Calling All White People, Part 39: Maybe civility should die

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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Calling All White People, Part 38: Ripping off the masks

Calling All White People, Part 38

(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: In this season of wearing costumes, let’s start aiming to be real  

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

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Now, some of you maybe are planning to put on masks today or tonight—maybe you already have for some pre-Halloween costume parties or whatnot. Maybe you’re not dressing up but you’ll be helping your kids fit their masks to their faces. Maybe costumes still aren’t picked out yet and you still need to get a mask (and more) in a last-minute frenzy at the local Halloween store.

Maybe it’s also time—as we do that thing where we take on roles for a few hours to celebrate—maybe it’s time to dedicate yourself to playing fewer roles and being real.

We are in what for many people is an unprecedented (for them personally at least) period of overt racism promoted from on high (the White House and elsewhere) and unfettered cruelty (abandoning the protection of refugees, locking kids in cages and taking them away from their parents and so much more). Many of us weren’t alive for things like the internment of Japanese citizens during World War II. Many of us weren’t alive or were tiny children during the peak of the Civil Rights Movement. Even for those people who hate racism and were alive for such things, seeing them return now with literal Nazis marching with torches and police protection and anti-fascists being criticized for punching Nazis is jarring.

Welcome to the horror show. If you didn’t get it before, get it now: The United States was literally built on racism, with slavery a key part of the economy and many founding fathers defending slavery as part of the natural order. The dehumanization of Black and Indigenous people as savages or subhumans has been part and parcel of the American makeup and all its institutions were created with that in mind somewhere, somehow. The educational system has relentlessly hidden this part of history and the media has often been reluctant to highlight it. And so with all that in place, it’s easy for people to be racist, overtly or casually. It’s easy not to challenge things and to accept, on some level, the notion that people who aren’t white deserve less or pose a threat to you and your white kin and peers.

You personally may not feel that way. You might dream of a country were race isn’t a deciding factor in one’s humanity and worth. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t wearing a mask now—that perhaps you’ve been wearing one all along.

Maybe you aren’t racist. Or at least you’re mostly not racist. And that’s not bad. It’s certainly better than being racist. More people like that in this country would be a better thing. It would be progress. But it doesn’t change things when a good chunk of the country is pretty comfortable with racism.

If your kid really, really wants to be an “Indian” for Halloween or dress as Disney’s Pocahontas, will you say “no” and explain why? If they want to dress as a favorite Black celebrity but they aren’t Black and think they should paint their face brown or use literally black blackface, will you put a stop to it? If your kids are grown and in college putting on blackface or whatnot, will you check them? If you have friends dressed as “Mexicans” with sombreros and bushy fake mustaches, will you challenge them on it?

When Halloween has passed and Thanksgiving and Christmas family dinners occur, will you refute your relatives when they spout racist feelings or theories? Will you take the chance to educate and to deflate ignorance, or will you keep on that mask of politeness?

In day-to-day life, will you keep wearing that mask and being as “not-racist” as you personally can while also letting racism grow around you? Will you keep that mask on so that you don’t lose out on your own opportunities because giving up white privilege is too scary and you just want to continue to quietly be as not-racist as you can?

Movements and change don’t happen in silence. They don’t happen when people are quiet. If what the world sees is a mask that says you are OK with the way the world is, then the world will keep spinning on in a horrible direction.

Or maybe it isn’t a mask.

Maybe it’s your real face. Maybe you don’t care enough. Maybe trying to be not-racist is more important to you than actually being an anti-racist.

It’s never too late though. If you’re wearing a mask but you know you can do more, you can take it off now. If the apathy isn’t a mask but your true self, you can turn that around—not put on a mask of anti-racism but get a social and philosophical face-lift.

The face of America is racism; the equality for all idea was always a mask. So, while we are ripping away our masks of quiet civility, let’s rip that one off as well.

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.

Calling All White People, Part 37: No more excuses

Calling All White People, Part 37

(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: Stop looking for “excuses” for racist outbursts  

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

So, on Sept. 24 a Los Angeles CVS store became—instead of a place to grab a quick bag of M&Ms and a Coke or your latest prescription refill—a venue for a racist tirade by a woman named Heather Lynn Patton that included liberal use of the N-word as well as statements that apparently she’d be only too happy to kill every n****r if only the law would allow it.

This post, however, is not about Heather, though I’ll be referring to her again throughout it, I’m sure.

You see, the reason I’m writing this post and why the headline talks about the need to stop making excuses for racists is that even before Heather had been definitively identified and outed on social media and issued an insincere apology and lost her job—even before she herself blamed the outburst on being drunk—I saw on social media no shortage of people suggesting that she might be mentally ill or intoxicated or whatever and we should withhold judgment and contempt for her.

Screw that.

