The Spirit of the United States of America

Another black man was killed by police yesterday, unjustly, pointlessly, and without reason. Philando Castile had informed officers he had a firearm, a concealed carry permit for said firearm, and that he was reaching for his identification, which police had ordered him to do, when an officer opened fire on him while he was in the driver’s seat next to his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, with her four year old in the backseat. I’m not going to talk about systematic institutionalized racism in America because, as a white man, it’s not an experience I live and thus not one I should speak on. Suffice to say it’s a serious issue which needs to be addressed in every corner of this nation.

What I’m going to talk about today is the spirit of this country. I remember being taught as a child that America represents equality, democracy, freedom, justice, and many other noble traits. I remember the moment I became disillusioned, when I realized that historically entrenched systemic sociocultural discrimination made those things impossible. If you asked me today what I think America stands for, I would struggle to answer. That answer would be inherently tied in with race because of how drastically experiences differ. Because of this, as a white person my answer would automatically be biased.

This country has changed dramatically in many ways. How we deal with our own diversity, however, still has a long way to go. There are a small percentage of white Americans who refuse to see the reality of the situation we’re in today. Whether due to ignorance or overt racism, they deny the lived experiences of black Americans. It is the height of arrogance to assume that you know the experience of another better than they do, especially when your experience differs dramatically.

I’ve learned to be careful around law enforcement over the years, not out of a particular distrust or fear, but simply out of caution. Autistic people are statistically more likely to be killed by police than non-autistic people. Still, that concern is nowhere near what I would feel if I was a black American. I have no idea what it’s like to be black, but I know after seeing these shootings happen seemingly every day that I would be in fear for my life in every interaction with police if that were the case.

This continues to happen because society allows it, because the public outcry is not powerful enough, because we abide it, because we do not make it known that this is not the America we want. And I truly want to believe that most of society does not want systematic racism to exist, does not want the murder of black Americans to occur, wants justice to be done, does not want inherent inequality to be a cornerstone of our democracy. But we abide it. Through our action and through our inaction. As a society we abide it by not actively making our discontent known. We abide it by refusing to signal-boost the experiences of black Americans, or by thinking we know better. Too many of us close our eyes to the issue at hand, hoping it will go away on its own.

But it hasn’t. It only gets worse over time. When your foundation is uneven, everything that you build on top of it just makes the imbalance that much more obvious, and the structure’s solidity that much more tenuous. We, as a nation, must address the systemic racism and inequality which has been allowed to fester and grow. It is poisoning our nation and has been for some time. In the coming years this nation will have new leaders, new representatives, a new guard. Will they learn from the mistakes of the past? That depends on whether we, as a society, force the issue.

(A previous version of this post incorrectly identified the daughter of Diamond Reynolds as also being the daughter of Philando Castile.)

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