Back when I was a college student I was driving my old Mitsubishi at night when I was stunned to see police headlights in my rearview mirror. I drove to a populated parking lot and pulled over, where a police officer informed me I had a busted tail light. He checked my licence and registration and wrote a citation for the light, and left. At no point was I ever instructed to put my hands in the air.
This morning I read about how a black man named Philando Castile was shot to death by a cop while reaching for his wallet during a traffic stop in Minnesota. Castile was pulled over because, like me, he had a busted tail light. Unlike me, he was treated like a criminal from the start. The first thing that the officer did was instruct Castile and his girlfriend, Reynolds, to put their hands in the air. For the record, Reynolds’ four year old daughter was in the backseat, which for a white family would likely have completed the innocent family image, but not for a black one. Once again, at no point during my traffic stop was I, a white woman, ever told to put my hands in the air. Further, as a woman driving alone at night, I was even able to drive a block after noticing the headlights so I could get to a crowded parking lot where I could feel safe pulling over. A black person trying to pull over at a safe spot would likely have been accused of attempting to flee.
To me, this speaks volumes of the privilege I have because I am white. No, I did not ask for it. No, it is not my fault that I am granted it. However, it is my responsibility to acknowledge that it exists and that people of different skin colors do not have it, and that they suffer and die because of it!
Because when I fail to acknowledge this, then it does become my fault. When I fail to acknowledge the privilege I have because I am white, I become part of the problem.
White people need to acknowledge that we do not live in a post-racial society. That racism is alive and it is a toxic cancer in our society. We need to acknowledge that people who are not white are suffering and dying because of the color of their skin.
White people need to listen and read about the experiences of black people in the US, and we need to listen not with the intent to deny, minimize, or whitesplain. We need to listen to understand. Yes, this can be painful. Yes, we are probably going to hear some things that are going to be hard to swallow. And yes, we may learn that we did something hurtful at one time without meaning to, which means we may have to confront the wrongs we’ve done. But it is vital that we listen to understand and that we think about how we are either contributing to the problem or helping things to get better.
We need to apologize, and we need to ask what we can do to help make this problem better, and we need to follow through. We need to call out racism when we see it. We need to vote for leaders who acknowledge the problem that racism plays in our society and who will do something about it. White people need to speak out about racism, and we need to let out leaders know that it is not just people of color who are mad about this. We need to let our leaders know that black people have allies who want to see change in our society.
Because I am ashamed that I live in a country where a police officer serves as cop, judge, jury and executioner. This is inexcusable, and it needs to stop.