It started out as just another viral video:
A white woman named Alison Ettel saw Jordan Rodgers, an African-American girl, selling water near AT&T Park in San Francisco. Rodgers was trying to earn money for a trip to Disneyland. Ettel was caught on camera calling 911 and the video was soon spread across social media. A meme was born.
A few weeks later an Oakland woman called the police on a group of Black people having a cookout. Again, her face was plastered on every social media outlet, photoshopped in different scenarios and even parodied on SNL. She was given the moniker of BBQ Becky.
At first, the seemingly weekly moments and memes doubled as mindless comedy combined with ways to shame the white women for their racism. But it’s time to stop it. Because, in the end, these nicknames and memes are only shielding white women from real consequences they should get for putting Black lives in danger.
Black people comprise roughly 13 percent of the United States population but make up more than 23 percent of people killed by police. Black men and women have 6.6 to 1 odds of being killed by police while unarmed. Police are more likely to use excessive force on Black people. And so on. So it’s clear that calling the police on a Black person is effectively putting that Black person’s life in danger. Everyone knows this, including the white people who erroneously call police on Black folks.
White people who call the police on Black folks don’t just want us removed from their sidewalks or their parks or their cookouts or their neighborhoods. They want us dead. And they know that calling the police on us is going to heighten their chances of those dreams coming to fruition.
Take, for instance, the story of Jeremiah Harvey. He was in a New York corner store when his backpack brushed up against a white woman named Teresa Klein. She called the police claiming that the boy groped her. She’s been given the nickname “Cornerstore Caroline.” How adorable.
The problem here is that Harvey calling the police for believing a boy groped her recalls the infamous case of Emmett Till, a boy accused of whistling at a white woman, Carolyn Bryant Donham. She alerted a mob of white men — not that far off from a modern-day police force, depending on whom you ask — who went on to lynch Till.
Klein was engaging in a tried and true American tradition of using stereotypes of over-sexualized Black men to aid in the deaths of said Black men. This isn’t an act that should just garner alliterative nicknames and social media memes because that’s letting these perpetrators off the hook.
Here’s a question? Without scrolling up, do you even remember Permit Patty’s real name? What about Cornerstone Caroline? Barbecue Becky? Giving them nicknames is providing aliases that cover the names of real women with real racist motivations to commit real harm to real Black people. America has functioned under the premise that white women are innately innocent and harmless in the history of anti-Black violence despite overwhelming historical and present-day evidence to the contrary. Guarding women with nicknames and comedy will surely embarrass them in the short-term, and, in the case of Ettel, she stepped down from her post as a CEO. But do you think she has gone un-hired since? What true recourse has she seen? What true contrition has she been forced to show?
There need to be precedents set to make sure these anti-Black violent offenders face more than just a handful of days of embarrassing memes. If there aren’t going to be laws that penalize these people for their calls — something I’m skeptical of, as such a law would be asking police to side with an innocent Black person over a white person, which doesn’t usually garner great outcomes for us — then we have to find ways to hold these white people accountable. So, yes, say their real names as often as possible. Make the world know that anyone who hires them or does business with them is choosing to engage with someone with a clear disregard for Black lives.
Whatever you do, leave the cute nicknames for situations that are actually funny, because there’s never any comedy involved when Black boys and girls get police called on them.
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