White Guy Talks About Black Lives Matter And Police Shootings. Again. – UPDATE
I’m a white guy. Like, totally white. Quintessentially white, really. If you looked me up on Stuff White People Like, I’d be right there next to a picture of a guy listening to ‘90s grunge music on his headphones while wearing an ‘80s metal band shirt and eating a foot long from Subway with a ridiculous amount of mayonnaise. So yeah, I’m super white.
I just wanted to get that out of the way up front, since I’ll be writing about the black experience in a way I’m completely unqualified for today, on account of not being black due to all the whiteness I just mentioned.
What I’m going to do here is basically talk to other white people about how they talk to (and about) black people, but everyone is welcome to read it because this is America. Live how you wanna live.
What I’m not going to do is tell black people how they should feel, what they should think, or the ways they should act. Tons of white people are already doing that, and it’s kind of annoying. And usually wrong.
First up, let’s just get these out of the way: the standard phrases white people always trot out whenever a black guy gets killed by white police officers. You hear these same words every time it happens, like parrots squawking for a cracker whenever their pirate captain comes on deck. And they’re always, always wrong.
“Why don’t they just comply?!”
This one is usually at the top of the list, because it just makes sense to us white folks. If the police pull you over, then you smile and act respectful, with a bunch of yessir/nosir/thankyousirs, then you get your ticket and go about your day. In our white worlds, this is all anyone needs to do to not get shot.
Black people tend to have a different experience, and it’s not one any of us white people can possibly understand. Whenever an officer pulls up behind me, I always get nervous, even though I’m not doing anything wrong. (I always use my turn signal, I only pass on the left, and I never speed. Basically, I drive like a tired grandma.) Still, I get nervous and start worrying about whether or not I paid my insurance bill, or if I have a taillight out or something. But I never worry that I’m going to end up in handcuffs or dead.
I think Patton Oswalt said it best when he tweeted this, in response to both the Alton Sterling shooting in Baton Rouge, and the Philando Castile shooting in Minnesota:
Yes, people should ALWAYS comply with the police. It’s just the right thing to do, and if you’re a person of color, it greatly increases your chances of survival - but it doesn’t guarantee them.
That’s not to say that black people are constantly shot by white cops. They’re not. Most police interactions don’t end in gunfire - but far too many do. For black people, it must feel like a roll of the dice every time, either way.
And that's not even touching on the fact that white people don't tend to get routinely pulled over for driving in the wrong neighborhood, or stopped and questioned just for walking down the street. Compliance is one thing, but when it happens all the time - when you're repeatedly presumed guilty just for being a person of color in the wrong place at the wrong time - don't be surprised when people get an attitude with the latest cop to stop them. A lot of straws have probably been piled up on the camel's back way before then. At some point, everyone breaks.
So when white people yell about complying, what they’re really doing is ignoring their own privilege that allows them to operate under the assumption that they’re not likely to be shot in the face for driving with an expired inspection sticker. People of color don’t have that luxury.
“He should’ve obeyed the police.”
“These people need to respect authority.”
“He shouldn’t have broken the law in the first place.”
The next phrase that comes up is a classic, stretching back decades:
“What about black on black crime?”
This is nonsense. Crime is crime, whether it’s a black guy mugging another black guy in an alleyway, or a white swimmer raping a white girl behind a dumpster.
Identifying black on black crime as its own thing when no one talks about white on white crime, or white on black crime, or French Indochinese on French Indochinese crime is just stupid. And, in the context of a black guy getting shot by police, is completely irrelevant.
It doesn’t matter how much “whatever on whatever” crime there is, because those crimes aren’t the crime we’re talking about whenever a white cop kills a black person. Just because Black Dude A robbed Black Dude B a week ago over at the Circle K, it really doesn’t have any more to do with the completely unrelated incident of a white cop shooting a black suspect than it does with Hillary Clinton and whatever’s going on with her emails.
It’s a distraction.
“Black people kill each other more than white people do.”
“We don’t have white on white crime like that.”
And then, there’s my favorite:
“I don't care if you're black, white, green, or purple. I don’t see color.”
Of course you see color. Everyone sees color, because ethnicity isn’t just about skin color. It’s about culture, too.
When people say they don’t see color, they’re either outright lying, or they’re leaving out the truth. Either way, they’re being disingenuous.
There’s an average white culture, just like there’s an average black culture, an average Latino culture, an average Asian one, etc… Of course, each ethnicity has its own subcultures, but there are certain universal standards most everybody of this color or that color experience.
Pretending you don’t see color is to say you don’t see culture, which is absurd. It’s like when white people talk about “one of the good ones” when referring to a black person they like: because he or she acts white.
When a person of color assimilates into white culture, they’re fine. White people don’t see them as black or brown or whatever. They see them as another human walking around on this spinning rock we call home, and all is right with the world. They have a black pal, and they can feel good about not being racist.
Which is totally racist.
Not being racist means you do see color. You see it and the culture it represents, and then you respect it. You don’t have to like it, but you don’t get to try and change it, either.
After all, no one is telling white people they need to start listening to certain music, or dress a certain way, or speak with a certain vocabulary, or act in certain ways. That’s the sort of thing white people tend to tell everyone else. Just act like us and we won't see you as a them.
Look. People like different things. People grow up in different environments. The historic treatment of people of color has created very specific social groups. It's just how it works.
Cultures distinct and separate from white culture existing side by side is what makes America great. Demanding everyone assimilate into the Borg collective of how white people act is to ignore all of this great country's strengths. We aren't all the same, and it's our distinctiveness that sets us apart in the world. Why does that scare so many white people?
