In the last 72 hours, we have heard about the killing of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile at the hands of police, and then, the murder of at least 5 police officers in Dallas, Texas.
Alton Sterling was selling DVDs and CDs outside of a convenience store — where he had permission to do buisness — when police confronted him after a 9-1-1 call claimed someone with his description had threatened them with a gun. The police brought Sterling to the ground, and somewhere in the altercation, fired multiple bullets into him. An emotional press conference with Sterling’s family shook many of us to the core, and the video of Sterling’s killing, for many, appeared to resemble more an execution than a police intervention.
And what about Philando Castile? Police pulled him over in a routine traffic stop where he promptly informed the officer he had a conceal carry, and then immediately complied with the police by reaching for his license and registration. Then he was shot dead, in front of his partner and daughter who were also in the car.
And then, if that was not enough death and violence for a week, there was a sniper at a Dallas protest who killed at least five on-duty police officers. It’s a lot to process. It’s a lot to understand. And it can be tempting to find a reflexive, knee-jerk reaction filled with ill-considered rhetoric and stick with it — because that’s a shortcut from critical thinking.
But for us White Americans, who are used to having easy access to the metaphorical microphone, I think we need to take a little bit of time to mostly listen. And this has nothing to do with the “right” to speak. Of course everyone has the “right” to speak at virtually any time they wish. However, before fully considering an issue we have to realize that our experience is not the only valid one. And if you don’t believe that different identities have had drastically different experience of “American freedom” in our country’s history, please ask early 19th-century African Americans what’s its like being valued at 3/5ths a person, or 20th century African Americans what it was like being required to sit in the back of buses.
Our nation is more politically divided than we have been in a while. Because in the past, oppressed identities were forced to accept that institutions were rigged against them — but now they’ve had enough. They are standing up.
Division isn’t always bad. Indeed, division is infinitely preferable to coerced unity, and forced compliance. That’s not to condone violence in any form, but merely to say that passionate public debate and public protest can be necessary to reveal key truths about ourselves.
My fellow White Americans, we have to realize — we have to realize — that our country’s most sacred institutions have been totally rigged in our favor from the outset, and by deliberate design. This isn’t about hating the police, or hating ourselves, this is about being aware. This is about living in a country where a white man who sexually assaulted a woman behind a dumpster can get three months in jail because prison “would seriously affect him” but a black man gets shot dead during a routine traffic stop because he was reaching for license and registration after immediately and lawfully telling an officer he had a conceal carry.
Racial inequities did not dissipate with one speech talking about one man’s dream. They will end with us all tying our dreams to the fate of our “other.” That means we have to hear this out. And for us White Americans, it’s uncomfortable, because we think, “Nothing was wrong before!” But that’s because we did not experience what was wrong before — and what is still wrong today. We have to listen to our black neighbors, friends, teachers, and mentors. We have to realize that the story of America written by white, straight men into our whitewashed textbooks is not the only history of our country. And once we do that, and once we find equality in our institutions and our hearts, then we can call ourselves the land of the free.