I’ll Say It. White Lives Matter If That is What You Need to Hear Before You Are Willing to Hear Me, I’ll Say It.
Im waving the white flag. I’ll take one for the team. At this point, I am desperate. I am watching the world dissolve into chaos and if I need to fall on my sword and utter those words in order for my own people to listen to me, so be it.
It is true.
White lives matter.
You can quote me. You can do whatever celebration you want. Plaster my face on posters with the tagline. Point to me as the gay, liberal, social justice warrior who finally admitted it. Truly, I’m at your mercy.
For Philando Castile, I will say it, type it, put my name on it and stand by it. For my friends who are far braver than I am, I can absolutely deal with the possible consequences of this decision. I will risk seeming like a sell-out, a fake— whatever comes my way. For every white person who has told me that the headline alone of my last article put them off so much they were utterly unwilling to even read the content itself, this headline is for you. So put your money where your mouth is. Read this entire article.
The truth is, I’ve never said white lives didn’t matter. It is sad when a white person dies. Their family mourns them and their friends become painfully aware that part of their support structure has disappeared. White children attend funerals. White people cry. White people hurt. I will absolutely mourn the deaths of my own white family and my white friends. I don’t love my white friends less (nor more) than my non-white friends. I hear you. I feel you. We agree. Honestly. I get that you worked hard to have what you do. I understand that it feels like no one helped you, no one cared. I am aware that you feel like the world is tilted out of your favor and you live paycheck to paycheck— and on top of all of that, you’re being called a racist. Here’s the thing. Admitting that you have privilege related to a historical separation of races is not admitting that you like to go burn crosses on the weekend for fun.
This is where I tend to get kicked out of the White Lives Matter party, however, because no matter what you say, I can’t agree with you when you make claims that the Black Lives Matter movement is an issue simply because it exists. The reason I can’t go there with you is because I did grow up in a small, rural, Southern town. I had relatives who lived in trailers and relied on food stamps. I did not personally grow up “poor” within my community, but I absolutely knew and loved poor people and my family dropped into any metropolitan location in the United States would have been poor. I had relatives who were murdered and jailed. As soon as I state that even though all of those things are true, I am still more privileged than a black person who matches my general history and current circumstances, white people turn on me. Just watch. You’ll see them.
Yes, there are plenty of white people who have it rough. Some white people are, in fact, worse off than some black people. I can relate to the very situations that you reference when you attempt to make claim to your right to be on equal footing with Black Americans and their experience in the United States. I also know that the White experience of America is not equal to the Black experience of America. I know this because I am White.
I could list off numerous ways in which those experiences are radically different— and I probably will in future articles. As a white person who has been pulled over several times for various things, I can tell you that I absolutely feared a ticket I could not afford, getting in trouble with my parents, having forgotten to pay some penalty or fine and risking a mugshot. Yes, I felt uncomfortable when those lights lit up and I saw that uniform and stern face approaching my car window. The same way a trip to the Principal’s office made me uncomfortable.
There is an idea of authority figures and getting in trouble which creates unease. It is important to properly define that feeling, however. I know that white people overwhelmingly feel anxiety when pulled over by police — but they do not fear for their lives. At no point, ever, with any police officer I have encountered did I even have the thought that my family could get a call saying I had been shot by that police officer. It has literally never crossed my mind.
Before you argue that you have, in fact, feared for your life as a white person when dealing with the police, keep in mind that doing that means you acknowledge that police can be dangerous and out of control. I’m sorry, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t feel like the police are faultless good guys who are under an unwarranted attack and also claim that your own personal experiences with police triggered legitimate fears for your life. Pick a side. Seriously, I’m done with the games. Pick a side. Either option works for me.
No dog has sniffed my vehicle. I have never, not even once, had my car searched. I have even had an attitude with police officers, annoyed with the hassle and wondering why there was nothing more pressing for them to deal with other than whatever minor issue I might have caused. I have only been asked once to leave my vehicle. I had a tail light that wasn’t working. I sat in the back of the patrol car that night, while the policeman confirmed that I did, in fact, have a license— a license I was ironically en route to pick up at my friend’s house. That friend was behind me that night and he did not pull over when I did. He assumed it was no big deal. He also saw that the tail light was out. He knew I would be delayed, but would be at most 5–10 minutes behind him. He continued home, unconcerned. He was completely justified in feeling that way.
