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.

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Memes of hate: Do we need to look at them?

Today’s post is from guest contributor Mo Nunez (bio at the end of the piece)

There is a Facebook meme where white Jesus is standing behind Donald Trump—they are at the Resolute Desk. In the White House. I am to presume from the meme that Jesus is there to guide our “dear leader” as he signs yet another awesome winning something-or-other into existence. It is a reminder that our porn star in chief is guided by God (read: Suck it libtards!)

There was a point in time where I felt that I needed to see a picture like that. Shortly after the election of Trump, I began to see these memes pop up all over my social media timelines. I felt that it was important—essential—to keep the people posting pro-Trump stuff in my timeline. In my sight. I thought to myself: I did not want to run away; I want to know what they are saying. By looking directly at the hate, I was doing a good thing, I thought to myself—a proactive thing.

Over time, the memes did what memes do and they became more absurd, more abstract. I noticed something else was changing—what happens when life imitates absurdist imagery and thought? The lines between “holy shit that would be insane” and “holy shit that’s totally insane” are being blurred and erased on a daily basis by our abstract-improv-artist-in-chief.

I can remember the first time I read the sentence “I am proud to be a nationalist and I see nothing wrong with that.” It was here in America, in the 21st century, and it was not an “ironic” statement. I actually read that way before Trump said it at a rally (10/22/2018). Soon I began to see more blatantly racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic content popping up on my timeline. Eventually my timeline resembled a combination of the front page of Stormfront—classic Onion articles come to life and an Evangelical Tent Revival. But each time I saw hateful content I would go down a racist rabbit hole chasing after the original poster’s previous shitty things they’ve posted. I have to look, I reminded myself. I have to force myself to not turn away.

The thing about memes is that they are satire. They are the furthest extrapolation of an already absurd observation. The thing about Trump is that he is the furthest extrapolation of an already absurd, racist, sexist, xenophobic society. The memes I was coming across my feed morphed from cheerleading and silly ignorant slogans (“Build the Wall” anyone?) into a concoction of Trump idolatry, flat-earth-levels conspiracy theory, and pure unadulterated hate. “Build the Wall” was literally replaced with “Brown people are animals.” Specifically, I noticed the memes and comments were now centered around hate for anyone who believes that we should care about the state of the world and care for one another. Women who pointed out unpleasant truths about men, Black and Brown folks who pointed out racist realities of their everyday existence, immigrants who dared ask for their humanity and respect—these were all the fuel for the hate that I was seeing on a daily basis. But it was not just the trumpers whose hate was being fed.

One of the side effects of my severe anxiety disorder and depression is that every once in a while everything makes me cry. Full. On. Big. Fat. Tears. Everything. It does not last very long, a couple of days usually, but I cannot control it. During these spells sad news, good news, mundane news—all of it makes me break out in tears.

I know that I am being triggered by everything right now and yet I know that I have to stop seeing this shit on my Facebook timeline on a daily basis. Despite being triggered by everything, this hate I am forcing upon myself is different. It’s not triggering me to the point of tears. I can deal with that. I have been dealing with that my whole life. Something worse is happening to me, and I fear to my friends who feel that duty to subject themselves to the cult of Trump. We are moving to the dark side. We are fueling our own transition with their hate. What happens when we are consumed by our hatred for “these fucking garbage humans”?

At first I thought it was my duty to keep that shit in front of my face. I felt it was my duty as an activist and educator to stare down the hate and keep it moving. “I need to know what they are saying!” “I need to remind myself these people exist!” I’ve gone beyond knowing to hating. With a passion. This cannot be good. Right?

Last week a guy I barely know (but who keeps popping up in my Facebook timeline) posted a picture of a woman, let’s call her Nazi McGov, in a Nazi uniform. This woman works in Maine. She works for a government agency, in fact. Now. Today. The man who posted it noted that it was insane that this woman has a job where part of her responsibilities are to “monitor” and “assess” people’s behaviors. Immediately after posting the picture, which he made quite clear was a “publicly accessible document” that she herself posted, he was bombarded by people, some of them not even her friends, accusing him of being racist towards Nazi McGov. He was a “bastard for posting the pic” and “insinuating she was a bad person.” He was an “asshole for posting her picture” and “slandering her.”

“Bro you are so dumm, posting that pictur! you libtard!, do you EVEN KNOW what slander menes?!” 

This man stuck to his guns the whole way through; he consistently reminded folks she posted this pic—it doesn’t really matter if it was five days, five years, or five decades ago. He reminded his attackers that shortly after WWII most of us agreed Nazi stuff wasn’t cool. You know, like blackface. Or so we thought.

Watching the people come after him made me realize that I would rather have people like him on my feed than the people who are coming after him. I don’t actually need to keep seeing the hate that these folks give. Its real. I’ve lived it, and it would be insane for me to suggest that statement should only be in the past tense like some of the folks kept “reminding this man”—“that was in the past; get over it!”

I’ve begun the process of weeding out people who post hateful memes. I am weeding out the Trump zealots (read: zombies) along with the “devil’s advocate” sympathizers. I am prioritizing positivity. In just a short time I feel happier.

But I’m left troubled because I’m not sure why I felt that I HAD to keep myself connected to the viotrol, hate, and ignorance that is currently abundant in this country. Was I afraid I would have a hard time finding some? My whole damn professional trajectory is a reminder that this stuff exists. Why am I inviting more of this into my life? What did I think would actually happen if I stopped looking?

I have some new questions now: Do white people need to be the ones to stare this hatred in the face?  What is the difference between self-care and avoidance? Does anyone need to chose to see this kind of ignorance and hate on a daily basis? How do people stay motivated in the fight if they look away at what is actually happening? If we do chose to look how do we respond in a way that does not deplete our positivity?

