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.


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Learning from others’ history, and our own…or not

Back in early 1980s England the coal industry was fundamental. And if you lived rurally and got a job in a coal mine, you were pretty much set for life. Of course, the dangers of that job could’ve meant for a very short life, but the job paid well and the unions looked out for you. Naturally, the conservative government hated that and tried to take power away from the unions. The unions hated that and so they went on strike. For a year. Basically, the unions were like, “You want to reduce our power? OK. How about we shut down the entire bloody industry?”

But then Margaret Thatcher, prime minister at the time, was like, “Oh, you want to shut down the entire British coal industry? Fine. Fuck you forever.” She then proceeded to let the entire industry die. And just like that all of those economically secure jobs for life were gone.

As time passed those high-paying, secure jobs were replaced with low-paying bullshit jobs without any security at all. And of course, as is traditional in western societies, a fair amount of those jobs ended up being done by immigrants. Rural England felt tossed to the side, but they also gained something from that struggle: a hatred of conservatives.

Three-and-a-half decades later, along comes conservative dumb-shit Boris Johnson. He’s running to continue his career as prime minister, campaigning primarily on the racist-ass Brexit ticket. At the time, most people thought it’d either be close or he’d get stomped. But it went the other way and the world was shocked. How’d that doofy motherfucker flip all those rural, conservative-hating districts? Pretty easily, as it turned out.

All those open-minded, liberal areas? Well, you never would’ve guessed it, but there’s something they hated more than conservatives: immigrants. That’s right! All lil’ Boris had to do was walk into those towns, point at the immigrants doing those low-paying bullshit jobs and say, “Look! Someone stole your jobs!” and open his arms to widely embrace the landslide that was his victory.

Speaking of places that suffer on a molecular level from xenophobia/racism while ignoring it deliberately and completely, we’ve got an election coming up right here in the good ol’ US of A and we sure could learn a lot from the UK’s current predicament.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not confident we will, though. The Republicans are all in lock-step and every time I turn around I seem to hear Democrats talking themselves into another four years of 45. Last week I got into an argument with someone who said “I gotta hand it to him, he’s good at marketing!”

I turned to this person and said in a voice that was just a little too loud to be backstage at the show we were at, “No he’s not. Do you think he’s running around a room full of executives manically scribbling on a white board, expounding on constituent analytics? He doesn’t know a fucking thing about marketing. Or anything else. You’ve never met anyone as stupid as that guy. He thinks windmills cause cancer, ffs.”

Rightfully, a little shocked at my tone, they responded, “I just mean he’s persuasive.”

Unintentionally upping my volume, I continued, “No he’s not! He couldn’t convince shit to stink! What, do you think there were just a bunch of voters marching up to the voting booth thinking, ‘You know, I never hated Black or brown people before, but listening to that tiny-handed, piss-skinned imbecile from that dumb-ass reality show lie about Obama’s birth certificate for five years really brought me around!’? Fuck no! There’s just a whole lot of racists who’d felt shamed into silence right up until a Black president got elected. Then it was time to take a stand!”

That’s when I noticed that everyone else backstage had been shushing me for a while, so I stopped. But had I continued I would’ve made the point that the systems that are America are now and have always been dependent on racism. And I mean since the beginning. For example, did you know that just prior to the Revolutionary War, the colonists didn’t really care whose flag they were under? It’s true and one of the ways the founding fathers convinced the population to get behind the war was to start a false rumor that England was planning to enslave the colonists. “Enslavement” was the word they used and you bet your contemporary ass that every single person moved to action by that word said, “I ain’t no nigger!” as they loaded up their rifles.

I always feel like this American apple hasn’t fallen very far from that English tree. I hope November proves me wrong, but either way, you know what to do.


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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Let’s go deeper: How to work with me

Just my semi-annual PSA that my anti-racism work extends far beyond this site. In addition to serving as the executive director of one of the longest continuously running anti-racism organizations in the country, I also offer other services for deepening your anti-racism praxis. 

This past fall, I started offering anti-racism coaching sessions. This is a one-hour Zoom session or call where we discuss current issues that you may be facing in your personal or professional anti-racism work. My work is to serve as a sounding board and resource to help you both deepen your work and navigate the thorny and messy issues that often arise in our practices. I work with clients on both an as-needed and ongoing basis. The cost per session is $125. Email blackgirlinmaine@gmail.com to book a session.

If you want to bring me to your group or organization, consider the following options: 

Authentic Dialogues: Talking About Racism and Moving to Action 

This interactive session is designed to look critically at racism in our communities and our nation by examining the roots of white supremacy and how the past impacts our present. A key goal will be teaching, sharing, and learning practical tools for working in our own communities to combat racism and to start conversations on addressing racism and difference in predominantly white spaces. This session is a mixture of lecture and small-group work, which will allow participants to deepen their knowledge of racism, examine their own biases, and learn techniques for starting conversations on racism and how to be an effective ally. Prices vary based on location and organizational budget. Email blackgirlinmaine@gmail.com to book a session

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Tell Me the Truth: Exploring the Heart of Cross-Racial Conversations

How can we speak openly and honestly in cross-racial conversations? What would such a conversation even look like? Shay Stewart-Bouley (Black) and Debby Irving (white) show us as they share racism’s impact on their lives and how cross-racial conversation has been instrumental in their own understanding of 21st century racial dynamics. Shay and Debby will explore the common fears and pitfalls of cross-racial conversation that keep people isolated in their own racial groups, at the expense of personal, professional, and societal growth. They’ll also help audience members understand how interpersonal social patterns hinder organizations from living up to their own ideals for diversity. No two conversations are alike as they step on stage with no agenda. Finally, Shay and Debby will offer suggestions to create racial justice habits that can move us from isolated events to sustainable connections. 

Remaining Winter 2020 Dates for Tell Me the Truth

  • Monday ~ February 3 ~ anytime
  • Tuesday ~ February 4 ~ anytime
  • Sunday ~ February 23 ~ anytime

Cost: $2,500*

Previous Hosts

  • Black Heritage Trail ~ Portsmouth, NH
  • Harvard University Health Services ~ Cambridge, MA
  • Colby College ~ Waterville, Maine
  • Central Square Theater ~ Cambridge, MA
  • Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry ~ Roxbury, MA
  • Marblehead Racial Justice Committee ~ Marblehead, MA
  • SURJ Southern Maine/Seacoast ~ Kittery, ME
  • University of Maine ~Orono, ME
  • University of Maine ~ Bangor, ME
  • University of Maine ~ Augusta, ME
  • Nevins Library ~ Methuen, MA
  • Natick Coalition for Change ~ Natick, MA
  • American Civil Liberties Union ~ Portland, ME
  • Bar Harbor Maine YWCA ~ Bar Harbor, ME
  • Families Organizing for Racial Justice ~ Newton, MA
  • Seattle Equity Summit ~ Seattle, WA
  • Friends School of Portland ~ Portland, ME
  • Highline Public Schools ~ Seattle, WA

Contact cynthia@debbyirving.com for more information or to book a date

* travel may be extra if location greater than 80 miles from Boston or Portland, ME


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.