This week, Dahlia and Amy talk about the spate of incidents of racists calling the police on Black people and POC doing everyday things. When Black and Indigenous people took up space at a Starbucks, enjoyed themselves at a park BBQ, and went on a campus visit at a university, anxious white racists took to dialing 911. This is a case of white supremacy literally policing where non-white people are allowed to go in their daily lives, posing a danger to the lives of people of color in these situations. Let’s keep talking about these incidents so they don’t become normalized. Some communities have come together to show they won’t be scared off, like the folks in Oakland around Lake Merritt. Plus, we still really want to hear about your fave Golden Girl!
WATCH: Killing Eve starring Sandrah Oh and Jodie Comer is a sexy, dark, spy thriller you need to see!
READ: Aimee Phan’s novel, The Reeducation of Cherry Truong, is the perfect read for generational storytelling about a refugee family and their secrets.
LISTEN: Sophie Strauss’s “Text” is the moody, summer-sadness song to listen to on a midnight drive.
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DAHLIA: Welcome to Backtalk. This is the feminist response to pop culture podcast. I’m Dahlia Grossman-Heinze, Senior Engagement Editor at Bitch Media.
AMY: And I’m Amy Lam, Contributing Editor at Bitch Media.
DAHLIA: Today we’re having a sad recording day.
DAHLIA: Because Amy and I were going to experience the joy of recording in the same room at the same time at the same place. But we were having some difficulties, so we’re separated by a wall. I’m reaching out towards you, Amy, but you can’t see.
AMY: [laughs] Oh, it’s so sad. We’re like 15 feet apart, but we can’t record in the same room.
DAHLIA: [laughs] We start every episode of Backtalk by sharing a pop culture moment. Amy, what is yours this week?
AMY: So, mine is about how the New York Times sometimes writes the most terrible, worst headlines ever.
AMY: Remember when there was that time where they wrote that headline about Boba being this new trend, even though I had been around for like 20 years or whatever?
AMY: Well, they did a piece recently about kind of the gentrification of Chinatown in Manhattan, and the headline for the piece was Canal Street Cleans Up Nice.
AMY: [laughs] Yeah, and after, some people were pointing out that that was kind of fucked up. There’s this writer. His name is E. Alex Jung. I know him best for doing interviews for GQ. But he tweeted something like—this is a sentiment that I totally agreed with—and he said, “When the @nytimes wants to say”—and then he uses a slur for Chinese people—”but in a fancy way.” And he talks about this headline, Canal Street Cleans Up Nice. And the sub-headline was, “The once derided thoroughfare most synonymous with fake designer goods is in the midst of a high fashion makeover.”
So, the New York Times got called out on it, and it did not look good on them. So, they ended up changing the headline to The Gentrification Of Canal Street.
AMY: Which I mean I think that this is another moment where I’m grateful for the fact that we can have conversations with big media organizations in this way to force them to rethink their editorial points of view, and then they end up updating it. But it’s just shitty that they had to be called out on it in the first place.
DAHLIA: I have a pop culture moment that is kind of similar to yours, but instead of it being from the New York Times, it’s from the White House. Earlier this week, the White House published an article on their website. So, this article is actually over at Whitehouse.gov, and its headline is What You Need To Know About The Violent Animals Of MS-13. This piece, I mean, it’s not even a piece. It’s like probably Steven Miller like Googled some things replaced every time that a sentence had any nouns, he just replaced it with the word “animals.” Because what this is, is 10 paragraphs or so talking about MS-13 using the phrase “animals” every single time they are mentioned. And MS-13 is a transnational gang that the Trump administration is constantly pointing to as “proof” that immigrants come here to the United States to murder everyone, basically.
And so, this article is pretending to alert people to the danger of MS-13, except instead of talking about any kind of reality about gang violence or drug trafficking or human trafficking, instead of talking about anything fucking real, this page just fear mongers to the extreme, talking about human beings as animals. And this is something that Donald Trump said in a speech last week. And then Sarah Huckabee Sanders doubled down on it and was like, “Yeah, he did call them animals, and as far as I’m concerned they’re worse than animals.” And so, apparently, the Trump administration likes how mad people got about that, because they’re double-triple-quadrupling down on. This is an actual website at Whitehouse.gov about these “violent animals.” And the naked racism is… I don’t know it’s like, this time it really shocked me, and I don’t know why it did. I guess ‘cause it’s like a legit website at Whitehouse.gov. And just think about any other administration putting out a press release and a website calling human beings animals.
