Race / June 16, 2017

We could Have Been Friends

I grew up in the Phillips Neighborhood of Minneapolis just a few miles from where Philando Castile was inexplicably shot and killed by a police officer. I graduated from Minneapolis South High School, an inner city school even fewer miles from that spot. He grew up across the Mississippi River in Saint Paul. I didn’t know him, but I might have. I might have played little league baseball or peewee football against him. We were peers.

But we were not peers.

I would regularly catch a ride home from South High after football practice with a couple black teammates from my neighborhood. One of them, our quarterback, had an old Honda a few of us would pile into. More than once, though, he tossed me the keys and said, “You drive.” I never thought much of it at the time. The one time I asked why he simply said, “The cops won’t pull you over.” That was an eye opener, but my eyes were only cracked open.

I didn’t realize what lay beneath those words. I still don’t, really. But America is teaching me. What my quarterback was telling me without telling me was that he was afraid. He was telling me of injustice I knew nothing of but that happened all around me all the time.

I drove like a bat out of hell all around Phillips neighborhood and the surrounding area. I treated stop signs like speed-up signs. I treated the interstate like the Brickyard 500. And I never got pulled over. If I had I would’ve feared the wrath of my parents, not injustice by the people in uniform or the government they represented. Call my luck dumb if you want, but my teammates found it safer to have me, the sole white boy in the car, drive the three miles from school to our neighborhood.

I wasn’t even peers with the young men I shared a uniform with, who I shared the sweat and blood of practice on gravelly field with, who I shared the misery of many losses and the ecstasy of a few wins with. I was something different than they were. Equality stopped at the gate of our run down stadium.

I could have been teammates with Philando Castile. I could have been neighbors. I could have been friends. But we would never have been equals even though we were equal. I am white in America. He was black, just like my South High Tiger teammates.

I grew up white in the North, about as far north as the contiguous forty-eight go. Philando Castile was killed there; this is not solely a Southern problem. We didn’t solve our problems with the Emancipation Proclamation or with Brown vs. the Board of Education or with the dream Martin Luther King Jr. had or with electing of our first Black President. We didn’t stop the hate or the inequality.

The murder of Philando Castile was not the first we have seen, but it quite literally hit closer to home for me than others. I have driven that street. I know that place. It shouted at me that all is not right and that my whiteness allows me to coast through life without really feeling or even noticing that. I don’t feel guilty for being white – that was not a choice. But I do feel responsible for the position I have been given. The position behind the wheel of that Honda that was not mine at seventeen-years-old and the position to speak now.

I do not have a solution. I do not have a balm. I do not even have a conclusion to these thoughts. How can I? A conclusion is the wrapping up and tying off of something. This is not wrapped up. It is ongoing. It continues. What happened to Philando could happen today or tomorrow in your neighborhood or mine, and sadly it probably will. I simply hope people will notice and do what we can to call for change, to participate in change, to be change. Maybe these memories and these thoughts will be an impetus for that.

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Jun 17, 2017

This is a great article, and really resonated with me. As a person who’s eyes are being newly opened to the existence of my own white privilege, I often look back and think, “How did I not see that? How was I so unaware of what was actually going on around me?”

I appreciate your lack of conclusion, and unwillingness to offer some petty remarks to tie this whole thing up in a bow. However, I am curious about what you think it looks like to “do what we can to call for change, to participate in change, to be change”? I hate the racism and injustice that I now see around me, but what can I actually, tangibly do about it? Especially when I live in a predominantly white community, and unfortunately without much diversity. What does it mean to actually change our world? Maybe this is what you were saying you didn’t have answers to, but I am interested in any thoughts you (or anyone else) have…

    Jun 19, 2017

    Hi Carrie, For what it’s worth…perhaps your comments suggest at least one pathway forward. You say that you live in a predominantly white community without much diversity. Are there ways to get out of that pocket? Can you move to a more diverse area? If you are unable to physically move, consider the media you’re consuming. Is it diverse in what it portrays (at least as diverse in both gender and color as your state/nation? Does it challenge the status quo? Are its authors predominately white men?

Jun 18, 2017

I would like to hear about concrete ideas that instigate change as well. Hoping for someone to shed some light. These are important conversations.

Jun 19, 2017

Join SURJ MB (Standing Up for Racial Justice) to find multitudes of ways to help change. Educate yourself by seeking out voices of color and listening, without comment, without defensiveness.

If you have power to hire people and an affirmative action policy, you can choose to hire people of color. Employment law does not require “the most qualified” individual be hired, just one that meets the qualifications. Besides, if you’re not a person of color, how can you know if they might not be “the most qualified” by bringing knowledge you don’t know you don’t have.

Question anyone who speaks or acts on a stereotype. Speak up and try to get them to see the hurt they cause.

There are lots of other ways to make change, but you will have to work at it and you will want to give up sometimes. If enough of us keep trying, we will make the necessary shift in thinking and behavior.

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