The mothers of four African American unarmed children and men killed by police officers or those aspiring to be one came together to talk with Anderson Cooper on CNN. It’s the first time the women have been in the same room though all of them are suffering from a similar loss, that of a child, a son.
Their son’s deaths have galvanized a nation and reignited a conversation on race, civil rights and human rights. But, there is one part of the interview that is troubling for me. These grieving mothers argue that if their sons were white that the outcome would have been different. I understand the argument, that racial prejudice informed the actions of the officers and neighborhood watch member; but for me, it seems to blame the deceased for the actions of the police officers and neighborhood patrolman. It suggests, at least to me, that whiteness could have saved them.
I don’t think so. I think the officers and patrolman who chose to shoot to kill, if they were motivated by conscious or unconscious racism, prejudice and/or stereotypes, need to be held accountable for their actions. And suggesting that the outcome would have been different had their son’s appearance been different misses the point. It suggests that the behavior of the police officer is predicated upon how a person looks to them; it is dependent upon the social construct and identity of race, which we already know is biased, hierarchical, inherently flawed and self- serving.
If their sons did not look human, did not look like American citizens, did not look like members of a community, did not look like someone’s child, son, father or husband, then this is what we should be discussing. It is not that African Americans or those who socially identify as black look like criminals; it is that persons in authority believe that they are criminals because of the long and distorted history of racial identity formation in the United States, because of the historically hypocritical nature of the law when applied to African Americans and European Americans, because it supports and legitimizes the a belief in “the Negro problem,” because the laws in America from the beginning have been twisted and contorted to conform to racial ideology, making whiteness power, truth and right.
But, whiteness is not the solution, especially since their sons could not have been white and should not have to be in order to be innocent until proven guilty. Whiteness is not the cure since this socially constructed identity has done more harm than good with its claims of supremacy and the right to rule the earth and dominate others. Whiteness will not save us and to raise it up as a messiah is absurd. Whiteness is the problem too.
Those young men would be alive today if we did not believe in race, if we did not support its prejudices through the passage of laws and practices that enforce these laws, if we did not subscribe to stereotypes no matter how much we believe that they are true, if America had not been founded upon the dehumanization of African Americans and the deification of European Americans, if we did not believe in the sin and salvation of skin.
No, whiteness could not have saved them just as our skin cannot save us from the judgment of God. Race is not involved in the process of sanctification or salvation; it does not set us apart and it does not set us free. That’s two different salvations; race is another god, an idol and I simply will not bow to it. Only Christ can save us.