Calling All White People, Part 35: Why exactly are you sharing that video or picture?

Calling All White People, Part 35

(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: We need to examine why we share pictures of dead or abused Black and brown people  

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

I rarely watch the videos that make the rounds of the internet, in which a Black or brown person is verbally assaulted, physically assaulted, threatened with weapons or outright shot to death. There are times I cannot avoid the images because there is no warning. There are times I merely glance at a few seconds willingly because I feel I need some context to understand the written story about the incident. There are times I might watch the video with the sound off.

But mostly, I don’t watch them at all.

And this isn’t a situation of me burying my head in the sand. Back in the days of the Trayvon Martin killing and the senseless murder of Tamir Rice I would watch the videos because I felt it was a duty to do so. To force myself to see just how bad people could be, especially law enforcement officers dealing with Black people who posed no threat but were treated like the vilest of evildoers. I watched the Tamir Rice video just to understand how aggressive the police were, how unwarranted their response was and just how impossibly little time they gave Tamir to even respond to them (a literal second or two) before they opened fire. I’ve seen videos of Black kids being pinned to the ground violently when they weren’t resisting and had done nothing wrong but have the police called on them for existing. And more.

There was a time going back to that watershed moment of Trayvon’s death when many white people like me had to see the brutality to understand it fully. To really realize that the police were even less fair and equitable to Black and brown people compared to white people than we had ever imagined. To understand how senseless an act of violence could be and how obviously wrong it could be—and yet still see police and average citizens alike (but especially police) found not guilty by juries.

But how much do you need to see? And how much do you need to share? And why?

Very recently, a photo appeared in news stories and got spread around the internet of a Latinx father and his very young daughter face down in the Rio Grande, drowned. And it was a stark image. And one that many of us were confronted with on absolutely no warning and not having gone looking for it.

And part of me gets it—both the taking of the photo and the sharing of it. Photographers often capture images because they are stark or even shocking. Because they seem to encapsulate a multitude of issues and concerns in one single scene that cannot be conveyed the same way in words. I’m not going to fault the photographers nor even cast dispersions on the media outlets who run these photos from AP and other sources (as long as they are providing some warnings). We’d probably be raking them over the coals if we found out they were refusing to show the horrors of Trump’s treatment of immigrants at the southern border (or police brutality or whatever).

But the part of me that gets it also gets something else: White people have been sharing and spreading images of horrors for ages now, even before the internet. Postcards of lynchings being one of the more infamous examples. Moreover, taking it to the current time, we’ve been sharing horrific images of Black people being killed or nearly killed by police for quite a number of years now and not only has nothing changed, but it’s gotten worse in many ways. Now we have more police with body cameras and we see even more images but we still almost never bring those police to justice when they do wrong. Now it almost seems like many law enforcement people are happy to have so many images out there, as if to say, “See? We can still get away with it. You’re screwed now and forever.”

Whether it’s a Black child being shot to death for playing in a park or a dead immigrant father and child in a river who represent victims of very obvious American government abuse (we have concentrations camps for children, people…what more do you need to know?), what are we doing when we spread the images far and wide?

I fear that we don’t do much at all.

We desensitize ourselves in many cases. We sometimes demoralize folks by showing how little changes and will perhaps never change. We embolden the people who like to see such images and praise the violence.

I’m not saying we should ban the images. There needs to be a record of abuse and there needs to be a way for people who don’t understand the scope of abuse and racist policies to see it up close and personal, as it were.

But the thing is, with our internet-connected world, we can find these images on our own. That’s the power of Google. I don’t think we need them shoved in our faces anymore. I don’t think we need Twitter or Facebook posts that blast a video or photo right at us without giving a chance to look away. No warnings in many cases: Just the raw horror dumped in our laps.

And the thing is, I’m not saying this to protect white people. I’m not saying “Please stop making us white people see this.” Because the thing is I don’t see nearly as many white people in my circles complaining about this as I do people of color, particularly Black and brown people. They live these horrors daily in many cases, because they know they have targets on their backs societally speaking in the United States and many, many other parts of the white world.

I’ve seen more white people rush to the defense of “We have to see these images to move people and to understand the horror” than Black people. I’ve seen more Black people say “Please stop showing me this” than I have white people.

That said, I will admit that I’ve seen Black and brown people insist that we have to see the horrors. It’s not like Black people or other people of color are monolithic groups with a single opinion.