AMY: I think that maybe the reason why you’re so flabbergasted is because, like you’re saying, it’s just very raw, obvious, bare racism. And there’s this usage of language of calling them animals which is super fucked up. It’s just really disheartening. And I think it’s so sad that the two of us have pop culture moments where we were angry for a minute. [laughs]
DAHLIA: I know! I usually have really positive pop culture moments, but I woke up and I just saw this website, and I couldn’t take it. It’s unbelievable to me, while being believable at the same time.
AMY: Well, maybe we can frame it in a slightly positive way though, by the fact that this didn’t go unnoticed and that lots of people are talking about this and how this dehumanization of a community is ineffective in protecting anybody. And I think that’s a convo that sadly, we need to be reminded to keep talking about and saying out loud instead of letting this administration might do this unchecked.
[cutesy bells ring]
So, here’s my amazing segue. [laughs] Speaking of calling shit out, that’s what we’re here for. And we couldn’t do it without our amazing supporters. You can become a supporter of us specifically as podcast by becoming a Bitch Pollinator for just $8 a month. And for $8 a month, you get a subscription to Bitch magazine, a Bitch mug, and a sticker. And like I said in the last episode of the podcast, you really do want the latest issue of the magazine in your mailbox. It is so beautiful. It is a travel issue, perfect for summertime.
And I was thinking about what $8 gets you also, or rather, what $8 gets Dahlia and I ‘cause you’re supporting us. And $8 is like a half of a paperback.
AMY: [laughs] So, in two months’ time you can buy one of us a paperback book.
AMY: So, please, if your budget allows, think about, consider being a Bitch Pollinator for just $8 a month. And you can find out more information and join at bitchmedia.org/pollinators. Again that e-address is bitchmedia.org/pollinators.
DAHLIA: And Amy and I have been looking through all of our reviews over on iTunes. Another way you can help us out is by rating and reviewing us there. I’m gonna read one by Laura. Laura says, “I was late to the party with this podcast, but I’m so glad I found it. It’s like having two podcasts in one. On some weeks, it’s a fun discussion of pop culture, and on other weeks, it’s an in-depth breakdown of one particular issue.” And that’s talking about how we alternate Popaganda and Backtalk, our two podcasts. And Laura finishes saying, “Thanks for being our rage cheerleaders!”
And Amy and I we have, well, someone helpfully gave us the name the rage cheerleaders. And now I really feel like we should come up with some sort of merch line or some pompoms that say “rage” on them. Maybe in the future.
AMY: It was actually a reviewer that left a comment. Yeah, so, shout out to that person because—
DAHLIA: Thank you for all of these ideas because I really think we should, in the future, have some pompoms. And they could have our faces on them being very upset.
DAHLIA: But thank you so much, Laura, for this review and also for the reviewer who gave us the name rage cheerleaders. We really appreciate all of your comments over on iTunes.
[cutesy bells ring]
Amy and I have yet to settle our argument about The Golden Girls, mostly because we need more fan backup from you, our Backtalk listeners. We’ve decided that not enough people have voted on the question of who is the funniest Golden Girl. And so, we’re gonna remind you of that question, and then please vote so we can settle this once and for all.
I personally, I believe that the funniest Golden Girl is Blanche Devereaux because she has so much self-confidence, and it’s never dragged down. And I love that all of her jokes sort of arise from her immense self-confidence.
AMY: And I am a huge Rose fan because I just think that her naivete when it comes everyday life, up against her weird sports competitiveness and her rich background and history of living on a farm just makes her such a fun and interesting character. And also because Betty White fucking kills it with that character. She’s such a good actor with it. I just stand for it.
DAHLIA: I actually feel like people might not be voting because they don’t wanna choose. I’ve seen some people tweet that at Bitch.
DAHLIA: They’ve been like, why not both? And I’m like OK, I hear you: why not both? But the answer why not is because right now we’re arguing about it. [chuckles]
AMY: Yes! Duh!
