LOOKING AWAY DOESN’T MAKE IT GO AWAY
We founded DADDY because we wanted to talk about diversity with a humorous twist. It’s a nice idea and on most days it works well, but on some days it simply isn’t possible.
Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man was fatally shot by the police on 16th September. He was 40 years old, on the way home from attending an evening class at the local community college. After his car broke down, the police stopped by to check on the situation — before ending up shooting him, despite the fact that his hands were up in the air the whole time. In the video filmed from the police helicopter one of the pilots says that Crutcher, while fully complying with police orders “looks like a bad dude”. Shortly after that, he’s tasered, then shot dead. Just like that.
When I read the news and saw the footage I was, of course, shocked. Anyone with a functioning heart would be. I wondered how long his killing would be considered news. I wondered if the cops would have to face any consequences. Somewhere along the way, I thought about my privilege of being mixed-race. Sure, it’s a weird, difficult, limited sort of privilege. I’ve lived in relatively progressive cities and the racism I face is that of being tokenised, fetishised, experiencing microaggressions and casual racism, but with one key difference: a lot of people guilty of this behaviour aren’t malicious, armed racists, they’re just poorly educated.
I lead such a privileged life that my skin colour has worked in my favour more often than it hasn’t. After all, I chose a creative career where it has become incredibly fashionable to showcase diversity. And being mixed-race is certainly seen as the more accessible, non-threatening way of being black. However, when you grew up in the early 80s, in a predominantly white society like I did, there were no nuances. I was black, foreign, other and a lot of people took great pleasure in making sure I felt that way, too. The only black kid at school… at every single school. Being mixed-race wasn’t considered the must-have skin tone for babies back then. It wasn’t considered beautiful — quite the opposite.
But I was lucky enough never to have experienced the things my brother or his friends did, who got bullied and beaten up for looking the way they did. Their nuances of darkness didn’t make a difference. They got into trouble with the police for nothing more than their appearance, they were refused entry to bars and clubs I had no trouble getting into, and some of them, usually those who didn’t opt for a creative career, had trouble finding work for looking the way they did. For some, the combination of their photo (necessary on a European CV) and African names on their CVs just didn’t do the trick, regardless of their qualifications. Still, none of us had to worry about being killed by a police officer on top of everything else. We had it quite good actually.
Another innocent black man just got shot, died in the streets and I make it all about myself. I can’t help it. I do what I always do when one of these brutal killings happen: I think about my brother, my family in the US, and that it could have been one of them. I check on them to see if they’re fine, I listen to music, I read and I retreat. I usually don’t talk much about it because it makes a lot of people feel uncomfortable. They don’t know how to deal with it and neither do I. When you repeatedly experience racism it becomes part of your identity at some point, just like being part of a really shitty private members’ club that you never wanted to be in and cannot exit alive. And it’s easier to talk about your experiences with other members who don’t, in the worst case, end up accusing you of “playing the race card” when you decide to break the silence.
More often than not, watching the news is incredibly depressing. Watching the horrors of the world is depressing — and in 2014, when the news was all about Ebola, Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine, and stabbings of teenagers, I had to take a break from it all because I ended up feeling paralysed, anxious and became incredibly depressed. Sometimes you have to take a break, it’s normal, healthy even. But the fact that we live in a world where the breakup of Brangelina has so much more news value than the killing of Terence Crutcher who did nothing more than driving home from evening school, is beyond depressing. We live in a fucked up world and if history has proved one thing then it is that looking away never made anything better.
So what to do? Breaking the silence and just talking about it could be the first step. Even if it’s uncomfortable, even if chatting about race politics round the coffee machine feels too emotional for the workplace, even if the subject makes you intensely self-conscious about your skin colour (no matter what that is). We have to make this part of daily conversation and, as Marlon James put it, “we need to stop being non, and start being anti [racist]”.
Update: Within just a few hours of publishing this article, Keith Lamont Scott, another unarmed black man got shot by the police. The fact that the officer who killed him was black doesn’t change the fact that something’s seriously wrong with policing in the US.