There’s no doubt that Black Lives Matter and many black people, see the deaths of black people at the hands of police as a huge problem. It is a problem that BLM and many others do not know how to address aside from protests, sometimes which rob the rights of others by blocking their free travel or unlawfully restraining them, and often with hateful rhetoric, calls to violence, and even the committing of shameful or horrifyingly violent acts. But in the same way that the concept of White Privilege may have exacerbated the reactions of black individuals to an extreme against the police profession as a whole, perhaps it can be used in the same way to help reverse the process.
White privilege is not just something that you’re born with by the accidental color of your skin; it proliferates due to the prevailing culture of Whiteness. Whites are taught their white culture by living it, just as any other race or ethnicity learns their own culture. And the differences in what white children and black children are actively taught or passively learn within their respective cultures, AS their culture, contributes to the yawning gap of “Privilege”.
Fortunately, that part of White Privilege – the part that is taught or learned as part of white culture, can be learned from. While learning from White Privilege will not ever enough to eliminate the Privilege gap, it might just be enough to help minimize black deaths at the hands of police.
White Privilege teaches that crime is bad. Naturally, not every white person internalizes this lesson, but most whites grow up with a firm taboo against crime of any kind, and living a bad guys/good guys mentality that is reinforced by their movies, books, games and other entertainment. If you’re not one of the good guys, then you’re one of the bad guys, and it becomes extremely difficult for most whites to break their cultural conditioning and cross over from being the “good guy” they grew up as, to a “bad guy” with their first crime against another person. Contrasted with a pervasive part of black culture in which committing crimes does not make you a “bad person”, this bit of white privilege in the form of their cultural conditioning could be extremely useful if it were freely shared.
Statistically, it is likely that every black person in America has a friend or family member in jail right now, as a result of crime. Oppression and poverty may have lead to the crimes, but whatever the causation, the culture of crime in which all your cousins’ selfies are taken with drugs and guns, and you grow up visiting family members in jail as normal, and the pilfering of petty crimes as ‘winning against the white man’ and soon you become desensitized. Until when someone is shot in your own community, your culture shuns working with the police as ‘snitching’ against your own culture.
This is a dilemma that black people rarely voice to outsiders. Facebook memorials to the shooting victim go up, twitter erupts in grief, and the victim’s family and friends decry that ‘police won’t do anything’. Yet more than one person knows who did the shooting, and no one will say. Because you don’t snitch ‘to the ‘po’ against your own. And as it continues to happen as you grow up, your concept of crime becomes further desensitized and moves firmly into normalization and even acceptance. When crime becomes normal, it creates self-fulfilling prophecies in related concepts until the police are bad, the judge is wrong, the jury is racist; continuing to keep crime normalized and even welcomed, at its nadir.
For the white privilege concept of crime as “bad” rather than normal, to take root among African Americans will be a multi-dimensional task. Programs such as D.A.R.E, the schools, teachers, parents, and relatives’ buy-in would be required to change any cultural expectations that see crime as normal. But borrowing this concept from Whiteness and White Privilege, would be a start.
Don’t commit crimes. Terry Frost, the young black man who was shot and killed during a bank robbery attempt, is not the only young black man to be shot in relation to a police call. Committing a crime, even a small one, always brings the police to you. And bringing the police to you brings all their training and weapons with them, plus the fact that they are paid to win when they go up against you. They can and do, use force, up to and including deadly force, and that fact is written right into their job descriptions. Its a poor decision to do anything that brings the cops to you when it is their legal responsibility to use force in cases which require it.
Terry Frost’s father said “I understand he did wrong, but he didn’t have to die for what he did.” White Privilege accepts that yes, in fact, it was an acceptable outcome to die for committing an armed bank robbery. A popularly-shared photograph shows a #BLM protestor with a sign that reads ‘NO MOTHER SHOULD HAVE TO FEAR FOR HER SONS LIFE EVERY TIME HE ROBS A STORE.’ Attention!-this is probably shocking for non-white people to hear, but Whiteness accepts this result as a consequence of engaging in criminal acts. It is an undisputed fact that more white people (both by number as well as percentage of population), are killed by cops each year, than blacks, since the numbers are clear. Yet white people do not get even mildly upset about the larger numbers of white people killed by cops, because in Whiteness, as we’ve seen, crimes and criminals ‘are bad’ and criminals cause themselves to get killed by police as a direct result of their bad choices and bad actions. Whiteness celebrates the result of whites getting killed by police during the commission of crimes, as ‘the good guys winning’ and proving to them that their safety system works to keep them protected from ‘the bad guys’. Whatever color the ‘bad guy’ was that day, its a ‘win’ in the mind of Whiteness.
While it would be next to impossible to borrow this facet of White Privilege, that of ‘criminal comeuppance’, understanding that it exists might help. Because the law also upholds that such a police shooting is usually justified if the officer believes they or anyone else was in danger due to the crime being committed and the circumstances surrounding that crime. Such as if the robber has a gun; he (or she) by law doesn’t even have to shoot it or even point it at anyone, because the risk of danger to others is so prevalent and egregious, that it is legally justified for public protection if police pre-emptively shoot the criminal who merely displays or is known to have a gun during the criminal attempt. And the law is what matters as a bottom line.
Comply. The culture of Whiteness engenders a respect for police and authority. White fathers tell their sons to ‘not move, keep their hands on the wheel, say yes sir and no sir, and do what the nice officer tells them.’ White Privilege understands that they will get their day in court, that the phrase ‘tell it to the judge’ will actually work. And so they are taught not to resist, not to argue, and especially not to fight back physically in any way, as part of their White Culture that relies on White Privilege. They rely on White Privilege concepts to see they get a fair treatment, hearing or trial. Whereas blacks do not feel they will be treated fairly by the system, they may unfortunately opt to try ‘getting away’ rather than trust to a system they view as helping to oppress them. And respecting authority, doing what you are told to do, and saying ‘yes sir and no sir’ can stick in an perceived oppressed person’s craw until the only choice one can stomach is to fight back.
