Dear White People,
I’m a Rwandese, Jewish, Christian journalist who grew up in South Africa. From 1994 onwards having escaped the genocide in my own country. Not long after apartheid but my first experience of racism wasn’t until I was 18, in the United Kingdom, in a cinema. Minding my own business babysitting (he was 10 at the time) in a supposedly more civilised society. So stories like what is going on – in the UK after the controversial decision that is Brexit or how the media cover world events (so much less coverage for Baghdad’s recent attacks than for Orlando or Turkey) and this recent all eyes on America week – really hit home.
I am just as heartbroken, emptying my box of tissues for Bryce Masters as I am for Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. I am annoyed at how our media is covering it all. I am confused as to why you are an expat but we are immigrants. Why you can explain yourself when arrested but we are handcuffed and beat up for an illegal left turn before we even know what’s happening like in this cartoon re-enactment for Alex Landau? For argument’s sake, if you’re mixed race and reading this, you’re still considered black in America (the one drop rule).
Why did the policeman ask Philando for his licence and registration and was on his side of the car? He wasn’t the driver – Diamond was. Should he not have been asking her? Why it takes less time for policemen to get trained and enforce the law than it does for lawyers who practice the law? Why you seem to prioritise finding the Dallas shooter and quickly handing out justice but unanimously decide that Tamar Rice’s killers didn’t need to be punished for a grave mistake that cost a mother her son? While we’re on that – why did you need to use a robot that usually disarms bombs to deliver one to Micah Johnson? That’s a dangerous Pandora’s box you just opened.
I am also moved by the solidarity around the world. THANK YOU! From local citizens, to Google, Facebook and other large companies and so many more of you! To Jane Elliott who has dedicated over 40 years trying to educate more of you on what people of colour experience – sometimes every day. This issue shouldn’t know borders. Yes it’s happening more in America right now but that’s mostly because it’s the hot topic. The injustice is worldwide.
So like this open source letter from over 100 contributors of the Asian community let’s come together. This is more than just black and white (two Asian cops shot Philando Castile and Akai Gurley). This is an epidemic that infects us all.
No, New York Post we are not in a race civil war because that implies that only one side should win.
Let’s just clear up a few things first though, shall we?
Of course not all police officers are racist, not all police officers are bad – we understand that. We are not saying they are. Stop making us feeling like we’re crying wolf, stop denying our reality, stop making us feel like we must have deserved it, stop trying to explain to us how not racist you are by how many black friends you have, stop trying to explain to us what racism is, stop trying to tell us to get over it. Stop trying to explain to us how pro-black means anti-white. It doesn’t. And definitely stop trying to tell us that you know how it feels because you read it in a book, or learnt in a classroom somewhere, or saw a movie, or went on a gap year to Africa. Stop trying to tell us why and how all of this isn’t racism. It is.
While you’re at it, stop constantly throwing up the black on black crime statistics when we talk about it. We know! Believe me, we do! We’ve lost brothers, sisters, wives, uncles, friends and children to it. And it is awful, of course it is – but the difference is they get prosecuted. They usually get due process. They go to jail (sometimes with a longer disproportionate sentence than white people for the same crime – but that’s a story for another day). And the biggest difference? They aren’t public servants funded by the taxpayers to protect us. We shouldn’t be afraid of our supposed protectors.
BUT the cops who murder (and make no mistake, it is murder) get a pat on the back, temporary PAID leave and then go back to work? Most of them acquitted or doing community service. Because they “perceived” they were in danger. From what? An unarmed, overweight man who is sat on by 5 policeman and put into a chokehold until he can’t breathe anymore (Eric Garner)? Do you realise that actual news reports said that if he wasn’t so overweight he wouldn’t have died? Do you see the bias in that reporting? That somehow him dying is his fault. Despite him constantly saying he couldn’t breathe.
Stop shouting All Lives Matter when we say Black Lives Matter as a knee jerk response. It’s not one at the exclusion of the other. We are saying Black Lives Matter TOO. KevOnStage said it perfectly. Saying all lives matter is like watching someone’s house burn on your street, and then firefighters show up and you run out to say, “But our houses matter too.” Yes, but your house isn’t on fire.
