By: Lessa Leigh
Cautionary tales are often about some distant other. From the mythical Icarus to the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah to the historical Salem Witch Trials, we can learn a lesson while still sitting back and saying, “That was then. That was them. That’s not now. That’s not us.”
It’s a flaw in humanity’s design that we’re capable of seeing the mistakes of others so clearly, yet we’re entirely blind to our own. A bus of men in India can rape a woman and we can point fingers in shock and horror, but we never seem to be able to acknowledge our own rape culture, as evidenced by the hung jury in Bill Cosby’s rape case.
This flaw is even more startling when it’s an instance that is not a “he said, fifty women said”. When you have an amendment to the Constitution, when you have specific laws requiring how that amendment right should be carried out, when you have compliance with that law, when you have video evidence to prove the compliance and yet there’s not justice, it’s apparent that we’re living in a cautionary tale. What’s sad is how few are willing to acknowledge that fact.
There are tipping points in our history. Perhaps Trayvon Martin was the first pebble on the scale, but Philando Castile should have been the final measure. We’re a racist country. Still.
I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty details of the jury’s decision to acquit Mr. Castile’s murderer. Juries are made up of humans, and humans are flawed. What I want to highlight is what may hurt us more than the jury’s verdict: White silence.
If you’re an American, if you’re a patriot, if you’re a conservative, if you’re a liberal, it shouldn’t matter. Every single one of us should be up in arms, literal or figurative, about the state killing a citizen illegally. However, a significant portion of Americans, the ones who could be their own cautionary tale about power and fear, stay silent. Our white silence is more than violence in the case of Mr. Castile’s murder. It’s the metaphorical hurricane from the butterfly beating its wings far away.
The very least we can do as humans is also sometimes the most we can do, and it involves being able to see the transformative power in three small words: “I am sorry.” We white Americans have a moral imperative to say those words in this case. There’s no excuse for us to center the pain of black Americans on ourselves by saying “I don’t feel as if there’s anything I can say.” We have plenty we can say, and we can start with simple words acknowledging the pain of a community who truly wonders if they will ever be seen.
To be honest, I’m most disappointed in my white liberal friends because liberalism loves to use intersections and identity politics to its advantage in gaining political power, but my white conservative friends aren’t off the hook either because conservatism loves to tout “law and order” and the Constitution as being the answer to everything. What I want to see is an honest effort from white Americans. Write a FB post and say, “I am sorry about Philando Castile.” That’s all you have to say.
At work, go up to your black co-workers in the break room and say, “I am sorry about Philando Castile.” That’s all you have to say.
In family gatherings, when we white people love to say, “But I have black family and friends, so I’m not racist!” you need to say, “I am sorry about Philando Castile.”
There are many more places we could say this and many more things we could apologize for, but this is a solid and honest start. Acknowledging the pain of fellow human beings shouldn’t require a law or a court decision or a presidential pronouncement. It should be what we do for each other, from the heart and out of love.
Perhaps the cautionary tale of America is how often we were given the chance to acknowledge pain in our own communities yet purposely failed to do so. What I do know is that how this story ends is up to white Americans, and we have the power to make the ending transformative and powerful for all.
Remember: No justice, no peace.