If only Alton Sterling would’ve done what the police asked then he would be alive. While this statement may seem logical in the experiences of many white people, this statement is a fallacy to nearly every other race of people as they interact with the police throughout history in our country.
I heard this same statement uttered when Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Eric Garner were murdered and after nearly every other Black person who was killed by the police.
I’m a white teacher that has taught in schools that are nearly all Black on the South Side of Chicago since 2007. During my 1st year of teaching, a 9th grade male student showed up late to my 1st period class crying. This was abnormal behavior for him, after a conversation with him I found out that two police officers had held him at gun point on his way to school, made him get on the ground, and called him names until they realized he wasn’t who they thought he was. If only he would’ve not been walking while Black...
This was the first story that made me think that the experiences that I had with the police, as a white person, were not the same experiences shared by my students.
Now entering my 10th year of teaching in Chicago I have learned that interacting with the police while being Black in America is vastly different than being white.
The law has always worked against Black people and for white people. A historical example that helped me come to this realization is the murder of Emmett Till. Emmett a 13 year old Black kid from Chicago was murdered by two white men in Mississippi in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman. Emmett’s actions were so “heinous” that he was beaten, mutilated, and then his dead body was thrown in a river. If only Emmett would’ve not whistled....
The two white men were found innocent. Emmett’s mother Ms. Mobley decided to have an open casket so the world could see what had been done to her son. The rest of the world saw what happened and Black people in America took action because of his murder.
But what did many white Americans do? Likely the same thing that most do today; react with shock, blame the victim, have sadness, and maybe have empathy for a little while then go about their life. These were not privileges that Black Americans had. They could not go back to their “normal” lives, because normal for them meant at all times they were in danger.
Unlike the 1950’s when anyone could kill a Black person and get away with it, today primarily the police are the only ones who can kill Black Americans and legally get away with it, time after time.
It’s far too easy as a white person to just say, “if only he/she would’ve” then they would be alive. Why is it that we white people look for any way possible to blame Black people for their own death?
There are countless examples throughout history to the present of the police killing Black people for no reason, planting guns on them, and disappearing them.
But we ignore all of this and instead continually blame the victim time after time.
The police are here to “serve and protect” whom they are trained to protect. They are trained to protect people of my complexion. They are trained to hunt everyone else.
It has been hard to grasp that while I am told that the police exist to protect me they harm so many others.
So many white people are deathly afraid of being labeled a racist but our collective white inaction continues to allow racism to exist and operate. Unless you are actively resisting racism as a white person you continue to allow it to happen.
As white people we must:
1) Educate ourselves on race. Since our country is so segregated by race your actual interactions with people of other races may be extremely limited. So education becomes key. Here are some ways how to begin the education.
2) Start having possibly uncomfortable conversations with our white family, friends, and coworkers. The idea that you shouldn’t talk religion and politics with family just allows racism to continue because white people won’t talk about it. Here’s some helpful tips on how to get the conversation going.
3) We must use social media to bring attention to these issues then take some form of direct action to help end the cycle. For ideas click here.
As a history teacher I know that my race has been and continues to be responsible for the vast majority of terrible things that have/continue to happen in the world.
I also believe that to end racism we white people must educate ourselves, other white people and not be afraid to speak up. We must do this to dismantle the privilege that allows us to view the police as protectors while Black people have always and continue to view the police as threats to their very existence.
So next time you hear someone say, “If only he/she would’ve....”, challenge it.