Calling All White People, Part 39
(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: Civility’s just another way of saying: “Whoa there, let’s not change too much now.”
[To find other installments of “Calling All White People,” click here]
We sure do like us some civility, don’t we—and by “we” I mostly mean white folks in America.
When one party is openly contrarian, hypocritical and obstructionist (*ahem* Republicans) and one party is self-destructive, often tentative and lacks sufficient unity of purpose (*ahem* Democrats) and they draw battle lines over right-wing vs. moderate actions in the legislature (let’s not kid ourselves that much in the way of actual liberal activity is going on—that’s just a myth that conservatives peddle) and they end up casting dispersions and pointing fingers across the aisle, people call for more civility. Never mind that the Republicans are openly refusing to do anything more “liberal” than “slightly less bad than Nazism” these days and are openly endorsing flat-out criminal behavior while protecting the most awful president of 20th and 21st centuries, if not ever. Never mind that the problem isn’t whether people are being nice but an insistence on making America the 1700s or 1800s again. Never mind any kind of logic. If we were just more “civil” (i.e. if the white men got together in smoky back rooms like the old days and hammered out the best way to screw over most citizens while appearing to endorse progress) everything would be fine.
People for some reason worry that “civility is dead.”
Well, screw civility.
I mean, I’m not saying there is no place for civil discourse and civil behavior. Of course there is, even in the halls of government. But civility won’t save us, and an emphasis on civility will literally kill us. It will kill the non-white people first most likely (and we’ll get to that in a moment), but if we make civility the goal, we’re all doomed except the rich people with underground bunkers stocked up for the next several decades.
Now, personally, I’m not just in favor of less emphasis on civility. If I’m to be honest, I dream of something more along the lines of the French Revolution in terms of uprooting the current corrupt and toxic system, complete with guillotines.
I understand that many of you might balk at taking to the streets and beheading enough of the aristocracy that rich and powerful people start behaving better if only to keep their necks intact. I get it. But at the same time, don’t pretend that you want actual change if you’re worried about civility.
Recently, a Black man was handcuffed and detained by police for eating on the BART commuter train line in California. Many have said he should have been more civil, since he was breaking the law. Never mind that doesn’t seem to be any clear indication that eating on the train or the platform is a crime. The real issue is that police decided to harass a Black guy for a minor infraction that they could have just ignored or simply said, “Hey, FYI, it’s against the law to eat on the BART platform. For sanitary reasons, please don’t do that in the future.” I mean, at the toll booth I pretty regularly pass through on many weekday mornings, a state cop is often posted up there looking to pull people over. But does he bother with those of us (like me) who are routinely traveling through the area at 10 to 15 miles above the speed limit or so? No. He doesn’t. Because it’s not worth the effort. Just like giving a man crap for eating a sandwich isn’t, unless you’re a white cop wanting to put a Black man in his so-called “place.”
The only reason to argue that Steve Foster might reasonably be admonished to have been more civil is the fact that police have killed unarmed Black people for less and too much boldness might get him extrajudicially murdered. But the fact is that not being civil to the cops (and he could have been way more uncivil) is perfectly valid here.
People who harp on how we need to be more civil, especially calling upon more civility from people of color in Congress who call out racism or people of color in the streets who call out harassment or people of color who won’t stop mentioning the wealth gap between white and Black people or the massive incarcerations of Black people for no good reason or whatever else are generally white people who don’t want things to change too much.
Oh, they might want to see racism curbed and violence against non-white people toned down. But they don’t really want actual change. They want everyone to speak in pleasant tones and change things *just enough* to look like progress but not enough to actually cause any inconvenience or discomfort.
Change is often uncomfortable. Change is often scary. Change is often inconvenient. It can also be messy. But when things are as screwed up right now as they are in terms of human rights violations against refugees and immigrants; massive racism against Black, Indigenous and other people of color; violence (literally and legislatively) toward women; demonization of Muslims, LGBTQ+ people; and more—well, I think it’s time to speak up, not be civil.
A civil tongue is not what it needed if one is going to be heard above the cacophony of right-wing cruelty, especially given the silence of most moderates and plenty of so-called liberals, too.
No, civility is just another way of saying, “Please don’t rock the boat too much.” Even if we don’t go so far as guillotines and riots in the streets, we definitely need to worry less about people’s feelings and more about speaking truth and demanding change—loudly and sometimes rudely.
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