My brother is a person of color, adopted out of an unjust situation. Around his black friends, he is “coolin wid da homies.” He is working on a degree in criminal justice, working two jobs, and coolin wid da homies. The other day I was in the passenger seat of his car that he bought and maintains himself. We passed a Ford pickup with a Confederate flag license plate bolted to the front nearly as tightly as my brother’s grip on the steering wheel. In our small town, Confederate flags and the slinging of racism are norms we’ve been forced to accept. But this was different. The middle-aged white man who was convinced he was God himself looked down into the vehicle and shook his head, assuming my pale moonlight blood had been poisoned by my brother’s darkness. My brother and I were listening to the radio at that very moment, and news of Terence Crutcher washed over the both of us like a wave of hydrochloric acid. The words hung in the air seemingly as if the atmosphere were so thick we could suffocate.
I closed my eyes hard and nearly wept. I, too, have blood on my hands. In this very moment, I became George Zimmerman. I am Betty Shelby; I am every murderer protected by a federally-issued badge. I’ve never killed anyone, but my pasty flour flesh gives me the privilege to exist, while my brother must fight for that. I can carry a backpack when I go shopping, but my brother knows better than to follow my white lead and become a thug. In a traffic stop, I use my feminine flair and try so desperately to get out of a fine. My brother, however, will always have the unspoken fear of knowing that police are three times more likely to murder someone who is black, and thirty percent of black Americans murdered by police are unarmed. My brother has the fear ingrained into him by Philando Castile; his blackness could cost him his life to the point that even a broken taillight could be an excuse.
There is blood on my hands because I’ve allowed my America to return to this point. Amerikkka, land of the free, home of the brave. I admittedly love my privilege. I take walks at night and cops wave at me. I enjoy my free speech promised to me by the First Amendment. My Constitutional rights are mostly protected. But because I myself do not suffer from race-specific oppression, I have tried so desperately to wash my hands of the blood that will forever remain on my hands, on my children’s hands, on the hands of my ancestors. And I’ve not done a damn thing about it.
“I” am not just myself. “I” am every white person in Amerikkka who has allowed this country to fall back into the hands of Jim Crow. I, we, white people as a whole are the man with a Confederate flag on his truck. We are the history book writers who whitewash history to paint the beautiful Eurocentric picture Hitler would have loved. Until we begin to lift up our brothers and sisters of color and refuse to give power to a state that operates on a platform of oppression, we are just as guilty as Daniel Pantaleo and Justin Damico, and Amerikkka can’t breathe.