Our columnist, who has a Black son and a White daughter, can’t shake the image of Dajerria Becton being attacked by a cop. And as a White mother, she is eager to do something about it.
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Imagine your child. Imagine your child pinned to the ground by a police officer, his knees on her naked back, pushing her down, as he yells obscenities at your child and her friends. Imagine she’s crying to her friends, “Call my mama! Call my mama!”
The video taken last Friday in McKinney, Texas, of an out-of-control White police officer chasing after a bunch of Black teenagers, hollering that they leave an end-of-school-year pool party, culminated in that very scene: a uniformed adult male knee pressing into the bare back of a 15-year-old girl in a bright bikini.
“He grabbed me, twisted my arm on my back and shoved me in the grass and started pulling the back of my braids,” Dajerria Becton told local media. “I was telling him to get off me because my back was hurting bad.”
As Yoni Appelbaum pointed out Monday in The Atlantic, swimming pools have long acted as sites of racist restriction and resistance to integration. Appelbaum quotes historian Jeff Wiltse, whose 2007 book Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America, on the long and dismal history of White flight from public pools—often desegregated after legal challenges, then abandoned and neglected as Whites built their own private “neighborhood” and “community” pools. White fears of Black swimmers—of Black children and Black people having fun—kept pools segregated until late in the 1960s in many parts of the country (not just the South).
Although McKinney, a suburb of Dallas, has been described in some media reports as a racially diverse town, the specifics are a bit more complex. According to Kriston Capps in The Atlantic’s CityLab blog, McKinney has a split between its racially mixed, economically depressed east side and its wealthier, overwhelmingly White west wide. Exclusionary zoning meant to protect the privileged side of town by preventing the building of affordable housing is at the heart of a case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. In other words, the White woman who allegedly told Black teens at the McKinney pool to “go back to your Section 8 housing” was expressing not only her individual bigotry but a quasi-official rule: Stay where you belong.
But how we do decide who belongs where? And why was the immediate response from so many Whites in McKinney and nationally, after the story broke and the video came out, to assume that the Black teenagers were there illegally? (Go to the right-wing media or just your racist uncle’s Facebook page if you want to see the word “trespassing” misused about this case.) According to the teen who hosted the party, she had invited the other kids as her guests: She lives there, and most of them do too.
This is all textbook othering: The White adults in the situation declare the Black teenagers don’t belong there; the White cops treat them not as kids who may have invited too many people to a party (gee, White kids never do that!) but as interlopers to be shooed away like so many animals; White commenters online reach for the ugly stereotypes always at the ready, referring to Becton’s protective friends as threatening “large males” about to “charge” officer Eric Casebolt. Casebolt, who resigned from the police force yesterday and remains under investigation, has faced legal trouble in the past for another racially charged incident. So far, he has remained silent about his actions. But the conservative media seems happy to act as his proxy, from Fox News’s Megyn Kelly declaring that Becton “was no saint” to the CNN police analyst who was defending Casebolt’s waving his gun around.
Back when Trayvon Martin was killed by wannabe cop George Zimmerman, President Obama faced harsh criticism in some circles for remarking, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” (Perhaps that’s one reason he’s been so AWOL on subsequent outrages against Black lives, much to many people’s disappointment.) But it’s worth revisiting that statement, because while I think it’s necessary—and radical, in its way—it doesn’t strike me as nearly enough.
The roll call of Black youth killed, whether by police or vigilantes, has grown more public with the advent of social media, and the powerful organizing of that outrage has yielded a great growth in awareness and solidarity around the idea that yes, Black lives matter. And yet, there is still White resistance—both the predictable “police lives matter” folks and then somehow more infuriating neoliberal puffery of “all lives matter”—and it’s on us, White people, to fix it.
As I’ve written about here and elsewhere, I’m a White mother of two children, one Black and one White. When I see Dajerria Becton hurt and humiliated by Eric Casebolt, I can’t immediately see my daughter, who is White—her race will likely always protect her from abuse at the hands of the police—but that doesn’t matter. I’m a mother, and all I need to see is that Becton is another mother’s daughter, as beloved and adored as mine is by me. In the case of McKinney, I propose a radical empathy among mothers of all races: That girl could be the daughter of any of us. For those of us who are White mothers, let’s resolve to talk to other White people, calling out racism where we see it, even or especially the mild, semi-unconscious racism of the well-intentioned.
As White people, no matter how many Black friends and family members we have, we will still never know what it feels like to be Black in America. None of us can change our identity or lived experience. But we can resolve to educate ourselves about racism, rather than endlessly ask our Black friends to educate us—as poet Kate Rushin’s “Bridge Poem” says:
I’ve had enough
I’m sick of seeing and touching
Both sides of things
Sick of being the damn bridge for everybody
While the White among us are at it, let’s leverage the great unearned and totally unfair White privilege we have. The McKinney video was shot by Brandon Brooks, a White 15-year-old boy who told reporters, “Everyone who was getting put on the ground was Black, Mexican, Arabic,” he said. “[The cop] didn’t even look at me. It was kind of like I was invisible.” Brooks used his cloak of invisibility to expose state-sanctioned racist violence. Marrying into a Black family and having a Black son has shown me that racism is a trickier enemy than I ever suspected: an ever-present shape-shifter that you can’t always fight head-on, and that we’ll never make any progress against it if we don’t pull together, Black and White and everyone.
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