Calling All White People, Part 42: If only you didn’t misbehave we wouldn’t have to oppress you

Calling All White People, Part 42

(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: You brought it all on yourselves, they say   

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

You made me do it.

You brought it on yourself.

If only you had just minded your business.

Just follow the rules and you won’t have any problems.

These are just a few of the litanies that abusers like to recite, whether those abusers are police officers overstepping their authority or domestic partners assaulting or psychologically harming their supposed “loved one” or anyone else with a propensity to harm—and a willingness to justify it by blaming the victim.

It’s an excuse and a pattern as old as time and it’s inflicted on many different groups. It is interesting, though, and disheartening, to see how regularly it plays out with regard to race and official responses to white agitators vs. Black ones. (I don’t use “agitator” judgmentally, by the way—like so many things, sometimes agitation is warranted; sometimes not.)

Early this year, we saw protests in New York City over transit fees and transit service and increased police presence on the transit system. This is a movement that goes beyond just race, but there was a significant racial component as increased policing in the subway system has seen increased and disproportionately aggressive behavior toward Black and other people of color.

My point isn’t to get into the weeds as far as the citizen complaints and the merits of the protest, but more to get to the point of how when many Black people complained about police responses toward them when they engaged in fare evasion, people (white people almost exclusively) were quick to point out: “If they paid the measly fare they wouldn’t get arrested.”

Except aside from the fact fares add up and the NYC subway system falls short of meeting needs of its commuters, why are Black people so much more often the target of the police there? Why are police so eager to spend their time arresting people for evading train fares? Is that the best use of the police? I suppose it is if you’re a police force that embraced “stop and frisk” and wants to exert power over people of color.

But hey, let’s focus on the Black folks and others who are lawbreakers even though white folks rarely get that level of pushback from police unless they’re severely mentally ill or homeless.

And then more recently at Syracuse University, students staging a sit-in and being suspended for it, while white students who had committed various racist acts (which is much of what precipitated the sit in) continued to go unpunished. The #NotAgainSU effort is a multiracial coalition, but led by students of color, so let’s be honest: The weight is falling mostly on non-white heads. Even the students of color on campus who weren’t involved in the protest and suspended must live with knowing their school values ignoring white misbehavior more than protecting student safety and well-being.

But again, I don’t want to get into the weeds. What I want to point out is how many people (again, almost all white) said, “Well, the protestors were told they could move to another space on campus.”

So, if they made things more convenient for administrators, they wouldn’t have been punished. And yet, the only way to move the administrators is apparently to make them uncomfortable. But yes, let’s go ahead and blame the victims and people working for change who don’t just bow and get out of the way.

Over and over Black people in particular have been told if they follow the rules all will be fine. Do what you’re told. Toe the line. Obey the police. Don’t do anything remotely provocative. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t.

And if you do anything—speak a word of your mind or make a tiny movement we don’t like—then you deserve what you get.

The lie of saying things will be fine and Black people and other POC won’t get in trouble if they do what they’re told is that we live in a nation where a 6-year-old’s tantrum in elementary school leads to her being arrested and perp-walked by a cop. Yes, she was Black, and yes, Black students are punished more heavily for behaviors than white students who do the exact same things. That’s been shown in study after study.

It’s the same time after time. If only you had done what we said; if only you had done it the way white supremacy says you should.

It would be bad enough if that were true—if obedience to the oppressor kept Black people and other POC safe. But it doesn’t. And that makes it so much worse and demands so much more of us as white people to fix this shit.

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