Calling All White People, Part 41: The ‘lesson’ of Lucy and Charlie Brown

Calling All White People, Part 41

(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: Fool me once…twice…shame on you  

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

There is a phrase, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” As far as longstanding old sayings go, it’s a pretty good one. The number of repetitions before the person being screwed over is blamed for falling for it probably needs to be higher in most cases, though, given that we are often deceived by people close to us and/or we want to believe the best in people and give fair chances—in other words, it isn’t all just naiveté at work.

This “fool me once” notion is perfectly encapsulated in a certain comic strip, which is iconic enough that almost all of you should recognize it but with the slow death of newspapers and the comic sections in them, perhaps some younger readers will not—and that is “Peanuts.”

Y’know, Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the gang.

There is a recurring gag in which Lucy holds a football for Charlie Brown to kick, and she pulls it away at the last moment so that poor little Chuck falls flat on his ass. She does it every time. Sometimes Charlie Brown points out to her that she’s just going to do it again and says he won’t kick it—but he always ends up being convinced to do so and always ends up hurt and lying on the ground.

The way white supremacy works is similar in how it treats non-white people, and the frequency with which is pulls away the football increases proportionately with the darkness of the skin of the person in Charlie Brown’s role (or in the case of Indigenous people in much of the Americas, sometimes your skin might not be that dark and you still get treated at the same miserable level Black people do).

Time and time again, in the United States and so many other places (but as always let me focus on my troubled and diseased homeland), Black and brown people are told to assimilate. Just play by the rules of whiteness and all will be well. If you talk like average white people, dress like them, wear your hair like them and listen to their music and all that, you will be fine. You can get a good job, you can get loans, you won’t get evil looks from random white people on the street and the police won’t harm you.

It’s all lies, of course.

It’s a lie that’s been told since at least the 1960s or 1970s when the Civil Rights Movement demanded that America look at its racism and confront it and remove it. But I’m sure the lie was told before then at least to select Black and other brown-skinned people.

But it doesn’t matter how many Black women straightened their hair and how many Black men and women adopted “white voices” for their jobs or anything else. They still get treated like lesser humans than white people—sometimes as less than human at all. The overwhelming majority of studies into healthcare, mental health diagnoses, law enforcement, criminal justice, housing, loans, education, hiring and promotion and every other aspect of life shows that Black people get treated differently. Worse. And it holds them back again and again (even though white society loves to point out the minority who are able to excel and hold up those exceptions that it allows through as “proof” that racism is dead).

Over and over and over again, Black people and other beleaguered non-white groups from Latinx people to Arab people to Indigenous ones and so on are told to just “fit in” and “follow the rules” that white people set as the standard because only they had the power and cruelty and insensitivity to do so. Over and over and over again, when non-white follow the rules they are still persecuted, discriminated against and held back as much as possible so that white people—even the most unimpressive and untalented ones—can rise above the darker-skinned people.

Now, one might argue that Black and other people of color need to stop trying to kick that football Lucy is holding because they should have learned their lesson by now. And there is a sliver of truth to that but I reject that argument overall. They do know and in some cases they do walk away from the football and all that. There are plenty of people who speak out, who live their lives by their own cultural standards and not the “default” white ones, etc.

The problem overall isn’t that people of color, especially Black ones, are falling for Lucy’s promise that “This time will be different” or “If you’re patient just a little longer it will finally be fair.”

No, the problem is that white America and so many other white-supremacist societies and institutions force the marginalized and disadvantaged people to kick that ball. They tell them that they will lose their jobs if they don’t, go to prison longer if they don’t, be kicked out of school if they don’t.

It’s not that white people are simply dangling a carrot. They are also wielding a club and threatening that “If y’all don’t follow that carrot to where we lead you with it, we will beat you until you do.”

Blaming the victim is as old as time. And some people do participate too much in their own victimization and have some measure of culpability. And by “some” I mean a really small minority. Most victims are just that—victims. They aren’t trying to fall prey to Lucy’s cruelty and they don’t want to kick their ball.

They are made to do so, and that’s a form of coercion that hearkens right back to slavery because white people never really wanted to give up that control over Black people in particular. And so they’ve instituted control over non-white people wherever they can short of owning their bodies. And they (you, me, we) never will stop doing this evil if we keep believing lies that it’s something Black people are doing overall that is holding them back. The truth is that we keep lining them up for the football and cutting off their escape routes from the field.

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