DAHLIA: So, this doesn’t have to be your answer for life, but for this moment, who is right, me or Amy? Very important that we know. But please vote, and if you head over to bitchmedia.org and click on podcasts, you will see a little voting module in the post for this episode of Backtalk.
[cutesy bells ring]
In the past few months, there has been what seems to be a huge sort of viral increase in white people calling the cops on Black people just living their lives. And this, of course, is not a new thing in this country, but I think since the incident where two Black men were arrested while they were waiting for someone to come to a business meeting with them at a Starbucks, since then, there have been very high-profile, very egregious cases like it. So, two black men were arrested at Starbucks in April. Also in April, a Pennsylvania golf club owner called the police because a group of Black women golfers were you know “playing too slowly.” In California, someone called the cops on four Black friends who were staying at an Airbnb because the neighbor thought that they were robbing the Airbnb. In Missouri, a Nordstrom Rack employee called the police on three Black teens who were shopping for their prom outfits. This one was really big on the Internet: in Oakland, a white woman called the cops on a Black family having a cookout at Lake Merritt Park. And the list just goes on and on, but I’ll just add two more really egregious ones. A Yale grad student called the cops on another Yale grad student who was Black because she had fallen asleep in the common room of their apartment building. And a woman called the police on two Native American teens who were on a college tour at Colorado State University because she thought that they were “odd” and that she was sure that they didn’t belong on the tour. So, she called the cops on them.
Amy and I wanted to talk about this because this isn’t new. I’m not trying to say that white people are suddenly calling the cops on their Black neighbors, but now that social media has the power to take things like this really far and to really far-reaching consequences, it’s been really interesting and sort of shocking to see how much of this has been going on. Like I’m saying, not just in Missouri, not just in states that you might think have a racist history, but also in California, also in New York.
And speaking of New York, last week Aaron Schlossberg, who is a midtown Manhattan attorney, was filmed yelling at some women who were speaking Spanish at a restaurant that they worked at. And he was so racist that he went viral for how racist he was. He threatened to call ICE on these women. It was really horrible, really ugly. But this guy has become virally famous because of how racist he is. And in fact, so virally famous that lots of people have been throwing little parties outside of his apartment and outside of his law firm, having a block party and playing great salsa music. And so, it’s totally fucked up, and there’s been really interesting reactions out of these moments in the past couple of months.
AMY: Right, like the incident at Lake Merritt in Oakland that happened two weeks ago with a small group of friends with a little, small charcoal grill at the park trying to just hang out has grown because since the two weeks, every weekend now, there’s footage of people, tons of families, tons of friends, picnic blankets with their grills out, with little tents set up. [laughs] And it just kind of flew in the face of the white women who call the cops on the original group having a very small barbecue. It’s now an entire community gathering because it’s a form of resistance to say, “Oh, you think that our communities and our bodies do not belong in this park. But not only do we belong here, but we’re gonna show up.” So, I think that’s one of the fun and endearing unintended consequences of these white folks calling cops on folks, is that then the communities of colors that are being affected are showing up and saying, “Well, no, fuck you. We belong here, and we’re gonna show up. And we’re gonna have a good time when we show up.”
But I think that at the heart of it, what’s the scary part about having or seeing this, because you know, like you’re saying, with technology, we can actually see this more. And within the past couple weeks with the influx of all these stories coming out, is that for Black folks in particular, when the cops are called on them, it isn’t just like a hassle or a weird misunderstanding that you can explain away. It can result in real and serious harm to them and to the point where they can be jailed or they could be killed. And it’s just the true and real impact and consequences of calling law enforcement on Black folks is something that I think white folks are, I don’t know, purposefully ignorant of? Or maybe they’re hoping for that outcome. I don’t know why else you would call law enforcement on folks having a barbecue out by the park. I just think that that’s something that I think this is shining a light on. And I think because how this is juxtaposed against all of these cases where we’re seeing police officer using unnecessary force and deadly force against Black folks living their daily lives and seeing this juxtaposed against two Black men waiting at a Starbucks for a friend to show up, it’s like that could have gone horribly awry if those Black men maybe even resisted an iota. Because like in the video that was taken of them, they were very compliant. ‘Cause I think they were very aware of the fact that this can go many ways. And so, they have to be compliant, otherwise some shit can go down.
