“Hint: If you are ONLY interested in an action step, it’s at the end.
This story materialized a week before the murder of George Floyd. Maybe you’ve seen the video or read the story. Travis Miller and his work partner, Kevin, didn’t die. They are the two black furniture delivery workers who were driving out of a gated community after making a delivery. They were in a delivery truck marked with the company name. They were wearing company uniforms. Did I mention that they were LEAVING the gated community? As they were about to exit the gate, a car pulled up to prevent their exit. The white driver of the car later identified himself as David Stewart. He got out of his car and began asking questions, which Travis did not feel compelled to answer. “What are you doing here? Why are you in here? Where are you coming from? All you have to do is just tell me where you’re going.”
In short time, another white man arrived to reinforce the interrogation. The second white man walked up to the truck and initiated this exchange:
Second White Man: Hey man, what’s going on?
Travis Miller: I’m trying to leave.
TM: What do you mean?
SM: What were you in here for?
TM: None of your business
SM: Yeah it is. Of course it is. I live in here.
TM: Did I deliver to your house?
SM: You didn’t deliver anything… that I know of.
TM: ’cause it’s none of your business, that’s why.
SM: I’m just asking why you’re in here.
TM: You’re asking questions. You don’t need to ask questions. All you need to do is have your buddy move his car so I can leave and go about my business.
SM: So did you make a wrong turn into the neighborhood?
TM: How do I make a wrong turn into a gated neighborhood? I have to have a gate code in order to get in, right? That’s common sense, right? So if I’m in here, I had a gate code, right?
SM: How did you get a gate code?
TM: That’s none of your business, yet again.
SM: It sure as hell is!
TM: It sure as hell isn’t.
SM: You’re in the wrong, dude.
TM: I’m not in the wrong. I don’t know who… What’s your name?
David Stewart: This is our street. This is a private street.
TM: Uh huh. Just so you know, more than you two guys live on this street. And you’re not the only ones with gate codes.
SM: You’re in the wrong, dude.
TM: I’m in the wrong? Show me your badge, then.
And, of course these men in white skin believed they have already shown that badge. After about an hour, the man who received the delivery arrived. And wearing that same white skin badge, he had Travis and Kevin released.
Travis and Kevin were unnecessarily inconvenienced for an hour. They didn’t die, like Ahmaud Arbery. I am relieved that no one has invaded my social digital space with justification for the February killing of Arbery—the killing that most of us didn’t hear about until May. Regardless of political ideology, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity , those who have spoken within my hearing have spoken of disgust, sadness, and anger. And sympathy.
I have seen and heard the other responses out there. And I have given reaction. One white man prefaced his remarks with “Having served with Blacks, having Black friends, and living years rehabbing a house in an all-Black neighborhood,” before telling other commenters which Black YouTubers they should be watching to get a “balanced perspective” of the hunting and killing of a Black man out jogging. But no one in my actual circle has dared to say anything close to those sentiments.
Still my relief comes with not a small dose of surprise because this unanimity of perspective is far from what I’ve experienced in other incidents like this. Of note, this incident reminds me eerily of the killing of Trayvon Martin back in 2014. At that time all of my usual suspect friends felt a similar disgust, sadness, and anger when the story broke and again when the killer was acquitted. In addition, a number of usually quiet friends joined the usual suspects. But a disturbingly loud other contingent opted to give the benefit of doubt to the living adult killer rather than the dead teenaged victim. These were bright, kind people whom I respect.
While they might sympathize with Trayvon Martin’s family, they empathized with George Zimmerman. With the initial information we all had, they seemed to ask, “What would I do if I were George?” or “What must have been his circumstances that he would take a life?” At least with the killing of Ahmaud, we have seen some video. Eventually. And we can make out what happened in the blank spaces. We could do the same with the earlier case. But there is no video, and of the two people who know what happened, only the instigator is alive. Only the instigator ignored police instruction. All we know afterwards is a Black boy who had committed no crime was killed by a man on a mission. And each of us can interpret that blank time as if we were looking at a Rorschach ink blot. We fill in with our assumptions.
But not this time. This time the killers reveal themselves as clichés. We can caricature them and call them Big Man and Bubba. With a shotgun and a pickup truck. Hunting down prey who allegedly “matched the description.” No-one in my actual circle of friends, including virtual “friends” has tried to justify their actions or sympathize with their plight. In fact, many of my white friends are baffled that this could happen in the 21st century.
I am not baffled. I am not surprised. And it’s not just Big Man and Bubba. It’s also not just rural Georgia and suburban Florida. And it’s not just some guy whose claim to authority is that he had been in proximity of Black folks. It’s in the air, and it’s in our systems. It is the hunch of white superiority, and you don’t have to openly attest to it to somehow believe it. You don’t need a shotgun, a pickup truck, or a tiki torch to sense it. I am trying out the term “unconscious whiteness.” I don’t think I stole that from anyone. But people more learned than me help explain it.
