D ear White People,
You’ve heard the news. You’ve seen the stories. Many of you, like me, are likely disgusted, horrified and depressed by the recent events that have led to the unjustified and premature termination of (yet another) two meaningful lives. And not just these two. There have been many, many more. Hundreds of black lives have been ended by police officers over the last several years.
But, it also appears that some of us are confused, defensive and trying to justify senseless murder with reasons to make it right. This is wrong. Many things are wrong, and I don’t have all of the answers, but what I do know is this: the first step is to understand that we DO NOT UNDERSTAND. Let me help you.
In a 2012 study, black teens were found to be 21 times more likely to be killed by police than their white peers over a three year period of analysis. The study found that to be at equal risk, an additional 185 white teens (more than 1 per week) would have had to have been killed. Can we acknowledge that if 185 white teens were killed by police in three years, we would be doing something about it?
We must acknowledge that there is a problem even if we don’t have solutions. When we deny the problem or try to justify its existence, we contribute to it.
Need more convincing? In 2015, 25% of black lives lost at the hands of police were unarmed. Unarmed black men are seven times more likely to be killed by police than unarmed white men.
This is data. This is real. This is a(n ongoing) problem. We must acknowledge that there is a problem even if we don’t have solutions. When we deny the problem or try to justify its existence, we contribute to it.
WE ARE PRIVILEGED. We have never had to face a life marked by daily reminders that we should worry about our safety because of how we look. We have never had to face constant and ever-present fear that we may die when our tail light goes out. We have never had to even contemplate notions of assimilation. We have never had to fathom the daily, pervasive fear and uncertainty that comes with being black in America. We have never faced this. We do not understand.
When we understand we do not understand, we can start a dialog. We can begin seeking solutions. We can begin to foster a culture that is receptive to repair.
The longer we delay broad acknowledgement of privilege and lack of understanding, the longer we perpetuate the problem.
The longer we delay broad acknowledgement of privilege and lack of understanding, the longer we perpetuate the problem. Sure, you’ve never murdered someone. It’s not “your fault.” But it is. Because we have not been willing to acknowledge that we don’t get it. We haven’t even collectively said out loud that this is a problem.
We must all contribute to a dialog around how these actions are wrong, unfair, should not continue and disproportionately impact non-whites. We must have tough conversations with others that haven’t yet come to this same conclusion. We must challenge opinions, societal norms and the deep, systemic and strategic racism that exists in our country. Yes—racism exists, say it with me.
We must rip off the gauze of our country’s wounds and both see and say that they exist.
I don’t have all the answers, but I know none of this can be fixed until we acknowledge it is broken.
My heart aches today. Yours should too.