DAHLIA: I wanna play a clip from the 911 call at Colorado State University about two “suspicious teenagers.”
[recorded clip] CALLER: My husband said out of the Lory Student Center, and they’re now in the large grassy area. We’re just on the other side of the building. ‘Cause I was talking to, he said another dad also, another man that was on the tour, also believes they don’t belong. Their behavior’s really suspicious. So, they’re watching him also.
CALLER: But there’s another man….
DAHLIA: What really strikes me about this call, or this part of this call, is how sure this woman is that these teenagers don’t belong. What is happening is that they’re on a college tour. Probably everybody belongs on a college tour because anyone can go on a college tour if you’re even a little tiny bit thinking about going to college. But the certainty with which this white woman says, “I know they’re not here for legitimate reasons. I know they don’t belong here,” I mean that’s what these calls are about. These calls are about white people saying, “I see a person of color,” most often that’s a Black person, “in my public space. And I don’t want them here in my space. I don’t trust them, and I don’t think they belong here.” And when they call the police and the police fucking come, when the police respond to a call when someone says like, “Oh, there are two guys here at Starbucks, and they’re being weird,” or when this woman says, “Oh, there are these two teenagers, and I don’t trust them,” when the police come to those calls, they’re saying like, “Hey, white person, you were right to call us. We’ll follow up on whatever weird suspicions you have because it’s our job to make sure you feel safe, to make sure that when you go out, you are comfortable.” So, it’s like first, the white person gets to say, I decide who is in this public space, and I don’t like it that that person is in my public space. And then they have this armed, potentially deadly enforcement that comes to these bullshit calls about someone barbecuing at a lake or someone loading up their suitcases as they’re getting out of an Airbnb.
But the thing is when the cops come, I mean not only are they further terrorizing communities of color, but they’re saying to that white person who called and other white people who were thinking about calling, good. We are gonna follow up on your report. We trust you, and we’re here to protect you. And that’s why we came when you called us.
AMY: Yeah, I mean it’s just disheartening because it can really go either way. And thankfully, in a lot of these cases, it went in a way that did not result in serious harm. Like the two Native teenagers that were in Colorado, the cops were like, OK, well, you belong here. But it was after many minutes of questioning and treating them like they were very suspicious. You know, there’s a body cam video of the interaction, and you could tell the teens are really shaken up. ‘Cause I read the backstory about it, and the mother said that they saved up a ton of money so that they could borrow the family van and drive out there to check out the campus. But they were they were being treated like suspects from the second the officers met them. And the thing about also that call is that the woman who calls 911 also kind of backpedals a little and is just like, oh, maybe I’m just being paranoid. I’m making a big deal out of nothing. But even though she verbalizes it, she’s still fucking called 911.
DAHLIA: Right. Exactly.
AMY: Yeah. And it’s like what led you to be suspicious of them? ‘Cause they were quiet? I mean they’re just shy teenagers being shy teenagers! And I did read a piece about I think another thing that set them off was I think even the caller said this, was like, they were dressed weird. And it’s because one of them was wearing a shirt from a heavy metal band or something. And I have to admit that I did LOL because the T-shirt for the heavy metal band was called Cattle Decapitation.
AMY: [still laughing] And I don’t know why, but when I read that was like, yeah, that’s kind of weird. But that just really goes to show how these are just teenagers, you know, in heavy metal shirts going on a college campus tour. Why can’t they just do that in peace not be harassed?
DAHLIA: Yeah. Let me tell you about the number of just teens who are wearing heavy metal shirts on college campuses, ‘cause it’s a lot of them.
AMY: Right. And just let them be. And it’s just like really disheartening to see that kids who are just trying to go, who saved up money to go take a long drive to go visit a college to see if it’s right for them, they immediately feel like this is not the place for you.
DAHLIA: There’s this additional layer here that even if these phone calls to the police don’t escalate into some sort of violent interaction, there’s still sort of the warning of, hey, you were here in this public space, and people didn’t like it. And so, they called the cops on you. And so, yeah, those kids are not gonna go to that university.
AMY: And so that’s why I think, like I had mentioned earlier, that’s why it’s so empowering to see the people from that community be like, no, fuck you. I do belong in this space, like the case with Oakland and Lake Merritt.