“Some of my best friends are black.”
“He’s so well-spoken.”
“She’s very articulate.”
And finally, this one:
“All lives matter.”
Ugh. This one started in direct response to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and it misses the point entirely.
When people say black lives matter, they’re not saying any other lives matter less than theirs. All they’re saying is that BLACK LIVES DO, IN FACT, MATTER. As in, black people aren't nuisance animals to be dealt with by exterminator cops. They’re people, with lives filled with hopes and dreams, disappointments, successes and failures. They’re human beings who were born, grew up, and have had lives full of experiences, just like anyone else.
Black lives don't matter more than white lives, and no one is saying they should. But they ought to matter just as much, which - if you take a good look at their historic treatment along with the ongoing disadvantages it has brought to people of color - then you have to conclude that a lot of white people clearly think black lives are worth at least a little bit less than white ones.
The sad truth is black people continue to feel the effects of slavery, because while we fixed that horrible crime against humanity a long time ago, the effects of it are still rippling through the collective pond of our American dream. Black men and women didn’t even have equal rights until a few decades ago, and they’re still not paid the same as white people for doing the same jobs. (Which goes even worse for women of color.)
Yes, all lives matter - which is exactly what #BlackLivesMatter is trying to say. Black lives matter just as much as white lives, because everyone should matter.
“Why don’t we have a white history month?”
"They just need to get over it."
That wraps up all the things white people tend to shout both at black people and at their friends in the echo chamber of like-minded people they hang out with on social media whenever another shooting happens. I only have a couple more things to say, and then I’ll let you get back to whatever it was you were doing before you clicked on this article. (Thanks for that, by the way. If you agree with what I'm saying, consider sharing it, too. Use it to help educate that one friend I know you have, because we all know That Guy.)
Alton Sterling. Eric Garner. Freddie Gray. Michael Brown. Walter Scott. Terence Crutcher. Tamir Rice. Tyre King. Philando Castile. Dejuan Guillory.
There are more names.
Too many more.
After the terrible targeting of police officers and the senseless loss of life in the Dallas shooting, I want to make it very clear that I am not anti-cop. I'm not anti-black or anti-white or anti-anything. I'm pro-understanding, which is something we need more of in these difficult times. That's what this whole article is about, really.
That said, police officers need to be held to the same standards we hold everyone else to. If we applied the same sort of rigorous, constant evaluation and scrutiny to the police as we do to, say, teachers, maybe we could weed out some of these bad apples from the bunch before bad things happen. Teachers get appraised all the time. They're evaluated not only by their behavior and effectiveness in the classroom, but on student performance and a whole bunch of other factors that make teaching a very trying, very difficult profession. Why don't we hold cops to the same sort of scrutiny?
Every profession has its bad apples, and we usually have systems in place to try and weed them out before they do real damage. In any job, people who can't perform their duties effectively will be retrained or demoted, or even terminated. If an employee in virtually every profession except law enforcement does something demonstrably wrong in a very public way, they're quickly terminated. If a marketing professional for a major corporation accidentally confuses her personal Twitter for her company's and sends out something offensive, she's fired by the end of the day. If a young teacher posts a questionable photo from her Spring Break to Facebook that a parent finds objectionable, she's usually fired. But when a bad cop executes a man on video, he's put on paid leave and we're told to "wait for all the facts". And then, usually, nothing happens. Which is kind of the whole problem.
Yes, police officers undergo extensive training. Yes, they're routinely evaluated. Yes, most of them are excellent at their jobs. However, some of them aren't - just as there are always people who just aren't very good at the jobs they've chosen to do. There are crappy lawyers, bad doctors, ineffective teachers, poor salesmen, and ridiculously abrasive people working in customer service departments across the country. If you hire ten people for any job, chances are at least one of them won't work out because they're just not very good at it. It's just how the world works. Law of averages and all that.
Why, then, do we treat careers in law enforcement differently? Why is it so hard to admit that, while most officers are highly competent and professional, some just aren't. Worse, some are downright bad at it, and should never be put in a position of authority and armed with deadly weapons. A bad teacher isn't going to lose control and kill a student who sasses her in class, but we've seen this exact thing happen with bad cops. Multiple times. And it keeps happening.
I'm very much for law and order. When trouble comes, I want to be able to pick up the phone and call the police for protection. I admire and appreciate the job they do, and no officer - repeat NO OFFICER - deserves the vigilante justice of an angry mob or lone gunman for the same reason no citizen deserves to have an officer play judge, jury, and executioner during a traffic stop. It goes both ways - which is something every person I know and follow involved with the Black Lives Matter movement has said. Every single one of them has rightfully spoken out AGAINST the horrific events in Dallas. Every. Single. One.
People need to remember that in the days to come, and they need to ask why we as a society - especially those of us employed in law enforcement - can't seem to do the same when a bad cop does something horrific to a suspect.
I truly believe that good officers greatly outnumber the bad ones: the hot-headed, angry officers with control issues. If entire departments filled with honest, hard-working, fair officers would stand together to at least distance themselves from these rogue cops, it would make a difference.
It’s really the only thing the good cops can do. And it's what they must do. They must unite together against the bad officers, because there’s strength to their voices in numbers. Or blood on their hands in silence.
As the saying goes, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
So do something, good cops.
Erik Tee says he feels like he's living inside the movie Groundhog Day, because it just seems like the same thing keeps happening again and again and again.
He's not wrong.
Check out this list of all fatal police encounters so far this year. You'll have to scroll a lot, though. Because it's way too long. Meanwhile, people are still screaming about Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem.
This is why he kneels. This is why we should all kneel.