It was a very relaxed situation. We chatted and he thanked me for joining him in his car and allowing him to remain safe by not standing outside my car on a busy road. It made sense to me. His life was in danger from the speeding cars and he felt more in control having me with him than leaving me in my car to perhaps potentially speed away. At no point did that police officer view me as a threat. I was 20 years old and I looked like him, minus several inches of height and about 30 pounds of muscle. He did not pat me down. I was not handcuffed. Nothing at all about his demeanor or behavior made me feel like he had any concerns about me. I even commented about it being “cool” that I could joke with my mom about being in the back of a police car; a funny situation because of how absurd it seemed for someone like me to be in the back of a police car. The back of a police car is where the bad people go. I was very different when I was 20.
When the dispatcher came through the radio confirming I was who I said I was and that I did, indeed, have a license, I was given a ticket which would be forgiven if I repaired the tail light. I actually lingered for several more minutes to finish up the conversation we were having and then he opened the door to let me out and walked me back to my car, making certain I was safe from the traffic. I thanked him for taking it easy on me and offered a second time to allow him to follow me to my friend’s apartment complex so I could retrieve the license. He declined. The radio confirmation was enough. We said our goodbyes and went on with our lives. Both of us were alive after the encounter.
I am not being critical of how that police officer conducted himself that night. Let me be clear about that. Honestly, that is how any routine traffic stop should play out in America. I sincerely want all experiences to be that way for both the police officer and the citizen. The police officer should feel safe. We should feel safe with them. We agree on this, right? I feel like maybe I should confirm that. I know that my experience is not at all an accurate representation of the typical experience that occurs when race differs between the officer and the citizen. Note that I did not say when the officer is white and the citizen is black. That is only one potential combination of many— even though it is a combination we have seen repeatedly proven to be full of potentially catastrophic variables.
I’m not anti-police. I profiled Jeanne Assam, specifically because of her law enforcement background. Let me go ahead and say it. Blue Lives Matter. All the caveats above apply. Have a blast quoting me on it. I absolutely want to be able to call 911 or rush to the safety of a man or woman in blue if I am in need of help. The idea of police, bravely protecting and serving their communities is obviously appealing to me as I do not consider myself much of a heroic save-the-day sort of person. I feel quite certain that should I ever find myself overwhelmed and scared, not thinking quite clearly because of the threat or danger I was in, I could rush toward an armed officer and not be perceived by that officer as having any intent to cause harm. I believe without doubt that seeing me, making eye contact, in that moment because I trust them and they trust me, I could mouth out “Help me” and they would. I believe wholeheartedly that I would be protected. This is the experience white people have about police.
We need to talk about what happens when that trust is eroded, however.
What happens when there are variables that put either or both parties on edge? What happens when trust doesn’t exist to calm that anxiety? What happens when two people are forced to interact even though they honestly feel threatened and at risk? What happens if one or both of those people are armed? Even in a simple scenario, what are the possible consequences? Ideally, you want to see both people remain safe. Even if you feel more of a connection to the police officer, you don’t want that officer to have to deal with the mental anguish of taking the life of someone they want to keep safe.I’ll work with you there. I am willing to compromise. Even if all you can give me is that you don’t want a potentially prestigious career to be derailed by an unfortunate encounter that could have gone better, we agree that more needs to be done than we are currently doing.
A tricky thing happens when we encounter strangers. We immediately attempt to assess whether that person is friend or foe. Sometimes, we scan for familiar things. Does this person look like us? Are they dressed similarly to how we are dressed? Do we seem like we are of a similar mindset? Other times, however, we may search for differences. Right or wrong, as a gay man, if I am walking alone at night and I see a woman approaching me, I feel less threatened than if I see a man approaching me. Even though I know women can be violent, women can kill, women can rob— I perceive women to be safer strangers. Does that mean the male approaching me is immediately viewed as a threat? It depends. Am I in a familiar place? Are other people around? Is the person making eye contact?
At one point, I would have also tried to determine if they seemed straight. When I lived in the South, I definitely felt that straight strangers hated me and wanted to do me harm. It was a survival instinct. A lot of them did. There was no way for me to tell. I no longer feel that way. Today, I would likely question how likely it was for that stranger to know I was gay. If that person had issues with gay people, what are the odds they would easily recognize me as being gay? I can make adjustments, swiftly, which allow me to very easily “pass” as straight. I present as a cis gender man. Unless they knew from other means or I made certain to show them, I could walk by an actual threat to my safety and not been seen. That is not true when it comes to race. It is not something we can hide.
Race also once played a role in the level of safety I felt. This feels like one of those things that isn’t supposed to be said. We should never admit it. But here’s the truth. Even though I have not once, including my time in the South, been threatened or harmed by a black man, I learned to perceive that differences in our skin meant something. Simply by existing in the world and absorbing input, without any real reason, I felt less safe around black men. I do think part of it originated from a sincere feeling that black men did not like me. However, no black man ever said that to me. White men told me black men did not like me.