So what is the answer?

Well, I’d say (as I did before) that the answer isn’t to delete all these images or to never record them to begin with. And the answer isn’t to never share them.

But I would say ask yourself why you are sharing them. Is it because it makes you feel like you are doing something (when you probably should be doing something more direct)? Is it because it’s become a form of torture porn? Is it because you want to change the minds of wishy-washy moderates who don’t want to rock the boat (you probably won’t) or Trump supporters (with those people, they probably smile when seeing those images) who you think can be turned?

Bottom line: We need to stop being so aggressive with forcing people to see these images. Try some trigger warning or content warning messages if you must share. Try providing links (with warnings) instead of automatically embedding a video or photo in your post.

What we need to do is look less (being bystanders and hand-wringers) and do more (by tearing down white supremacy and white nationalism). Images have motivated people and have turned the tide of public opinion in the past, but we aren’t in the same world as, say, the 1960s/1970s and the Vietnam War, when there were only a relative handful of media outlets and no internet. We are in a time of a fascism-fueled White House committing overt acts of evil and lying daily without shame—so much that every new sin is forgotten the next day by a new sin and so on and so on and so on…

The fact is, most of us who don’t want the world to be this way and to treat Black and brown people as less than human already know the score. It’s just that many/most of us are afraid to confront the problem directly or put ourselves on the line. There’s nothing subversive, bold or game-changing about sharing images of what increasingly amounts to trauma porn. The images have a place and a role, but they aren’t the answer to social change.


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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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Calling All White People, Part 33: Racism isn’t the white person’s call

(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: Sorry, but white people don’t get to define what is racist  

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

I know that most of us white people want to have a say in everything and express an opinion about anything we like, but guess what? We don’t get to decide when we are being racist. And we don’t have any place jumping into discussions and defending other white people who have offended people of color (POC), especially Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC).

I know that probably grates on many of you, but we just don’t have any business defending ourselves or other white people against the vast majority of claims of racism or doing something racist, even if the person isn’t of racist persuasion overall in life.

I’ve done racist things, however minor they might be—or rather, how minor I perceive them, even if I perceive them at all—but I don’t get to say “That wasn’t racist!” Because if there is a person who feels I’ve done something racist to them, chances are that they are either flat-out 100-percent right or at least “right enough” that they have a case to call me on tapping into white supremacy or white privilege in a damaging way.

Period.

I can choose to examine what I did wrong or what I did that hurt someone. I can work to change my behavior. But I don’t get to determine whether my actions were racist on some level, whether overt or subtle or somewhere in between.

I can already hear some people muttering (or even yelling), “But…free speech!”

OK, when the government is arresting people or otherwise oppressing them for their speech, we can talk about whether the First Amendment applies. But it has nothing to do with private citizens or companies or any of that. It’s to protect you against the government. If your speech is hateful or otherwise problematic, you are subject to potential consequences from other people, your employer and more. Deal with it.

And you know, part of the problem with Nazis and other white supremacists these days getting to have platforms and go on TV shows to air their filthy views and all that is because we keep acting like “free speech” is something to which everyone is entitled to in every venue, and it’s simply not true. And Nazis and their ilk shouldn’t be given platforms and humanizing profiles in the New York Times and crap like that. Even if they aren’t talking about extermination of POC or other “undesirables” they talk freely of separating the races. And that’s not to give everyone a safe and level playing field. You see, if we look at Black people, for example, Jim Crow laws were enacted in the wake of Reconstruction following the Civil War because white people didn’t like the gains and progress (and potentially power) that Black people were building. And when they found success in various places, like the creation of “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa and similar progress, white people literally tore down and burned down those efforts to stop them from progress. And in the 1970s and beyond, when the Black Panthers and others were actively protecting Black communities or talking about “Black power” and feeding the poor and things like that, they got labeled as terrorists and sometimes, police would just do things like firebomb them and their kids. And oh, the 1980s? Let’s further set back Black people by sending people to prison and giving them felonies and ruining their lives forever just for using crack cocaine and other drugs. And when we talk about how POC should get college educations to get ahead and then they do…and we still don’t hire them or if we do we don’t pay them enough—instead, they get to earn in many cases the same amount of money or less (and have access to fewer opportunies) compared white guys with high school educations—or even white high school dropouts for that matter.