And yes, these posts (in my observations at least) generally (that is to say, all) came from non-right-wing white people (because the right-wing white people by and large wouldn’t have felt a need to label it racism nor perhaps even consider it wrong nor make excuses for it). So, it was largely moderate or liberal white folk trying to pawn off her racism as the effects of something beyond her control (leaving aside the fact she was, if actually drunk, also driving under the influence, and I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t be trying to advocate for patience and tolerance if she mowed somebody down with her car as a result).

I suppose that wouldn’t make the situation particularly worthy of a blog post here at BGIM Media given all the other racists caught on video over the years and posted online. Except that I’ve seen this before. Not every time a white person yells racist epithets and threatens violence against non-white people, but often enough.

What I have seen is a notable amount of willingness by people who claim to be aghast at racism to explain away the racism as the effect of mental illness or drugs or something similar.

Now, look, I’m not saying mental illness cannot cause racist outbursts. As a professor of psychiatry noted a 2002 commentary, delusional effects of schizophrenia or extreme cases of bipolar disorder can be the primary cause of some racist outbursts rather than something that simply amplifies racist beliefs separate from the mental illness (though I disagree with the way his article seems to edge toward suggesting “extreme racism” might even be a form of mental illness rather than simple a symptom/sign of some kind of existing mental illness already in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—and there are reasons to be very wary of categorizing racism as mental illness). But that’s pretty rare overall.

And having seen my share of people with fairly intense forms of Tourette syndrome, I’m sure there are people with that condition who might randomly shout out the N-word without any racist intent behind it (though I’m pretty none of the people in that kind of case would clearly articulate hatred toward a group of people and a desire to kill them like Heather did, nor use the N-word in such a systematic way).

So, given all that, showing any kind of serious desire to take a “wait and see she might be mentally ill” approach with a Heather like this one (or even a Harold) seems to me more a way to protect a fellow white person than anything else. Because it’s become clear in recent years that most white people hate being called racist even when they clearly are and when they clearly embrace racism, and even liberal white people “knowledgeable” about racism often bristle when a person of color so much as suggests they might have done a specifically racist thing). Whiteness has a tendency to protect itself, and “open minded” “non-racist” white people are often all-too-quick to defend other white people against charges of racism.

The same thing applies with the intoxication angle. Why should we withhold judgment about Heather and her ilk because she might be drunk? Or be willing to forgive her because she said she was drunk?

Look, I’ve never done hard drugs, so I cannot speak to what some of them might do to one’s outlook on race, but my inexpert knowledge suggests to me that even if a really wild drug drives you to eat someone’s face off—as some of them do—I’m pretty sure it doesn’t cause you to discriminate on the basis of skin color when you eat that face. And even if it does, again, that’s a really rare case like a delusional schizophrenic episode that involves a racial focus.

No, what intoxication does typically is to loosen you up to do what you were probably inclined to anyway. Being drunk tends to make a person more open. If they are already in possession of violent tendencies, they let their violence loose. If they are already touchy-feely types, they might become more so. If they are already goofballs, they become sillier.

My dad had a tendency to get violent when he was drunk in his younger years; it’s why my mom left him. But in all my memories of him, I don’t remember him ever being violent even when he was intoxicated, because he had gotten his anger and violence under control—not because he stopped drinking (in fact, he got charged with driving under the influence once when I was a teen, and he drinks a fair amount every day even now, as far as I know, even though he doesn’t go for full-on drunk anymore). The drinking didn’t cause the violence. It just helped to unlock a flimsy door leading to a nasty room.

Being drunk doesn’t suddenly make you want to shout a word that is pretty universally understood in the United States to be one of the nastiest things a white person can say and also want to express your desire to murder people based on skin color. Being drunk just makes you less willing, in the case of someone like Heather, to resist the urge to burst out openly with your racist beliefs.

No, Heather was a racist. And considering that the vast, vast majority (as in, almost all) cases of stuff like this has nothing to do with any kind of impairment, none of us should be rushing to defend a person who behaves like that. Even if you think you might be protecting some fraction of 1% of the population by being careful, that doesn’t help the 13% of people in the country who are Black and get called the N-word far too often and experience all kinds of verbal, psychological, social and physical violence as a result of specific racists and pervasive racist practices and systems in this country. If your job is to throw a large population of oppressed and violated people under the bus to save a microscopic number of people who are almost never going to show up on the radar (i.e. be filmed and posted online), your priorities are out of whack.

Yes, we should be what we can to protect marginalized people (like the mentally ill) and seek help for people with addictions—just like we try to make sure there are accommodations for people with disabilities and such. But you do not protect a vast number of horrible people to protect a tiny number of innocents. Providing wheelchair-accessible entrances and exits is good; not allowing people with infectious diseases to go to hospitals because some people there are immuno-compromised is stupid. Being quick to caution that a racist act is the result of something beyond the person’s control rather than an expression of actual beliefs and actual hate is the latter.

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.