White America, damn. 2017 has been rough. You’ve let yourself go. Look in the mirror. You’re tired, overworked, bitter, scared, quick to anger, vulnerable, gullible and falling into that unbecoming my-empire-is-crumbling syndrome. And the most egregious part is that, because of this, you’re, well, still pretty racist. In a trendy, new-and-improved, extra-shameless kinda way. Even your haircuts look like Nazis. It’s not a good look.
So, put down those (tiki) torches. It’s time for some self care and reflection. To turn this around in 2018, it’s going to take more than a gym membership. You’re going to have to flex something else: your brain and your heart.
ABP caught up with some of the team behind Minority Retort, the Portland, Oregon, comedy showcase for comedians of color performing in the “whitest city in America.”
“Nothing that’s happened in 2017 or 2016 or 1916 has surprised people of color at all,” says Minority Retort host Jason Lamb. “I think it’s kind of opened the eyes of white people, in a way, who thought that racism didn’t exist anymore, that weren’t exposed to it in such an overt way.”
So, in the interest of keeping those eyes open and making next year better, here are five tips for being a little less racist in 2018:
Don’t be Michael Scott
Resist being an easy comparison to America’s beloved-but-oblivious buffoon of a boss from The Office, who was infamous for making ignorantly racist comments like, “Let me ask you, is there a term besides ‘Mexican’ that you prefer? Something less offensive?”
Comedian and cohost Neeraj Srinivasan has his own example: “I guess if I had to pick one joke of mine that ‘best’ tackles racism, it would have to be my bit about how, often, if I meet a white person who has maybe not met many Indians in the past, they’ll feel the need to recall and announce some mundane Indian-related factoid in their life like, ‘You’re Indian? Last Thursday, I had Indian food!’ or ‘One time I played ‘TURBAN’ in Scrabble!’”
Just don’t. Ask a question from the heart, or, better yet, just talk to them like they’re a human being instead of a novelty.
“I want to keep developing the joke,” says Srinivasan, “but I think it captures the essence of the sort of fundamental kindness with which Americans of all colors need to approach repairing the damage from generations of racially charged misunderstandings and wrong-doings, if we’re expecting to progress effectively as a society.”
Great, you watched The Wire, now get off your couch
Lamb says it’s good that white people are watching The Wire, the acclaimed HBO crime drama about the toll drugs and the war on drugs takes on black communities in Baltimore—but don’t pat yourself on the back for quoting Omar on Twitter.
“Watch it, definitely,” Lamb says. But “stop just talking about The Wire and go do something about it.”
Learn about the issues in your own city, volunteer with an organization that addresses the needs of struggling or marginalized communities or, at the least, find a viable charity or activist group and donate money to the cause.
Remember kindergarten? Go back and learn the ABCs of not being an asshole
“Go back to the basics, the kindergarten basics of treating others the way you want to be treated,” says comedian and cohost Julia Ramos. “When I feel myself getting impatient, I take a moment and then ask myself what I could do to help.” Ramos says it’s incredible that these simple kindnesses we learn as children are dropped like baggage as we become “adults”.
“We were taught these really basic things to socialize,” she says. “As we get older, that just tends to go away.”
That includes being a good listener. “Have an open mind,” Ramos says. “Really listen instead of just waiting to answer. Take that time to listen.”
Ask yourself, Does my neighborhood really need a third artisanal ice cream shop?
Ahem, Portland; ahem, Brooklyn; ahem, San Francisco and gentrifying neighborhoods everywhere. Take note that these are all “liberal, progressive” areas, but it feels more fauxgressive if a city is willing to displace minority communities to flip affordable neighborhoods into trendy hubs of “Put a bird on it” shops, tech startups and eco-breweries.
“Gentrification, people. It’s complicated, but at the same time, we want to go to our boutique ice cream shops,” says Lamb. “Northeast Portland—it’s not at all like it was 20 years ago when people of color were the majority. There needs to be some acknowledgement that communities are being erased.”
“I just want people to recognize how this country was built. And how the white power structure came to be,” he continues.
So what can you do? If you’re witnessing unchecked development that is stomping on the little guy, it’s time to get your ass to City Hall. Check your city council meeting schedule and go voice your concerns. Do a little investigating: Developers often get tax breaks for building up poor neighborhoods, which means they’re probably getting the land dirt cheap without having to pay it forward to the communities they’re affecting. Talk to your representatives, your neighbors, your shopkeepers and build a coalition against irresponsible development. And spend your dollars at legacy businesses that supported the community before it was cool.
Add creators of color to your queue
Is your Netflix queue whiter than the cast of La La Land? Does your bookshelf only feature the names of white male authors? Do you only eat vanilla ice cream and white bread? Time to take off the blinders. Hollywood, as well as the publishing and art industries, are still dominated and run by white men. Money talks, so that’s not going to change unless there’s a demand for other voices.
Experience something outside your bubble. We are living in a creative golden age, so take your pick: Legendary director Spike Lee just released the series She’s Gotta Have It, a remake of his 1986 comedy with a black female protagonist playing the player, both on Netflix. Or have your heart shaken by the gut-punching prose of James Baldwin in Go Tell it on the Mountain or Notes from a Native Son (and while you’re at it, watch the universally acclaimed 2017 documentary on Baldwin—I Am Not Your Negro). Author Octavia Butler will blow your mind with her sci-fi oeuvre. Kindred is a good place to start, then move on to Dawn, because director Ava Duvernay (Selma) is currently adapting it into a television series. For an update on what The Wire taught you, check out HBO’s Baltimore Rising a documentary directed by The Wire’s Sonja Sohn that followed a range of characters in Charm City after the 2015 death of Freddie Grey and subsequent demonstrations.
Comedy may be the best place to start. Issa Rae’s Insecure is one the most socially acute and hilarious shows on the air (see HBO), as are Abbi Jacobson and Illana Glazer’s Broad City on Comedy Central and Aziz Ansari’s Master of None on Netflix. If you’re in Portland, get thee to a Minority Retort show. Elsewhere, find out where comedians of color perform.
“Creating a place where people from diverse backgrounds can share a common experience,” says Lamb of the idea behind Minority Retort. “I think that’s something that’s missing from society today.”