Photo by Fibonacci Blue.

An open letter to white people on the murder of Philando Castile

Philando Castile’s killer is free.

Most black Americans feel little surprise by the verdict. Same old story, nothing new. Black Americans have felt this heartache before. It’s the white Americans, the newly “woke,” who recoil in disbelief. “What?!” we gasp, pushed a little closer to what black America has always known: all lives don’t matter in America, because black lives don’t matter in America.

The acquittal of Philando Castile’s killer is wrong. And so is the deafening silence from too many white people on social media and elsewhere. Black Americans are used to that, too.

No more silence, white America.

Philando Castile died, a black man shot by police while still buckled into the driver seat of a car. And his killer is free.

What if it had been your husband/brother/son/father/nephew/cousin who had gotten pulled over because his “wide nose” looked suspicious, then killed while still wearing his seatbelt?

It’s hard for white Americans to imagine this because a white man reaching for his wallet, with his family in the car with him, wouldn’t strike such fear in a cop. White skin never got anyone killed just for being white.

Philando Castile was a legal gun owner. But he was not shot for admitting to owning a gun. He was shot because he was black and owned a gun.

Let’s stop talking about “compliance” and the thin blue line. That’s not what kills black people. Institutionalized racism kills black people. White normalcy kills black people. For too many white peoples, there is no equity in black lives, no equality.

Too many white people don’t understand that equality is a non-count noun. There is enough for everybody. Equality for black people DOES NOT mean less for white people. It means no more “less than.”

Photo by Alexandra Jones.

White people don’t understand equity either. Equity goes hand-in-hand with equality. It’s a non-count noun, too. Because when people have equal rights, equal opportunity, and equal participation, then every single person is worth the same.

But institutionalized, systemic racism makes sure that black people don’t have equity — that their lives don’t carry as much weight. The officer didn’t see Philando Castile as an equal. He didn’t give Mr. Castile’s life the same weight as his own because white people have been allowed to believe their lives hold more equity.

White equity means you can have a gun, be inside an SUV, and shoot an unarmed young black man 60 feet away. White privilege means you can lie about it and be believed.

White equity means you can racially profile a black man and shoot him seven times when he reaches for his wallet on your order. White privilege means you can say fear for your life made you shoot that black man.

This is the racism that’s killing America, and if you are white and reading this, you are a part of it.

It’s not just skinheads, or the treasonous flag of a failed rebellion, or an angry white woman in WalMart.

Systemic racism isn’t yelled. It’s quiet, insidious, always present but rarely loud. It doesn’t have to be the crack of a bullet; it might be the quiet scratch of a pen sentencing a black man to twice the prison sentence given to a white man for the same crime.

It’s not the cries of a white woman at a Trump rally; it’s the quiet click of a door closing behind the young black woman leaving an HR office after her efforts to protest her lower wage relative to her white peer came to nothing.

It’s the silent shoes of the clerk who follows black customers around the store because
“black people tend to steal.”

It’s “The Talk” black parents quietly have with their teenage children about compliance and fear and keeping their mouths shut because the cops can shoot them, unarmed children, for anything. Because they’re Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Mike Brown, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, and Philando Castile.

Photo by cool revolution.

We cannot continue to be silent. Black Americans need us to recognize the equity and equality in black lives. They need us to say the names of the dead and join the conversation with the living. That urgent, pivotal conversation on race that starts with the words “Black Lives Matter,” and ends with the dismantling of the systemic, habitual, institutionalized racism that kills black men and women in America.

This is a conversation about white responsibility to listen to understand, not to reply. This is about how we, the enablers of systemic racism, can dismantle our creation so that all lives can matter.

The incomplete Civil Rights Movement of the ’60s depended on white support, and the same is true today. We need to stop asking black people to tell us how to change. We need to stop pussy-footing around black protests with weak babble about “not all white people” while mouthing platitudes about “having black friends” or the over-justifications for police brutality, “He shouldn’t have run away/Why didn’t he comply/This never happened to me,” and instead make a conscious effort to not just stop furthering systemic racism but eliminate it altogether.

Because every time white people look away when a black man bleeds out on the street, we enable police brutality by permitting systemic racism.

Every time white people shrug when a black man is killed by a policeman who felt “threatened” by black skin, we further a false narrative about what black bodies represent.

Every time we think we can designate when or how or at what events black people can protest injustice, we diminish the very freedom, equality, and justice for all we claim to embody.

Every time white people laugh at a cartoon depicting a black woman with a big butt as the universal representation of all black women; or we call black men “thugs” and jeer at how they wear their pants; or we ask to touch a black woman’s hair and expect her to dance well; or assume all black boys play basketball, we declare a kind of ownership over black men and women that is sickeningly disrespectful and abhorrent.

Every time we use phrases like “not all white people” or “I don’t see color” or “my family didn’t even own slaves,” we further racial invisibility and oppression instead of racial equality and equity.

And every time we answer that “all lives matter” instead of “black lives matter,” we encourage the premise that black lives matter less.

Philando Castile is dead. And his killer is free.


Photo by agent j loves nyc.

*This is the collective product of women of color and allies. This piece specifically comes from the voices of two allies.