Don’t be surprised that for some of us a breaking point has been reached. That some of us have had enough. That some of us will retaliate. Some out of anger. Some out of grief. But please don’t paint all of us with the same brush. We don’t all want you dead. We don’t all hate you. Some of us are in love with you. Some of us have children with you. Some of us care more about the content of your character than the colour of your skin. As all races should. We know that who you are is more than just skin deep.
Instead, stand with us. Because you’re right. All lives DO matter. Take a leaf out of our recent peaceful protests in London where all races gathered. Instead, call out those who do wrong, those who have a bias. Don’t tolerate it. Don’t feed it.
Don’t deny that white privilege exists. The privilege that paints all Muslims terrorists straight off the bat but when a white man kills 77 people he gets reported as having “terrorist-like tactics.” (Anders Breivik). Why is he only almost a terrorist? It’s the privilege that allows Dylann Roof to get a full backstory, discussion of how he might potentially have had psychological issues, descriptions of him growing up and stopping to buy him a burger not long after the crime on his way to jail. But in which Alton Sterling’s rap sheet is presented as justification, Trayvon Martin’s hoodie as an invitation and Rekia Boyd’s laughter as provocation.
Understand that you DO have white privilege. White privilege is like being right handed. So many products are by default made for right-handed people – tables, notebooks, doors, instruments etc. As a left handed person, you’ll notice that, you’ll adapt to fit with that or you’ll ask and expect the modification. As a right-handed person, you might not see what left handed people experience but that doesn’t diminish what they go through.
“When will I quit? When racists quit. Do I have a job for a lifetime? *starts to cry* I’m afraid so.” Jane Elliott, Diversity Educator
On the flipside, that doesn’t mean we need to lump you in with the rest of the racists and biased people. That your story is as different and as valid as ours should be. That everyone has a different context. Because prejudice is taught. You aren’t born this way. That every person is different. That we have no right to judge. That we have no right to meter out justice just because some of your fellow men have done the same to us. We’re sorry for Dallas. But remember he was a lone gunman. Why haven’t you apologised for assuming more of us at the protest must’ve been behind it? Why haven’t you apologised to Mark Hughes yet for falsely accusing him just because he looked the part and causing a nationwide hunt for an innocent man?
We need to be different. We need to be honest first and then move forward together to a point where we won’t need hashtags like #BlueLivesMatter or #BlackLivesMatter because we will finally have reached a time for our children’s sake where we are all equal.
The realist in me knows that may never happen. That we all have a bias. Nature versus nurture. That psychologists have proven that generally police officers (all races) see a black child as older and not as innocent as a white child of the same age and as such treat them disproportionately.
BUT we can start today. We can take one step at a time towards a new normal. We have to take action. Not just stay keyboard warriors or hashtag experts. Because this shouldn’t be happening again. Did we not learn our lessons multiple times throughout history? Has enough blood not been spilt by both our forefathers? We’re not asking for you to apologise for what your ancestors did to us. We’re not here to make you feel ashamed of your whiteness. Just like us, you did not choose the colour of your skin. We are asking for your help to be the change, to dismantle the system your ancestors built that is still around today. Just because we have a black president doesn’t mean there isn’t racism anymore.
Violence isn’t the answer but neither is silence. Thank you Jesse Williams for being so bold as to speak out about this at the BET Awards and for actively making a difference. I’m sorry Nakia Jones that you lost yours for doing the same. Let’s first admit there is a problem. That you do cross the road if you see a group of young black teenagers with hoodies up just hanging out or clutch your bag tighter when you walk past what you deem to be a suspect person of colour. How do I know this? We do it too when we see what we deem to be a scary white person. We’ve all been conditioned by our media, our experiences and our perceptions.
Let’s stand together because you ARE great, you are fun, you add to our lives, you love with abandon, you are fearless, you make us laugh with your comedians, movies & sometimes bad dad dancing. Because we need to appreciate each other’s genius, each other’s uniqueness not as a source of fear but a source of joy! Let’s set the world on fire for all the right reasons.
As my birthday approaches on the 11th, I’m reminded how blessed I am. I’m burdened to be the change, not just write about it. I’m reminded of the many times I may not have made it this far through some of my life experiences – but thankful that I’m still alive. Some of our fellow brothers and sisters – Black, White, Middle Eastern & Asian – were not so lucky.
Your turn on the soapbox in 3, 2, 1.
Also featured on the Huffington Post UK.