But, as almost always is the case, I digress.

I was really talking about how we white people want to define whether any of our actions are really racist. We want to talk about our intent, when the fact is that impact is more important than intent.  (And yes, the accepted and accurate description of racism needs to be “privilege/power + prejudice” because being white gives inherent benefit of the doubt, power, access and forgiveness/second chances in society—it isn’t the same as non-racist prejudice or bigotry; the impact is far greater with racism)

I mean, do accused criminals get to define whether their actions are crimes? They may have their day in court and someone might defend their actions and try to downplay how criminal they really were or if punishment is necessary, but if you assault or steal from someone, you don’t get to suddenly jump in and offer an opinion about whether those actions are defined as crimes and then have the rules rewritten.

OK, I probably struck a nerve with some of you with the criminal comparison. You probably don’t like thinking of any “racially insensitive” or “racially charged” acts or words (and the proper phrase for both is racist acts) as being the same as a violent or very harmful crime.

All right…do abusers rightly have a say as to whether their actions are abuse? If someone beats their partner (spouse or lover or whatever) or parents resort to routinely striking their kids for any old infraction because heaven forbid they use words or non-violent punishments and consequences—do they get to say, “But I’m not abuser.” No. “I didn’t mean to hit her; she just pushed me and I snapped.” Sorry, that’s abusive. “But I was really angry and not thinking straight.” Nope, you’re an abuser. “If I don’t do something violent, they won’t behave right.” ABUSE.

Still probably some hurt feelings among some of you. You don’t like being compared to people who do domestic violence, either? You say that even if you did say or do something maybe a little racist at least it’s not like you put someone in the hospital. And yet abuse is also emotional and/or psychological, isn’t it?…and that still does damage and you know it. And, also, racist acts and words (like calling the police for minor issues or non-issues) can get POC, especially BIPOC, killed. So, yeah, the abuse/violence analogy works just fine here.

But hey, let me cut you some slack. Let me ease up on the violence comparisons. Not that I need to, but hey, let me be more relatable to those of you who are dying to debate me on some, many or all of the points I’ve already laid out.

Let’s take the example of a person going to human resources or an upper-level boss because they are being taken advantage of or mistreated by a person with supervisory power over them or at least some kind of seniority or something.

Not getting the connection? Well, if that’s the case, let me clarify: White supremacy and white privilege put white people at a level of seniority (not deserved, mind you) over POC, especially BIPOC. It even gives them “supervisory” power. How else does someone like “BBQ Becky” (or the dozens of similar women calling police on Black people just for existing) get to call in the police for nothing and typically not be charged with a crime. Also, a white guy can actually beat up a Black woman and threaten her with a gun and get initially charged with a misdemeanor (later upgraded to a felony only because the police and prosecutors realized what a shitstorm they’d unleash if they didn’t) and then the law enforcement folks charge the victim with a felony for damaging the man’s truck after her attack by him (apparently the charges have since been dropped but they shouldn’t have been filed in the first place and they probably wouldn’t have been dropped if not for very public outrage).

So, yes, we white people have an undeserved role of power (seniority or supervision) over POC. And just like you, going in with a complaint at work, don’t think the person who misused you should get to define whether their actions were “just fine” (because that’s why you lodged an official complaint and brought in third parties), the fact is that you know in a lot (maybe most) work situations, you are going to lose. No matter how right you are, that person will get a say in whether they did wrong. And they will get treated to more deference and leeway most likely, because they are in some level of power over you. And it isn’t right. It isn’t the way it should be.

You put yourself in a vulnerable position by lodging a complaint, and your abuser will probably be given the benefit of the doubt and allowed to define whether their actions were abusive and reduce their blowback as a result.

You know that’s wrong.

When BIPOC and other people of color say something a white person does is racist, they are making themselves vulnerable—in particular to other white people who will rush to defend their abusers and even forgive them no matter how much the POC was hurt. Calls of the “race card” or “race baiting” or “reverse racism” will come from the fact they even said a single thing, and maybe the white person will lose their job or something. Maybe. But it’s the person of color who is going to get the endless attacks and harassment for “overreacting”—even death threats.

So, no, we white people don’t get to say when we are being racist.

We do get to say when we are sorry—and realize that even when we are, we don’t automatically (or maybe even ever) earn forgiveness. And whether we are forgiven or not, it is still upon us to change for the better.


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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