Philando Castile. I think of all the things I’ve seen in my lifetime and that one is definitely the most memorable. This man’s safety was punctured, and then fatally injured in one action. Two lives left behind. Three wounds. Four bullets.
I can think of three ways that I’ve manicured my own safety nets, to protect me from being seen as harmful. Was Philando harmless? I believe so. It is illogical and impractical for a man with his seatbelt strapped onto him from left to right to be able to quickly reach for a weapon that is secured on any side of his hip and then successfully pose a threat. Philando was seen as harmful before he even began to speak. His value was shrunk to the sum total of his skin color and perceived class.
I have spent a lifetime hiding behind the safety nets that elevate the perception of my class…ultimately, my value in this society. Finding myself on the left side of mistrust and alienation hasn’t always worked out for me. I’ve tried then, to place myself on the right side by allowing assumptions of myself to be made based on external evidence. The focus of my lifelong struggles have been chosen based on knowing that there were certain things that I’d never really have to worry about. Three things. There are more, but these are the three that have been resolved and disattached from my worth.
One – my hair. For a period in 2015, my hair was dyed golden. Because of this, my curls were more visible, but also, the dye had thinned my hair slightly, making the curls even more apparent. During that period, I got a lot of attention because of my hair and it caused me to see my own internal biases, the ones I’ve never considered because I never had to. I’d observed them though..throughout my life, I’ve observed that people are generally less afraid of persons with softer or curlier hair. I was glad for this safety net – to not be seen as crude, unintelligent and less worthy because of my hair texture.
Two – my skin color. I’m brown, but I’m not dark brown or black or ‘midnite blue’ or ‘tar’ as some are jeeringly described. I’ve seen that people of darker skin tones are regarded as unclean, or dirty. People just seem to assume the worst of you, the darker your skin tone. And well, the lighter your skin tone (and the less melanin), the greater the likelihood that you’d be seen as trustworthy.
Three – my education. All my life, I’ve taken notes of people’s reactions to my education – both the quality and level. We laud educational success but don’t make sure not to attach our personal worth and value to it. I’ve seen conversations change when I mention the schools I’ve gone to.
I’ve utilised my privilege. I’ve hidden inside my safety nets. For fear’s sake. Seeing these things makes me aware of how I can reclaim a sense of ownership over my own value, by asserting myself in spite of the things about me that people fear – the things I have no safety net for. I don’t need to discover all the value inherent in me in order to hold myself accountable and thankful to God for it. Discovery is a lifelong process but your value – you’re born with it. Philando was born with his value and unfortunately, has died because this value was not seen. Honor him by honoring yourself, in the face of all that fears you.