Dr. Jennifer Eberhard, author of Biased and Dr. Jonathan Kahn, author of Race on the Brain don’t seem to agree about which is more important, implicit bias or systemic racism. Dr. Eberhard insists that all of us are subject to biases that we aren’t even conscious of, although she admits the additional existence of systemic racism. Dr. Kahn thinks that too much attention to unconscious bias obscures the reality of systemic racism. Which of them is right? The killing of Ahmaud Arbery shouts the answer: It’s both! And add explicit bias to the contenders.
Big Man and Bubba saw a black man running and either believed he was up to no good or decided they could make a good case that he was up to no good. They and their erstwhile videographer, William “Roddie” Bryan, who has now also been arrested for felony murder, are so deluded in their thinking that the they believed releasing the video would exonerate them. That’s some entitled thinking. And it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. They were confident. They knew the system. They knew the people. And the system backed them for more than two months. And we all know that their confidence may still be rewarded down the road.
But there is a particular mindset revealed in Georgia and in Florida. And Travis and Kevin were subject to it in Oklahoma. It is the implicit or explicit belief that the neighborhoods where white people live are theirs to police. It doesn’t even matter if other people also live there. Trayvon Martin’s Black daddy lived in the neighborhood where the boy was killed. To these white citizens, the right to defend does not end at their front porch or their property. In fact their rights don’t end with defense. They believe their whiteness deputizes them to follow a hunch and begin a hunt. And Georgia, Florida, and Oklahoma have encoded those extended rights with Stand Your Ground, Make My Day and “citizen’s arrest.” The laws might be written with limits; that doesn’t mean those limits will be enforced. The laws give license to any citizen to use lethal force in following a hunch. Did I say “any citizen”? We can pretend that these laws are meant to protect ANY citizen. But we know it’s not true. The incident that includes the murder of Breonna Taylor and the arrest Kenneth Walker is just one example of the inequities. But that incident deserves its own discussion at another time.
My suspicion and my fear today is that, although none of my white friends would go grab the shotgun to pursue Running Black Man or Walking Black Boy, many of them relate to the impulse. Many of them understand the fear and the “right” and “obligation” to defend themselves and their families from a possible threat. Many would “understand” why two black men driving a marked delivery truck out of a gated community look threatening and should be questioned. I don’t know how many of my white friends feel deputized by their whiteness. But I am not surprised by the actions in these cases.
In neither of the fatal cases was there a threat of violence until the killers instigated it. In fact, in neither of these incidents was there a witness to a crime—because in neither case was a crime committed by the victims. In both of these cases, the killers were the only ones armed. Neither victim was a threat in any way. They were simply perceived as such. Running. Walking. While Black.
So what can you do? I’ve walked around the answer to that question for years of talking about race. And I’ve hinted at one first step. For Dr. Taharee A. Jackson, it’s one step out of several. She’s right. But let’s start with at least this one. Jackson says one of the single greatest acts of racial justice that you, as a white person, could commit is to name your White identity and to claim your racialized experiences. She explains:
One of the most pernicious aspects of racism and white identity is that they are meant to be invisible. As a White person, your White identity and the structures that maintain White racial dominance are not meant to be discussed, uncovered, identified, or questioned.
This is why you are not even named as White in books. You are so often the main characters that we just assume you are unless otherwise indicated.
I hint at this in my TEDx Talk, “What I Am Learning from My White Grandchildren.” The point is: Whiteness has substance. And all of these perpetrators know it. And they use that substance as a badge of authority. But the substance of whiteness is not legitimately authoritative. It’s worth pondering why so many think it is.
Shooting of Unarmed Black Woman in Kentucky Raises A Lot of Questions https://www.npr.org/2020/05/13/855611039/shooting-of-unarmed-black-woman-in-kentucky-raises-a-lot-of-question
I’m White and I’m Outraged by Ahmaud Arbery’s Murder. Now What?
Race on the Brain: What Implicit Bias Gets Wrong About the Struggle for Racial Justice by Jonathan Kahn https://www.amazon.com/Race-Brain-Implicit-Struggle-Justice-ebook/dp/B072J831L8/ref=sr_1_1?crid=325Y3SUJ3OP0H&dchild=1&keywords=race+on+the+brain&qid=1590360035&sprefix=race+on+t%2Caps%2C175&sr=8-1
Biased: Uncovering Hidden Prejudice Shapes What We See, Think, and Do by Jennifer L. Eberhard, PhD https://www.amazon.com/Biased-Uncovering-Hidden-Prejudice-Shapes/dp/0735224935/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1590360098&sr=8-1
Viral Video Shows Black Delivery Driver Blocked by White Neighborhood Residents
Shooting of Ahmaud Arbery