Calling All White People, Part 43: Lessons unlearned even in the face of COVID-19

Calling All White People, Part 43

(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: What COVID-19 teaches us is how little we learn   

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

As the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 continues to relentlessly march across the face of the Earth afflicting ever more people with the disease COVID-19, one of the biggest takeaway lessons for me is seeing how little people are willing to learn—from the past, from adversity or from both.

I mean, there’s the part about people still calling it the coronavirus as if it’s the only one out there, and the flu we deal with each and every year hasn’t always been a coronavirus itself that mutates on a regular basis and stays with us. I know “novel” as in “new” isn’t common parlance in the general population—for most people a novel being something to base a movie off of or a thing you read on the beach you shouldn’t be at because you’re supposed to be social distancing—but you’d think by this point people would catch a clue.

But no, too many people are still acting like this is something alien and strange, rather than a worse form of something we’ve seen before and were pretty much on schedule to see soon even if we hadn’t seen it this year.

However, the lesson that is most dismaying to me on a social level—the most disturbing lesson on the logistical and practical levels being how few people have ever washed their hands and still don’t—is how unable we are to make connections and learn from history even when people are on the web and on the news and many other places telling us about it.

As a member of Gen X, I spent my formative youth and young adult years under the specter of AIDS when it was a disease that meant a death sentence. I remember when research turned up that HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection may have begun as SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus), people didn’t get want to grasp the simple concept that diseases in animals sometimes jump to people through the power of evolution. Instead, so many decided to create a simplistic narrative that we must have gotten AIDS because some African guy decided to have sex with a monkey that had SIV infection.

Let’s not blame the fact that nature does what nature does—instead let’s concoct a tale that blames “foreigners” for the disease.

It’s something we’re seeing right now. Do we listen to any experts or read a single link on our social media about zoonotic disease (animal to human transmission) and how it can happen through transmission via the air or bites from an animal or even a third party like a mosquito (biting an infected animal and then biting a human)? No. Much like blaming some anonymous fictional guy in Africa for fucking a monkey as to how we ended up with AIDS, we say it’s the “freaky” eating habits of Chinese people (ignoring things in the U.S. like “Rocky Mountain oysters” and pig ears) and their “unsanitary” conditions at public markets (ignoring how little the FDA inspects or regulates U.S. food properly and, again, the fact we don’t even wash our own damn hands).

And so Donald Trump and others can go around calling SARS-CoV-2 the “Chinese virus” or COVID-19 the “Chinese flu” or “WuHu flu” or “Kung flu” and much of America, even the so-called educated and aware segment, simultaneously nod (or even laugh) and then look at Asian people as the cause and the problem. And ignore when people point out that the “Spanish flu” that ravaged the United States not that long ago (historically speaking) almost certainly started in Kansas but blaming another country felt better.

So, we don’t make the connection that we’re racist enough in this country to weaponize naturally occurring viruses into xenophobic tools.

And then we don’t make the connection that as hospitals are overwhelmed and people are told they aren’t sick enough to be there (and die later untreated) or aren’t showing enough symptoms to deserve a test, do we think about how many Black people have talked about being denied care by even their own physicians when they are clearly in need of care because “they don’t need it?” Nope. Heaven forbid we should see that increasingly we as white people are considered disposable by the rich and powerful (the old are too used up to keep around and the young are told to risk their lives to keep the economy going). Increasingly, we’re getting the treatment Black, Indigenous and other non-white people have encountered by healthcare but we don’t take pause to think about how it must have affected them to deal with such things for generations and how it kept them from rising socioeconomically and otherwise. No, we see it as a singular attack on us and still find a way to blame them.

Of course, it helps when the president does things like order the removal of posters detailing how to reduce the contraction and spread of this new coronavirus (and other pathogens) from immigration offices. Because it’s better for America’s ego and its racist institutions to make sure the “foreigners” get sick so that more of them can die and we can blame them later for spreading the illness.

No, we don’t like to learn from history. Which is why we get to repeat it with the latest coronavirus that is something new and special and we can’t deal with yet. And instead of coming together to fight it, we instead revel in pointing the finger—as usual—and learning nothing from the history we can access so easily with modern technology.


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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.


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.

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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.


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.