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.

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Calling All White People, Part 40: Goodbye, ally…Breaking up is sometimes necessary

Calling All White People, Part 40

(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: It’s not you, it’s me…wait, no…it’s you  

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

So, now that I’m 40 posts into this “Calling All White People” thing, I seem to have circled around to the beginning, so to speak…not repeating myself precisely, but back to the topic that started it all: allyship. In that first post, I talked about being an ally or an accomplice, but this time the ally theme is a little different. It’s about breaking up—and how it might be necessary for a lot of “allies” and people of color for the sake of those POC (several other marginalized groups would also apply here, but we’ll use white allies of Black people as our focal point since it’s a particularly thorny relationship sometimes).

And, before I go on, let’s set the stage right with something both humorous and instructive—the very social media post that inspired this edition of “Calling All White People”…

This is, increasingly these days, a sentiment I am seeing with more and more POC and—again—especially Black people and white allies. The white ally situation really does feel like a relationship metaphor sometimes. There can be this giddy love and optimism and spark of connection but then in some (perhaps too many) cases it turns darker. Maybe even toxic or borderline abusive. Maybe way over the borderline even.

We white people in particularly love putting conditions on our commitment to the anti-racism relationship. And it pretty much puts a lot of us out of consideration for being actual anti-racists (a topic BGIM herself took up just a few days ago), because many of us are just really interested in the status quo and our own feelings and the appearance of fairness over actual justice and equity. And sadly, those conditions are often just as oppressive in the anti-racism scene as they are in romantic relationships or friendships.

I’m not saying everything is 100-percent unconditional love and commitment. I’m not even sure the most loving parents can manage to love their children unflinchingly and without any conditions. But really, 100 percent isn’t the goal and to be honest, a lot of us white people don’t get anywhere near that level anyway. Too many of us are stuck at 50 percent or 25 percent or lower when it comes to truly backing up Black people and others who are oppressed and marginalized.

Lots of white people in lots of anti-racism situations who think themselves committed will say, “Can you not be so loud?” “Do you have to sound so angry?” “Does everything with you have to be about race?” “Maybe if you approached people less confrontationally.” And so on and so forth and rinse and repeat.

For too many white people, anti-racism work is fine as long as the language is all friendly and they don’t have to examine their own actions and motivations and as long as there is minimal risk to themselves. Like…well…a lot of romantic relationships and friendships. As long as everything is fun and nice it’s cool, but let an argument arise (no matter how justified) or an uncomfortable moment or a health crisis or whatever, and suddenly it’s like, “I need some space” or “You’ll lose me if you keep doing that.”

As in any relationship, sure, there can be sins on both sides. I’m not saying all Black people (or other marginalized groups) are incapable of being hurtful or petty. But the truth is that when they point a finger at us and say “You aren’t acting right in situation” or “You are centering whiteness” or “You are more committed to comfort than to the cause” they are often on to something. In fact, they are often in the right.

Looking at Black people in particular, they have played by America’s rules all along. When they got freedom, such as it was, they started building their own communities and economies and tried to move forward. But at every step of the way, at every point in American history where that happened, white society found a way to directly thwart those efforts (things like the burning of “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa) or more subtly (gerrymandering to inhibit their voting rights or stacking the deck against non-whites in financial rules, real estate, etc.). They have committed to the relationship over and over instead of simply rising up in violence en masse as perhaps they should have done by now. And yet we have continued to keep the racial wealth gap intact (and wide) and we have resisted undoing past sins (massive levels of wrongful or disproportionate incarceration, for example) and failed in so many other ways. When they have stepped up, we have not really stood beside them or behind them, much less taken any bullets for them.

Instead, we try to soothe them and say, “Just be patient” or “you need to vote for this candidate because he will appeal to moderate white voters” or “Once we get this in place, you’ll get what you need.” And it’s lies. It’s gaslighting. It’s just us trying to make the relationship pleasant for us while giving little of ourselves. Demanding love but not really giving it. Being there in the good times but suddenly distant or missing when they are bad.

We white people are often full of excuses for why we cannot do this or that to fight racism. Or how it’s impractical to dismantle and rebuild entire systems to make them truly fair to all people (or at least close to it). Black people and lots of other POC and other marginalized groups are actually in danger with what is happening to the American government and the fact that around a third or more of the country is OK with fascism and one-party rule as long as it hurts those “other people” more than it does them.

Because you see, it’s not just that 30 to 40 percent of America (overwhelmingly white folks) that matters. It’s the substantial number of (mostly white) people in relatively privileged situations compared to the marginalized who just want things to “go back to how they used to be” who enable that minority of cruel people to carry the day. Because we keep letting cruelty creep up more and more powerfully.

How things used to be has never really been fair or safe or good for a lot of groups in this country. It was just “less horrific.” And I don’t think dragging a person we say we love toward a “less horrific” situation is enough when that “less horrific” situation is still going to result in their disenfranchisement, erasure and/or abuse.

So, with America seeming ready to go right off the rails into some very dark territory indeed, expect to see more Black people and others breaking up with their allies who really never had their backs to begin with. They’ve had more than enough, and rightfully so they are telling us to go away if we aren’t going to give up any of our own comfort and safety for the good of all and for real justice. If we are just going to show up for the good times and demand happy faces because we show up a little, then we should just get gone entirely.

Many of us deserve to find our bags packed and our asses shown the way to the door. Before we do, if we really have any love in our hearts, how about we head that off with some real and renewed commitment?

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 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.

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.