Resisting statistically increases the danger of a police-civilian interaction exponentially, whatever your color. By merely arguing with a police officer, the argument sets up the confrontation’s direction in a negative way, and affirms from the outset that you are not willing to comply. Since police are paid to specifically to engage with individuals, and they are paid to gain your compliance (‘win’) such confrontations as part of their written job descriptions, the risk outcome of injury is almost always negative to the civilian and not the police officer. Legally, every act of your resistance, will be met with a level of force higher than your resistance. Legally, the officer is trained to one-up everything you do, in order to get you..or make you..comply. So you can argue, but you open the door for the police to use hands when you do. You might shove the officer away from you, but you just opened the door for the police to use a baton. You might punch the officer in the face, and that can legally open the door for the police to shoot. Take this video to heart: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-utc4IEQws
That female police officer would have been legally justified, by law, in shooting the man who resisted, even though he was unarmed and even though didn’t succeed in killing the officer with his bare hands. Because legally, the courts maintain that any police officer who is at risk of becoming incapacitated during a physical fight like this, can shoot their attacker to maintain their own safety and keep you from incapacitating them. The police job is to win every time you resist. It doesn’t matter how many times you hit, or if you break every bone in the officer’s face like this one did, or if you just get them down on their back like Darren Wilson did. The law is what we have to work with, and the law says the police can save themselves from just the potential of having this happen based upon what they reasonably think you will do based upon what they can observe of you at the time. And if you have already affirmed you are going to resist, then according to law, its reasonable to assume you might resist them to the point they are injured or dead.
The responding phrase is now a pleading ‘Comply, don’t die’. While White Privilege may not get you the same level of fairness at trial, might not get you the same understanding from a judge, might not get you the same treatment as whites, complying is the single most effective thing you can do to keep you from dying. Isn’t that a better bottom line? Comply, don’t die. Comply and get your day in court to tell it to the judge, and make the most of that day.
Understand the Law. The Law IS what we have to work with. Not just the written laws, but something called ‘case law’ in which judges determine precedent and interpret the law, all the way up to the Supreme Court. All the way up the line, all case law has determined that police can save their own lives pre-emptively. That is, they are allowed by law to shoot first if they reasonably think they are at exigent risk of harm. Whether you have a gun or not. Just like in the video above, where the police officer WOULD have been legally justified to shoot and kill the unarmed man, but didn’t and suffered grievous injuries. It has been irresponsible of the media lately to highlight shootings of unarmed civilians and keep that word ‘unarmed’ at the forefront and as part of every headline. As if the word ‘unarmed’ matters legally. Because it doesn’t. Because the media is NOT what determines the legality of police shooting an unarmed person. Public opinion is NOT what determines the legality of police shooting an unarmed person. The only thing that determines the legality of police shooting an unarmed person is the law, and if the law sees the police officer’s belief at the time that the person was a substantial risk to that officer or to someone else, then the shooting is legal and justified, whether the civilian was armed or not. It is important to understand that, that ‘unarmed’ does not equal ‘not a danger’ and it does not equal ‘not in danger’.
Why are not African Americans taught this piece of Whiteness, this facet of White Privilege, this important piece of White Culture? Non-whites may find this shocking, but Whiteness views law as more important than individuals. White Culture teaches that the good of many outweighs the good of the individual. So the law, in their minds, becomes somehow a sacred cow that non-whites may have trouble understanding, if you come from a culture that places more importance on the individual than on the laws that govern those individuals. Then again, they are white men’s laws. Did African Americans agree to be subject to those laws? Black Americans (those who came after the slavery experience) did have to, but they are far fewer in number than African Americans who have been affected by the institution of slavery in one way or another and who had no opportunity to agree to be bound by the laws of their importing nation. And that makes laws, especially white men’s laws suspect, since at one time those laws even said that slavery was legal. So the law is obviously fallible. The law can be mistaken. But White Privilege holds onto the rightness of law even when it makes mistakes, and understanding that concept can go a long way into keeping yourself from being killed in a deadly circumstance that the law will uphold. The right way, according to the concepts of White Privilege, is to challenge and change laws through legislation– not through resistance, let alone violence.
Black Lives Matter..but not more than anyone else’s. Pulling all these idiosyncratic values of White Culture together, it becomes clear how the majority of whites can have real lack of understanding of the issues raised by the #blacklivesmatter movement. More whites than blacks are killed by cops in the US, but White Privilege sees police shootings as comeuppance for criminal acts. White Privilege grasps that cops are human and some may make mistakes, and there could even be a bad apple now and then just like in every job, but that the system works more than it fails. White Privilege respects and trusts the system. White Privilege respects their police for protecting them from crime. White Privilege places a sacredness on their laws. White Privilege trusts their police to decide when they need to strike first to save their own lives. More blacks kill each other than are ever killed by cops, and White Privilege sees that as a more vital issue. And White Privilege sees the killing of a cop as taboo. As does the law. Police are the physical and legal representatives of law and order and peaceful society, and the legal penalties for killing a cop are harsher than for killing each other.
When we are working within a set of systems that are based on white cultural concepts, if we learn and internalize outside those cultural concepts, we will continue to have difficulty with those systems. We must understand the concepts behind the systems in order to understand the systems. And we must understand the systems in order to be able to work within them. And we must work within the systems if we are to be able to be successful with them. And we need to be successful within the systems, in order to survive them.