What happened when a white women called the police on some black people who were barbecuing in a Oakland public park? Something that could have ended in tragedy instead resulted in some laugh out loud creative expressions both viral and local.
Recently we’ve seen many examples of the all-too-common pattern of white people calling the police on black people doing everyday things: 2 black men arrested for waiting for their friend at Starbucks, Yale grad student sleeping in a common room, former Obama staffer moving into his apartment, etc. These are just a few that made national news. We know there are many that don’t.
Where did the idea of calling the police for such minor transgressions come from? Is this enthusiasm for calling the police on Black folks (and Indigenous folk, and recent immigrants, and...) for existing in public new? No - there's a long history of white people using the police when they are uncomfortable, inconvenienced or plain ol' racist.
When the police showed up in Oakland this time it didn’t result in anything violent or any arrests but all too often these calls can result in trauma or even death.
One clear example occurred in Cleveland, Ohio where in 2014, a neighbor called the police on Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black child that was playing in the park with an airsoft (BB) gun. The result of that call, in this open-carry of firearms state, was police killing this boy less than two seconds after getting on scene. Neither officer was ever indicted or charged with murder.
So how can a community get justice? Well, beyond fighting for widespread changes in policing and working to shift the way Black folk and other marginalized communities are perceived by whites in the US, we can make joy and memes to reclaim control of the narrative.
What was notable about the incident with the Oakland woman - who was filmed by a white bystander as she called the police - was the response by the community. After the #BBQBecky incident, there was a joyful reclaiming of the park. Locals organized a “BBQing While Black” event. This event turned out hundreds in the community and beyond, coming together while barbecuing, playing music, dancing and celebrating life in their park.
There were also a series of memes that started flooding the internet with images of the woman calling the police on black folk doing all kinds of things. These #BBQBecky memes range from historical to hysterical. “#BBQBecky” has turned up calling the police on Colin Kaepernick kneeling in protest, in a black and white photo calling the police on Martin Luther King during his “I Have a Dream” speech, and in cartoon form having a problem with Fat Albert and his crew. These memes created by the public are truly hilarious!
We love them because they show a creative resistance response that was out of the box, joyful but at the same time obviously embarrassing to #BBQBecky. They are a teaching tool for other white people - a clear message that what she did was ridiculous and unnecessary. Would the woman have called the police if she knew she would have been ridiculed on social media (and parodied on Saturday Night Live!)?
We’ve seen several examples of this on social media lately too (check out #ifslaverywasachoice to see how Black Twitter schooled Kanye), and it’s led us to ask ourselves: What is the line between accountability and shaming? How do we use social pressure to change behavior and systems? How do we hold people accountable without demonizing them? As we see it, the call-out culture on social media that is especially pervasive on the left is doing more harm than good. Reducing people to one statement or behavior and then shaming them and “canceling” them for it with no path to evolution or redemption is just not strategic.
But the #BBQBecky meme feels different. There’s joy in it. There’s levity to it. There’s beauty. And there’s definitely power. Moreover, #Susan didn’t just misspeak or make a mistake, she used her privilege and took an action that could have resulted in someone’s death. She put her comfort before another person’s safety. It’s important that people - especially white people who are privileged in our structures and systems - take responsibility for their actions. If the worst #BBQBecky gets for putting someone else’s life in danger for having a BBQ is getting dragged on Twitter with a series of creative and entertaining memes, that seems pretty fair. Maybe even loving.
Dear White people: Please think twice before calling the police on anyone. Maybe you should just walk over and have a conversation with the other person instead of assuming bad intention or wrongdoing. This approach may save you from social infamy and save someone’s life.
-- The #LoveArmy Team