Dear Fellow White People

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Demonstration Against Racism, Berlin 2020 | Photo by Susie Kahlich

The American Army vet, actor, writer and producer Tony Estese posted a short video by his friend Devon Khan to Instagram the other day, sharing Mr Khan’s thoughts about racism as it applies to police brutality. You can watch the whole video here: https://bit.ly/30dD47f

He notes, “we can’t be divided on this issue.” And he’s right.

Tony is an old friend from high school, but I don’t personally know Mr. Khan (I’ve shared his video with his and While I’m actually for abolishing the police altogether, Mr. Khan said two things in the video that really got to me, and that have been occupying my thoughts for the past few days. He makes the very profound point that “the only way this is going to solved — it’s not going to be solved by me, it’s not going to be solved by citizens rioting in the streets — it’s going to be solved by the police.”

This is obvious, on the one hand, but going a little deeper, it’s also incredibly profound: the police have to be willing to change their way of policing; the police have to be willing to restructure, redefine and reform who they are, what they do and how they do it.

And if we, in every society across the globe, are to continue to utilize a police force in our communities, then Mr. Khan’s second point that got to me is even more relevant:

“We need citizens to hold them accountable,” he says, speaking about allies. “The only way you’re going to do that is be willing to hold their feet to the fire, hold them accountable. We as citizens need to let them know that we are not going to tolerate [police racism and brutality], and we’re not going to accept it from people who stand idly by.”

Again, on the one hand, an obvious point. But shortly after I watched the video on Tony’s IGTV, I saw this tweet from American journalist Dan Rather:

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“Imagine where we would be if they didn’t put cameras on cell phones? And now imagine all that we aren’t seeing. And didn’t see. And will not see.”

And shortly before Dan Rather’s tweet, I watched a video of British comedian and Late Late Show host James Corden crying on camera over the injustices, the riots, the murders as a result of police brutality and racism, profusely apologizing to the show’s bandleader Reggie Watts, who Zoomed into the episode.

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I was growing increasingly angry, but couldn’t find the words to understand about what, or why, specifically, until I saw Mr. Khan’s video and his words, “hold them accountable”.

James Corden crying like he’s just learning about “how bad” the racism struck me as profoundly disingenuous— granted he comes from the UK, but did he miss the whole Grenfell Tower fire, or the Windrush scandal? Did those just not make it on his radar? Dan Rather tweeting “imagine all that we didn’t see” if it weren’t being filmed is similar. Yes, thank god for technology or we’d never have any evidence of racism and could never really be sure it exists.

There are plenty of women who are saying the same thing as Rather and Corden, so I don’t mean to target only white men. These two public statements of disingenuous “wokeness” just happen to be very clear examples.

“All that we weren’t seeing. And didn’t see. And will not see.” But the truth is, “all you didn’t hear”. Because it’s not like no one ever said or sang or shouted or screamed anything for the past 400 years. It’s not like there haven’t been lyrics and songs and poems and books and movies and conversations with your neighbors and protests and riots and funerals. When black people say #SilenceIsViolence they’re not talking to each other. They’ve never been silent. White people just haven’t wanted to listen.

And so, I ask my fellow white people who are equally outraged by police brutality, by racism, by the social injustices suffered by people of color: How many times have you accompanied a person of color to the police, to security, to management, to any authority, and demanded they receive the full protection and service afforded to you, when you’ve learned of racial injustice? How many times have you called your mayor’s or representative’s office and demanded a judicial inquiry, an arrest, that justice be done for racially-motivated disservice, beatings, murder? Did you do it for Breonna Taylor? For Michael Ferguson? For Rodney King? For your neighbor, your co-worker, your colleague, your friend?

And not just for beatings and murders and gropings and thefts, but for everything: the bullshit traffic ticket, the apathetic intake officer, the false accusations, the missing report, the disappeared records, the railroading and pressure to drop charges and the dismissed case due to lack of evidence a cop or a judge wants to see instead of the perfectly valid evidence actually being presented. Did you do it then? Will you do it now?

Early in the video, Mr. Khan observes, “Everyone is good until they have the opportunity to prove otherwise.”

And I have to ask, over the past 10, 20, 30 years or more of your life, when you had the opportunity to prove otherwise, what did you do? Did you look away? Did you justify things to yourself? Did you do nothing?

And I have to ask, what is wrong with you as a human being that you can close your eyes to injustice, that you can remain deaf to someone’s screams? What is wrong with your god, your religion, your politics, your government that can turn their back on any living being in need?

What kind of a human are you that you can walk by someone who has fallen and not stop to help them up? That you can stand idly by while someone’s knee squeezes the breath out of another human’s life?

What is wrong with your definition of power and righteousness that says giving a hand to help raise up others will pull you down instead? I mean, if that’s the case, how strong are you anyway?

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