And there’s another incident that happened in Memphis where a Black real estate investor went to go to inspect a property, a house that he was looking at. And there’s a white lady who lived next door who was harassing him and saying, “You don’t belong here. You need to get out.” He’s just like, “No, literally, I am an investor. I’m here to inspect the home.” And he handed her a business card and everything is, but she still called the cops on him. And this is an interaction that’s interesting because the Black real estate investor ended up recording it, and when the cops arrived, he explained the situation to the cops. And the cops said to the white lady, “You need to mind your own business,” essentially. Like, he’s here to do his job. And she was like, “Well, he better hurry up and finish the job and get out here.” And the cops were like, “No, actually he can take as long as he wants. He’s here to do what he needs to do, and you need to stop harassing him. Because if he calls us back here, and you keep harassing him, we’re gonna take you to you to jail.” And even though I am not pro-cop in any way or pro-law enforcement in any way, even in this case. it’s so fucked up. But I feel like I’ve been manipulated to a point where I’m just like, “Yes! Tell her you’ll take her to jail.” [laughs]
But it really takes that kind of forceful language to silence people who think that the law enforcement is there to do their bidding.
AMY: That these white callers feel so empowered to think that their tax money can go towards evacuating people from a fucking park. Like the white lady who called on the people barbecuing in Oakland, it’s not that she just walked past them and was like, oh, let me call the cops ‘cause they don’t belong here. She looked up the ordinance that said that they’re not allowed to be at the park. She stayed on the phone or kept calling the non-emergency line or 911 or whatever for two hours.
DAHLIA: For two hours! Yes! Yes.
AMY: She was that invested in getting rid of these Black folks in this public space that she stayed on the phone for two fucking hours. And the only reason that she’s even caught on film about this was because another white woman showed up, and she recorded the original white woman. I was trying to tell this story to my partner, but it was kinda weird. [laughs]
DAHLIA: The first white woman….
DAHLIA: And then there was the second white woman.
AMY: Yeah. So, the second white woman who’s like an ally to the Black folks at the barbecue, immediately taped her and was just like, “What are you doing? Why are you calling them? Why are you harassing them?” She was harassing the original white woman, and it’s actually a sight to behold. And she harassed her. And then the original white woman ended up taking something from the second white woman, and the second woman wanted it back. So, that’s why she continued to follow her and harass her ‘cause she wanted this item back. And you see this interaction. You see the finally, they encounter a police officer. And immediately the original white woman caller breaks down has crocodile tears.
AMY: And it was such a moment of white woman tears that were really completely fake and being like, “Oh my god! This person is harassing me.” She was like, “My life is in danger,” you know? It was like an acting feat! But to see her go from, literally within the span I wanna say 15 to 20 minutes, from tough white woman, like, “I’m calling the cops. These people need to go. I have the city ordinance number down to the letter. They’re not allowed to be here,” to all of a sudden, then being the victim of harassment by this other white woman is amazing. And then how she’s crying her crocodile tears, being like, “Oh my god. This person’s harassing me,” yet she’s able to be like, “Oh, but let me gather myself. ‘Cause I can tell you exactly how other Black folks are violating the law.” Like within minutes. So, it really just goes to show how it isn’t about anybody’s life being in danger or a serious threat. It is really about making folks of color, in particular black folks, feel like they don’t belong in a space and making them forcefully being removed from spaces. Like in the case of the Starbucks where the two Black men were physically removed by cops even though they were very compliant, and they had a right to be there!
And I think that this is just really goes to show the insidiousness of white supremacy and how it burrows its way into white folks’ minds to thinking they own these public spaces and that they can call on law enforcement, who are empowered by the state to enforce state-sanctioned violence against people of color, against Black folks. That’s just mindboggling to me but also unsurprising, especially in this time where we have Trump in the office. And like you said at the top of the show, his administration is targeting specific communities of color, saying these are violent animals, and they don’t belong in our country; they don’t belong in our public places. They don’t belong anywhere where Americans theoretically belong. But hopefully, this can change something in the future so that they know that this isn’t their place to do this.