So is it hard for me to imagine a police officer, who perhaps has had negative and scary experiences during the course of their work might feelless safe when he stops someone who doesn’t look like he does? No. Just as he might have preconceived biases to people with tattoos or people in certain cars or stops on certain holidays, it is understandable that a police officer would carry the same types of concerns that we all carry with us. Police have to be even more hyper-aware of situations they are in. Their lives are, in fact, at risk daily. So what, exactly, are we doing to attempt to minimize these situations? If recent events are any indication, not enough.
Yesterday, I watched a woman desperate to document her situation. I watched, via a live video, as she sat in a car, with her child in the backseat and her boyfriend, shot multiple times, dying next to her. I immediately feared for her. Her calmness unsettled me. It made, even me, question if this might be some sort of prank or a horribly failed attempt to promote some sort of movie or tv show. As a white person, I simply could not relate to what I saw. There was no family member nor friend who shares my skin I could think of who would behave that way.
I realized that she is conditioned, due to her experiences, to remain calm and composed under circumstances which would have caused me to have a complete mental breakdown. If I had been in that situation, I would have been tears and screams. There is not a single part of me that feels I could cope or manage to have any level of higher mental function. I would have clung to my partner. I would have fought to shove my hands into the wounds. I would have requested rope or belts to tie off arteries to try to stop the bleeding. I would have screamed for help. I would have demanded to know what was taking the paramedics so long to arrive. I would have been utterly inconsolable.
I saw many white people saying similar things on Twitter. Why is she just recording it? Why isn’t she helping him? If you asked similar questions, here’s the answer. As much as she genuinely wanted to do all of those things, she did not feel that she could. I won’t even try to convince you that those feelings are justified. Your response of Well, I would do it! Even if they shot me too, I would do it for someone I love! sounds lovely. But that level of bravery originates in the fact that you likely will never find yourself in that situation. You’ve never had a friend or family member be in that situation.
If you did, you likely could have a complete hysterical meltdown and rally the entire team of heroes in blue to assist you. Diamond Reynolds fought every ounce of that basic human instinct to save someone she loved and protect her child. She used her phone as a life line—a connection to a different reality—she sat, virtually motionless, hands locked in place while a policeman with a gun drawn screamed at her. She said “Sir.”
As Diamond Reynolds broadcast yesterday, she somehow managed to reassure me. I had no doubt that she was devastated. I also had no doubts that she was going to do everything necessary to ensure that she and her daughter were seen and heard. I knew, within moments of watching the video that thousands of people were aware of her situation. I spent an entire evening grieving with strangers on Twitter. This morning, when Diamond Reynolds spoke, I felt braver. I felt ashamed for needing to feel braver— especially as I recalled the time I found myself sitting in the backseat of a police car.
Ifelt like I had to do something, anything, to try to get people to drop their walls and realize that I am not trying to make the world be unfair for anyone. I want to ensure that people are free to live their lives, safely, happily, without living in fear. All people. All lives. But especially black ones. Black people have something I don’t have. Perhaps white people who have fought in wars or experienced horrific events possess it. But it isn’t something that is common to our race. That thing they possess is an unrelenting fear that this might be the day they or someone they love dies violently, senselessly, and tragically. I don’t fear that for myself nor my family. I do, however, fear that for my black friends.
I want to feel like white people care. I want to believe that by my saying White Lives Matter, they will say Black Lives Matter. I want to believe in a world where we truly do believe that All Lives Matter and that all lives should be valued. I want to have faith that we can come together and somehow manage to keep everyone safe and help ensure that everyone is given an opportunity to live a fulfilled life with rich experiences and happiness. We do not live in that world today. America 2016 is horrifying. Save your suggestions that I go to some worse location and really experience it bad. Want better for yourself and your country. Be honest. We have issues here.
I am no longer willing to patiently wait for that reality I desire to magically happen. Diamond Reynolds shows clearly that black people are more than capable of leading the Black Lives Matter movement forward. I am all for Black Lives and I will do everything I can to prove my allyship. I can’t promise any level of composure under pressure, but I’m here and willing to help. My attention, however, is now focused on this desire white people keep demanding to have White Lives Matter as well. I’m on board. Let’s work on that. But be clear—part of ensuring that those white lives are valued and important is making certain that white people are not actively nor unconsciously creating situations which make white people seem like heartless, callous monsters. Let’s start there.