Calling All White People, Part 34: Racism isn’t a wrap yet

Calling All White People, Part 34

(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: Calling for the after-party before you’ve even wrapped up filming  

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

So, let’s get straight to the point: actor and activist of various causes Alyssa Milano said some stupid stuff on Twitter recently. And then in the process of what very briefly looked like a breakthrough learning moment dug herself a deeper hole. To be precise, this is what it looked like:

And of course there was much retweeting and commenting and dragging across the Internet, much of it sadly well-deserved, but you can find that on your own.

Let me be clear: I’m not anti-Milano. She’s problematic in many ways when it comes to social causes and activism, to be sure. She made a splash putting the “Me Too” movement in the spotlight starting a couple year ago, but got criticism for seeming to take credit for starting it and not giving recognition to the woman who did, Tarana Burke. Also, in response to the recent abortion-ban laws being passed in more and more states, she called for a sex strike by women to spur men to repeal these laws, which has met with criticism on many levels. That said, I’m glad to see any person, celebrity or not, embrace notions of justice, decency, equality and more. And she isn’t the first person (nor will she be the last) to have a lot of exuberance but too little actual knowledge of an issue and too little critical thinking regarding actual solutions to pressing societal problems.

In other words, I’m not here to crow about how Milano screwed it all up again. But, to be honest, she is…well…she is pretty much progressive white people in a nutshell. She’s a symbol of our failure.

No, not all progressive white people are clueless and/or unwilling to actually give up any of the privilege/power they enjoy just by being white. But I think it’s safe to say that the majority of white people who express outrage over things like KKK rallies in modern times or police killing unarmed Black people for no good reason or wondering how Trump got elected are pretty clueless.

I mean, really, look at how many of us in liberal/progressive circles say things like “I don’t recognize my country anymore” or “this isn’t America” or “I thought we were past this.” Social media is filled with this kind of thing and any of us white people who know better need to do more correcting of our fellow white people who apparently don’t. Because this country—much of this world, in fact—is built on foundations of white colonialism/conquest/oppression. The very brick and mortar of Western society is largely made up of the blood and bones of people of color. And despite lofty ideals in constitutions and elsewhere, place like the United States really don’t extend justice and equality and opportunity equally to non-white people.

But Milano literally did the “greatest hits” of white cluelessness in her tweets—she played the hell out of the role of being all of us white people who have failed at being truly progressive on racial matters. She started with “I don’t recognize my country anymore.” Then she was made aware of the fact the country has always been this way, acknowledged her privilege and how she was sheltered from seeing how racist the country has always been—and then dropped the ball just as she was headed in the general direction of revelation. She brought out the “colorblind” thing, even if she didn’t actually say, “I don’t see color.” Because she talked about the diverse and inclusive sets she’s worked on. I’m not saying there weren’t people of color on the sets she worked on. I’m not saying she didn’t have any good relationships with people of color. But what show has she been on that shows anything but whiteness, whiteness, whiteness? Is Who’s the Boss? a beacon of diversity? How?

But then the finale: She expressed hope that we had gotten past racism and suggested the election of a Black president somehow signaled this achievement.

And again, I’m not slamming Milano herself. We are her; she is us.

We white people who often say we want a society free of racism talk a lot about not being able to believe how much racism still exists or not being able to understand how racism could become so mainstream again. We like to talk about the people of color in our workplaces or our families or our “Black friend” to “explain” how we are enlightened and/or unable to notice racism all around us. We ignore all the relatives we share holidays with who share Fox News propaganda. We dutifully gloss over the fact that our first Black president received constant accusations and abuse in the public sphere because of his race and that racial violence rose in response to him becoming president. We express shock that the KKK is marching openly even though we have literal Nazis and Nazi sympathizers on television arguing their points and being treated like just another “alternate view.”

Look, to continue on the theme of Alyssa Milano and celebrity-activist ignorance I can say the problem here is that white Americans, even the most well-meaning ones, are quick to yell “cut” when they don’t even have a fully workable scene. They are quick to wrap up production and send everyone home without actually having finished filming. America and so many other nations are, racially speaking, poorly produced and badly edited shows. We white people get one strong scene that speaks to the horrors of racism or the dignity of people of color and then start planning the after-party.

Racism went nowhere. There has been no solution. Our biggest progress has been to not openly enslave Black people anymore but instead to let most of them appear to be free while doing everything possible to hold them back and to covertly enslave “only” a large fraction of their population through law enforcement tactics and racially skewed incarceration. As far as progress goes, that isn’t very impressive.

If the progress we think is going to end racism is a Black president and a few more other non-white politicians or another wealthy person or color or two—and we’re going to sigh gratefully and say “It’s over now”—then we will never make a dent in racism, especially not for the Black and Indigenous People who have been victimized non-stop since the earliest days of this nation and before it even was a nation.

The fact is, despite her tweet saying otherwise, Milano did “miss racism.” It went completely past her in any substantive way. And likely still is. But she’s not alone. Let’s all start paying attention while we maybe—MAYBE—still have time to create something better. And let’s get moving; we’re already way behind schedule on this production.

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