Moises “Mosart” Nunez is an educator, activist, and Ph.D. dropout with a master’s degree in education. Mo’s professional focus is on issues of teen violence, at-risk-youth intervention, the social-emotional education of teens, creating inclusive school environments for students with special needs, school redesign, community engagement, and dismantling racist practices in public education. Mo currently designs and leads community engagement based anti-racism and implicit bias workshops for district and school leadership across the country. Mo has taught English, social studies, and special education across the Northeast in public schools, alternative-education programs, private independent schools, and several universities. Mo has also designed and served as director for several successful at-risk-youth programs, most notably at New Beginnings in Rochester, N.Y.—an alternative education school that focuses on educating and reintegrating recently incarcerated youth. Mo has served as administrator, program director, and program manager for several alternative education, day treatment programs, and public schools in New England and the tri-state area. Mo recently won The Phoenix magazine’s Hip Hop DJ of the Year 2018, and released an album of original music under the name “mosart212.”

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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Photo by Jannis Brandt from Unsplash

Reclaiming my time; saying ‘yes’ to me

It ain’t easy being a Black woman. Never has been. But I guess I figured we wouldn’t have to still be working this hard just to stay behind, no matter how much education and how many skills we bring to so many tables.

For every dollar that a white man makes, a Black woman earns 63 cents (even lower than white women, who earn 80 cents to the manly dollar). A Black woman must work eight months longer to earn what a white man earns in a year. In other words, a Black woman, even coming to the work game with excellence, has to bust her ass to have what comes naturally and with much more modest effort to even the most mediocre of white men.

So after you bust your ass, what next? As a Black woman, you are at a higher risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. In fact, while the saying “Black don’t crack” is entrenched into our consciousness as a statement of fact, the reality for many of us is far more sobering. We might look good and we might look young, but the collective weight of navigating life as a Black woman creates an extreme stress that causes wear and tear on our internal organs which leads to higher rates of illness and earlier death.

As this 2010 National Institute of Health study pretty much lays it all out, there is a real cost to being a Black woman. Let’s be real: it’s stressful. From birth to death, we often beat the odds in so many ways.

But again: At what cost?

I have been asking myself these questions for the last several months. I started going to therapy and immediately it became clear that I am doing too much. There is my day job as the Executive Director of Community Change Inc. We are a small, scrappy anti-racism organization that receives little in the way of grant funding; we are 90% donor funded. I spend a lot of time convincing people to support our work. Since 2014, I have managed to financially stabilize the organization and grow our programming, this is no small feat considering the other things that have happened since 2014. My marriage ended and I moved out of the family home in fall of 2015. My son got married in 2016 and became a dad in 2017, thus making me a grandmother. I also worked to grow the readership of this blog.

Our readership now extends far beyond Maine and New England. Last month a patron made a gift from Australia. This year alone, I have had over a dozen speaking engagements across New England and my fall speaking calendar is 90% full. But I have had to hustle for all that harder and longer than have my professional peers who aren’t Black and female.

My youngest child just turned 13 and I spend 50% of my physical time with her, but in the last three years, I have spent no more than 12 consecutive days at my own home due to my travel schedule. And sometimes that means time spent with her is at the family home I left when the marriage ended, while I’m in-between travel and my real home. And as you can imagine, that can get awkward no matter how well my co-parent and I get along.

I am inundated with requests to speak/teach/show up and honestly it’s overwhelming. People are forever asking if I want to engage in social/racial justice work during my off time. I’m frequently asked to do work for free or for amounts so low they might as well be free when you factor in travel costs and time lost. Um, NO! Even when I state this clearly, people still think they are an exception and ask for XYZ. Clearly the idea that a Black woman might have boundaries is hard for people to grasp.

All this to say: I have been heading head-first into the wall of exhaustion. I spent months trying to decide if I should take the plunge and quit my day job and trust that it would work out. I started ramping up my No’s.  No is my new jam.

The thing is, my situation isn’t unique. It’s what many Black women face, we give so much of ourselves and rarely is anyone concerned with our personal well-being. Even in a Black Lives Matter climate, how often do we see the Black women in our lives and ask what can we do for them? Do we see them as individuals outside of their Blackness? Or do they remain a fixed modern day Mammy whose mission is serve us, teach us and guide us? I’ve seen so many pieces published on how Black women are saving the country in so many ways by making things happen and building awareness and getting out the vote, but why are they leaned on so heavily to do that? Where is most of everyone else?

After months of feeling stressed, I worked up the courage to ask my board of directors at the day job for a sabbatical. Long story short: I am off work until after Labor Day. No emails, texts, calls or meetings.  Last night I slept for eight hours. To wake up and not feel like I have to hit the ground running is a marvelous feeling, it’s damn near orgasmic to not have to do anything and to not have to worry if I can pay my rent since this is a paid sabbatical. The internal silence is a gift. (However, as you see right here, I still have to hustle to work on the website here and post blogs and monitor my social media and promote stuff, sabbatical or not.)

This post is a bit more personal than my usual these days but I wanted to be honest about where I am at this moment in my life. While I am not on a sabbatical from BGIM Media, I am taking it easy especially because I have enlisted the assistance of a podcast producer and we record our first episode next week. The podcast will launch right after Labor Day. Weekly postings will continue though we are looking at six posts this month rather than the usual eight.

For all of you who are there for Black women—I mean, really there—thank you. For those of you who haven’t been, please start stepping up because we can’t do so much alone and we damn sure can’t do it without some emotional, social and financial support for our efforts.

f 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.

Photo by Jared Rice from Unsplash