So…you say you don’t see color? Explain.

What do you mean you “don’t see color”?

Do you mean you literally only see things in varying shades of gray? Does your world look literally colorless? When you watch “The Wizard of Oz,” does Oz look no different than Kansas to you?

Is that what you mean when you say that you “don’t see color”?

Or do you believe that seeing a person’s color is equivalent to judging someone’s character? Do you believe that not being white is bad?

Is that what you mean?

Or do you mean you don’t see any difference in how we look? Do you think everyone just looks white? Do you think everyone looks Black? Which is the default?

Or do you mean it even more abstractly? Can you not see my history? Can you not see all that people who look like me have done? Can you not see the joy of American music in all its forms? Can you not see the contributions to art and literature and dance, not to mention sports? Can you not see the beauty created by people who look like me? Can you not see how unrecognizable the world would be without us?

Or do you mean that you can’t see how differently we are viewed by our institutions? Can you not see how personal belief in those institutions leads to personal belief in treating us differently?

Or do you mean that you’re unwilling to see the hatred people who look like you have for people who look like me? Can you not see the systems that give you permission to do and say things that the rest of us cannot?

Or do you mean that your public ignoring of the inherent systemic value in race makes things better?

Or do you believe that racism is a simple thing that exists wholly within a person’s heart?

Is that what you mean?

Or do you believe that not acknowledging racism will make it go away? Do you truly believe that one’s ability to see is the root of the problem?

Is that what you mean when you say that you “don’t see color”?

Or do you just want absolution?

What do you mean you “don’t see color”?

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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.

Can we at least stop the blackface this month?

It’s Back History Month and I am exhausted. The month designed to honor the achievements of Black folks has become the reminder of just how little progress we have made racially. In part because we actually haven’t made any progress. Rather than dealing with the horrible wallpaper and the horsehair plaster walls in this very old American house, we decided to paint over the crap and hope for the best.

However, as I can attest to from the 13 years I spent living in an 1880s Victorian house, this is a quick fix at best and ultimately the ugly starts to peek through. In the end, you have yourself an even worse mess because now you have to scrape off what you slapped on over what was going to be hard to remove and replace anyway.

America’s racism problem won’t go away until we acknowledge that we have a problem, and that the problem harkens back to our early days as a nation. A country that intentionally created a human hierarchy that privileged those with white skin (and male bodies) and then doled out humanity based on proximity to certain standards that always involve proximity to whiteness. A country that massacred and stole the land of the original inhabitants and then went on to steal another group of people and enslaved them for hundreds of years.

We keep trying to run away from our past, but as you learn after four decades on this dusty rock. You cannot run from your past; you cannot pretend it doesn’t matter because the past has a funny way of showing up. The past lives within our souls. We can talk about the effects of generational trauma and acknowledge how what happened in our families of origin decades ago still affects us but we lack the emotional maturity to acknowledge that racism is real and is still very much a part of our lives.

Our national media can’t even name racism, instead we dance around using words such as “racially charged” and “racial allegations.” So we are in a moment where we are discussing blackface and whether or not a certain Virginia governor and Attorney General are racist.

Think about that: We are discussing whether blackface is racist. In 2019. We are discussing whether an act designed to deny the humanity of Black folks is racist.

We are discussing whether Liam Neeson’s admission to wanting to avenge the rape of a white friend by a Black man by looking for any random Black man to kill is racist.

We are also discussing whether these men are worthy of forgiveness. After all, none of them have supposedly engaged in any racist acts lately, so why must we hold them accountable for past actions?

Funny how when we are talking about racism, the only option is to forgive and move on. Yet, when does life work like that?

Forgiveness and redemption are possible but it does not happen in a few news cycles. It does not happen with empty words, it is a process and it takes times. Frankly the governor is not there and the only way to get there is to step down from his post and start the work of decolonizing his mind and as hokey as it sounds, he might even consider decolonizing his heart as well.

As a Black woman, I can say with authority that the onus is always placed on us to forgive white people for their racist behavior. Rarely are white people asked to show that they have become better people before the calls for forgiveness start to swell to a crescendo. Yet where, outside of race matters, do we ask people to forgive and move on without proof of change? Yes, it happens but far too often (and more often, I think) when it comes to race, no proof of learning and growth is required.

We can’t even agree on what is racist despite having clear definitions. In part because for the average white person, white fragility is real and the thought of being complicit in the system is too hard to accept.

Whiteness in America is a petulant child that refuses to grow up and take responsibility for its actions. No living white person in America owned slaves; we got it. But all white people regardless of socioeconomic class receive some type of benefits from whiteness and the system of white supremacy. And that goes all the way back to slavery, reinforced periodically by other things like Jim Crow and post-World War II programs designed to give only to white people and lock out the Black ones. And more.

If you don’t believe me, watch this little clip by Chris Rock. it’s humor but it’s also truth.

My wish for Black History Month is that Black people can catch a break. That we can breathe, we can sigh and we can live. We can acknowledge the strength of our ancestors and know that we stand on their shoulders in the struggle for humanity. That we don’t have to wake to the daily assault of white ignorance and supremacy.

My wish for white people during Black History Month is that they learn, not just about Black achievements but learn how they have been complicit in upholding white supremacy and that they commit to decolonization. That they stop taking Black people for granted and that they think about what they are willing to lose to achieve equity. Racial equity requires actively giving up something. It means stepping back and maybe even walking out of the house so that they can move beyond the macabre blueprints that have guided their lives.

However if my wishes are too extreme, I will just wish for no more tales of blackface this month.

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.

Image by howling red from Unsplash