for white people, that is. As activist Aylssa Milano tweeted recently, “the red MAGA hat is the new white hood. Without white boys being able to empathize with other people, humanity will continue to destroy itself.” Part of that greatness includes building a wall that Donald Trump can’t even seem to scrape up the funds for; which is straight-up pathetic. 

Many Trump supporters are so focused on the viral video of “very fine people” and the typical, extreme protection of their reputations that they’ve somehow neglected to address the lies of the good ole’ Catholic Saint. During his interview with Savannah Guthrie on The Today Show, Nick Sandmann stated, “We’re a Catholic school and it’s not tolerated. They don’t tolerate racism, and none of my classmates are racist people.” White boys are phenomenal at lying their way out of racist behavior. If you are white and are wearing any sort of MAGA apparel, then you are a racist! What in the hell do white people rocking Make America Great Again gear think the slogan means? Great? For whom? For Black people? Native Americans? Other POC? I would love to hear Sandmann and his crew get on television and explain to this country when America was “great” for Black people and the like. 

The white-boy smirk is threatening and I realize that it was the cocky smug on Sandmann’s face that truly had me wanting to fuck some shit up. But how then would I be setting the example of one of my favorite leaders, Martin Luther King Jr.? To lead and respond in a non-violent manner? Then again, as a Black Christian myself, always leaning more towards turning the other cheek, allowing white people to have their cake and eat it too, results in a burdensome depression. Lavishing niceness upon white supremacists is one of many reasons white boys like Nick Sandmann, Brett Kavanaugh, Dylan Roof, Brock Turner and so many more are freely able to exercise and abuse white privilege to begin with. Many of us Black and brown folks have seen that smirk over and over again in America and as 64-year-old Nathan Phillips expressed, he felt threatened by those teens.

Those smirks of whiteness are dangerous and present a sense of comfort for whiteness that is impossible to be accessed by people with prominent melanin beneath their skin. White teenage boys wearing red MAGA hats, mocking Native Americans, adds a layer of confirmation to the reality of what white parents are teaching their kids at home. This sort of hate didn’t just start with Donald Trump. Like many other white parents raising their well-behaved Catholic boys, teaching them that they’re supreme and innocent in the face of a God, blinds them from even seeing how racist they truly are. 

I can recall a time where I experienced the white-boy smirk myself. A white male had been taking advantage of me by excusing himself from a task we were working on, to take several breaks. I hadn’t taken any breaks from the task because like in most cases, the white body has more authority and superiority than its Black peers. Again, part of the Christian faith involves letting a gentle light shine in the presence of darkness so that corruption may witness the acts of God and praise him, according to Matthew 5:16. While attempting to let my little light shine by “being nice,” allowing my white rival several breathers and breaks, I eventually noticed that he wasn’t going to permit me a time to rejuvenate. The situation escalated very quickly after he returned from what seemed to be a vacation; me being frustrated with both his lack of involvement on our task and the fact that he was continually dismissing my request for a break! 

I think I lost it that day. The white man started yelling at me and during that time, yelling at me was a recipe for disaster due to some PTSD; thankfully I’ve gotten better at that. He then decided to step to my face; with the same valiant stance  Sandmann presented to Phillips. Disrespectfully yelling at me is one button to push but getting in my face with the white-boy smirk is hazardous on both ends. Our task was almost over and when he stepped to my face with his perilous grin, invading my personal space, I wanted to feed him an uppercut. Instead, I walked away, gave no explanation as to why I did and took my deserved and overdue intermission. That white dude did many other things that day including stealing, lying and physically abusing another bystander. I reported it all to the appropriate authorities and the result came down to me being suspended from the task, for three days. 

I asked if he was going to be suspended for stealing? Lying? Abusing another human? And for abusing his power by manipulatively denying me the breaks I was entitled to by law? I was told that the white dude would be suspended as well and that I shouldn’t be concerned about what was going to happen to him. But the fact is that I should have never been suspended in the first place. I was suspended for, “exposing dirty laundry.” Whiteness didn’t like the idea of me getting the law involved and so to protect itself, I was retaliated against. I shortly learned that whiteness had lied to me—that my white peer hadn’t been suspended at all and that my blackness had again been demonized and subjected to inequity.

This whole situation boosted that white boy’s ego and I had to see him again, with his smirk of triumph proudly flaunted on his face. The white-boy smirk represents conceit and vain glory. It cateres defiance to indigenous people, who do not believe in walls meant to sustain white supremacy. And so it also was that Sandmann’s smirk was aggression—overdosed entitlement and a silent form of bullying a well-respected adult who displayed wisdom and a strong, pure example of resilience.

The smirk replicates many other young and old white men who get to sweep their nasty behavior under the carpet. These white boys (and men) are protected by their parents, their “just being kids” card and constantly escape from situations where Black boys are shot, racially profiled, unfairly arrested in or killed. White boys know this to be true about Black and brown bodies, and that is exactly what the smirk on Nick Sandmann’s face equated to for many of us.

And, only a few weeks later, here we are again with MAGA white men, this time breaking a Black man’s (EMPIRE star Jussie Smollett) rib, pouring bleach on him, calling him “nigger” and “faggot” and placing a noose around his neck. The white-boy smirk is day-by-day making America greater and greater again for white people with harmful intent and clearly, it’s dangerous!

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.