Today I watched the chilling dash cam video of the Philandro Castile shooting. I will be haunted for a long time by the image of his girlfriend’s young daughter slowly emerging from that car after seeing Philandro shot 7 times. He was shot as he reached into his pocket to retrieve his driver’s license, per the police officer’s request. While he was en route to the hospital, where he would die of his injuries; his girlfriend was (unbelievably) put into handcuffs and held in the back of a squad car.
Last week the jury acquitted the police officer, just as juries have acquitted a long sequence of police officers for killing black men and women. But, This happened in Minnesota, not Missouri or Alabama. Minnesota for god’s sake. It makes me ashamed.
Black. Lives. Matter. As a white woman, I hesitate to co-opt that phrase; but I do so respectfully, to make the point that we are all diminished when men like Philandro Castile are executed for what appears to be ‘the crime’ of being black in America. The history of race in America is incredibly complex–but there can be no doubt that implicit bias is alive and well in every state of the union, not ‘just’ the south.
Black and brown mothers and fathers all over American face the challenge of sitting their children down to have THE talk; a talk I didn’t need to have with MY children; THE talk about being deferential to the police at all times–how to speak (politely) and how to move (slowly); knowing the likelihood of a brown or black child being stopped and questioned is much higher than that of their white friends; and knowing that sometimes, even if their child does nothing wrong, the result can still be tragic.
Racism in America is one of our greatest national shames, manifesting itself in large and small ways in the pattern of our lives. I see it at work, with a striking imbalance between the demographics of our technical teams and the all-white faces at the leadership level. My home state of Wisconsin has one of the biggest (if not the biggest) gaps in high school graduation between black and white students.
In her excellent book, The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander demonstrates that, by targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. This effectively strips the right to vote from a large percentage of African Americans, who have been convicted of even minor drug charges.
I had hoped that having a black president for 8 years would have made a difference, but I was naive. Our current administration is a backlash –from those who felt threatened and disenfranchised by that very hope. Make America Great Again is a thinly veiled slogan for white supremacy, contributing to a culture of white entitlement and acceptance of violence against minorities.
America cannot be truly great unless and until we address the blight of racism.