[cutesy bells ring]
DAHLIA: At the end of every episode, we share something we are reading, watching, and listening to. I don’t know how it took me so long, but over the weekend, I started watching and then promptly watched all that was out, all of the episodes of Killing Eve, which is a BBC America series. So, Killing Eve stars Sandra Oh as Eve. She is British secret agent. And Jodie Comer plays a serial killer assassin named Villanelle. And it’s sort of like a cat and mouse sexy spy thriller. It’s so good! And Sandra Oh, I read this interview that almost made me cry where Sandra Oh was talking about when she got the script for Killing Eve. And she was so used to not getting leads or good parts that she didn’t understand that she was being offered the lead. And when she did, she started crying. And then I started crying just thinking about that. It’s so good, Amy. You have to watch it.
AMY: Oh, I’m so excited. And I also read that interview where she called her agent. And it’s just like, OK, I don’t know which is the role I’m supposed to read for. And the agent had to be like, “This is the lead.” And yeah, that was a moment where I was just like man! Sandra Oh is not like some newcomer in the industry or whatever. She’s a seasoned actor who’s been in a lot of shit. Even for her—you know what I mean—even for her to have read this and been like oh, well, I’m not sure what they want me for because she didn’t have it in her mind they would have wanted her for a lead. That just goes to show how how pervasive imposter syndrome is. Even for people who are wildly talented and have the chops to prove that they can do anything in their field, even they’re struck by this. It was just one of those moments where I’m just like, OK, well then, I don’t feel that bad when I have imposter syndrome or when I don’t realize I’m being gaslit. And that it’s something that I shouldn’t feel bad about. I can move forward from this and just know that this is something that I’m feeling and acknowledge it and then be like fuck this. I’m gonna star in Killing Eve too!
AMY: So, I have read pick, and my read pick is by the writer Aimee Phan. So, I was lucky enough to see her do a reading at the Portland Community College recently. And I just wanted to say that the reading was at this community college, and you could tell that a lot of the folks in the audience, they had read her novel in their class. And so, during the Q and A session, they were just really interested in talking about the writing process and about what it’s like to be a writer. And I can’t reiterate how refreshing it is to see a woman writer or a writer of color—and in this case, a woman writer of color—be asked questions strictly about being a writer or the writing process and not anything about like, well, what does it mean to be a woman writer? Or what does it mean to be an Asian American writer in this climate, blah blah blah? But they were just strictly asking her about how she works, what inspires her, what’s a difficult part of the writing process. And I think that it’s just kind of in this really obvious way, but it normalized writing and writers to be like, it can be for anybody. ‘Cause I feel like often, I’ll see white writers or white male writers be asked these questions, and nobody ever asks them to interrogate their identity when it comes to writing.
But she was there to read from her novel called The Reeducation of Cherry Truong, and it is a novel that came out in 2013. But it’s like a multi-generation telling centered on this character, Cherry, and the family history of her parents who came over as refugees from the Vietnam War and then from what happened in her grandparents’ generation. So, if you’re one of those readers, which I am, sometimes I just want a really juicy family drama kind of thing, this is the book for you. It’s called The Reeducation of Cherry Truong by Aimee Phan. Definitely check out Aimee Phan’s work.
DAHLIA: I have been listening to Text by Sophie Strauss, and it’s really getting me into that summer windows down feet kicked out windows and driving and maybe feeling—even though it’s summer, I have to feel a little moody and a little melancholy at the same time—a little bit of summertime sadness. So, I’m really feeling that in this song Text by Sophie Strauss from her upcoming E.P. Hard Study. Thanks for listening!
AMY: Thanks for listening.
♪ I’ll cancel dinner plans
I can’t be fooled like that
Not trying to get thin for anybody if they ask
I go to the mirror, take a picture
Cause I love my body
But I don’t trust it
I don’t trust it
I text you
I text somebody else
I text you
Are you a good dancer?
This song always takes me back
I don’t believe in much
I can’t believe you’re wearing that
Another writer…. ♪
DAHLIA: Thanks for listening to Backtalk. This show is produced by Ashley Duchemin. Bitch Media is a reader- and listener-supported feminist nonprofit. If you wanna support the show and our work, please head over to bitchmedia.org and donate.
♪ I don’t trust
Him to fuck it up
I kiss you
I kiss somebody else
I kiss you