Philando Castile’s murder is the racist claim that “black culture is a victim cult” in action

Philando Castile’s murder is the racist claim that “black culture is a victim cult” in action July 7, 2016

The above video is of the aftermath of Philando Castile’s murder by a police officer who shot him when he was putting his hands up after the police officer told him to stop reaching for his license and registration, right after asking for it and being informed by Castile (as he was supposed to do) that he had a gun.

What is frightening here is that we are only taking this case seriously because Philando Castile’s girlfriend. Diamond “Lavish” Reynolds shot video of a cop who was more interested in arguing with her that his shooting was justified then rushing the shot man to the hospital and seeing if he was OK. He was still aiming his gun at Philando Castile’s dying body in the video, as if trying to defend his action. Like so much of white society, his concern was not to help, but to insist his actions were justified, to insist that he was not racist. And what he failed to realize — and what a lot of white society fails to realize — is that nobody cared, at that moment, how goddamn guilty he felt. We didn’t need him to rub his hands anxiously about his white guilt. We needed him to fix the problem.

And he displaced his guilt onto the girlfriend, as if he had to displace it and blame everything on her. SHE was arrested. HE pulled the gun and held it there, pointed in the car after the shot. And instead of rushing the man to the hospital, his white guilt made him point the gun at HER. The problem was her complaining and protesting. The problem is that she was playing a victim and making him feel bad — not that he had just discriminated against a black man, shooting him in cold blood and needed to rush him to a hospital ASAP.  And because SHE was the problem, SHE was the one who was taken to jail, without food and water, separated from her kid, with no news of her boyfriend’s fate until 3am the next morning. And this mentality is what leads to the myth that black culture is the problem, because they’re a “victim cult” that is complaining about nothing — an attitude that also is behind the fact that, upon making it to the hospital, the medical staff would have likely thought that he was experiencing less pain than a white person, according to several studies, including this recent one.

This is especially disturbing as I’ve seen how stubbornly this racism is defended. The most major argument I’ve been engaged in has been with The Amazing Atheist (TJ Kirk) and his cronies, who say that black people need to just suck up the fact that racism exists in this country, that they should stop complaining if they want to stop being part of a “victim cult,” that they are allowed to talk about poverty, but not about race, when it comes to unequal treatment.  As if their complaints about being abused are their own damn fault.

And that’s what Philando Castile’s girlfriend, Lavish Reynolds said as she spoke to the press. It’s the exact same deeply destructive and ignorantly racist attack line I’ve been hearing nonstop:

“They took me to jail,” Reynolds said Thursday. “They didn’t feed us. They didn’t give us water. They took everything from me. They put me in a room and separated me from my child. … They treated me like a prisoner. They treated me like I did this to me, and I didn’t, they did this to us.”

It was their fault. Like the everyday experience of white individuals complaining that the real problem is not racist against blacks, but their precious hurt feelings over black people CLAIMING there is racism against them, the comfort did not go to the dying man. It did not go to Lavish Reynolds, who was arrested and put in a cell without food or water or her child just for speaking up and telling the truth. It went to the white police officer:

According to Castile’s uncle, Castile died of his wounds around 9:30 p.m. at the hospital where he was taken after the shooting. According to Reynolds, “nobody checked his pulse” in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.

Instead, Reynolds said, she was placed in the back of a police car as other officers “soothed” the officer who fired on Castile. “They pulled him over to the side and they began to calm him down and tell him that it was OK and he would get through this,” Reynolds said.

This is the exact attitude I have been fighting against the last few days. For this, I have faced a lot of pushback (in spite of some support). TJ and his fans have told me repeatedly that what is holding black people back is not the destructive racism they experience (which they deny, in spite of events like the above, is really destructive), but their own sensitivity to racism.  That they should stop talking about the very real effects racism has on their lives, and start talking about poverty — something more universal that reassures and “soothes” people without forcing them to think about the cruelty racism does in black individuals’ lives — especially as black culture is some kind of “victim cult.”

I have been arguing, in various ways, against this view. The problem is not that black culture is a “victim cult.” The problem is that society stereotypes black culture as a “victim cult” and thus does not take its concerns seriously. The problem will only be solved when black culture is more insistent, not less.  When we actually take the concerns of black culture seriously, instead of dismissing them. As Obama put it:

When people say “black lives matter,” it doesn’t mean “blue lives” don’t matter, it just means all lives matter. But right now, the big concern is the fact that data shows black folks are more vulnerable to these kinds of incidents.

This isn’t a matter of us comparing the value of lives – this is recognizing that there is a particular burden that is being placed on a group of our fellow citizens, and we should care about that. We can’t dismiss it. We can’t dismiss it.

I actually, genuinely, truly believe that the vast majority of American people see this as a problem we should all care about. And I would just ask those who question the sincerity or the legitimacy of protests and vigils and expressions of outrage who somehow label those expressions of outrage as quote-unquote ‘political correctness,’ I just ask folks to step back and think, what would happen if this happened to someone in your family? How would you feel?

To be concerned about these issues is not political correctness – it’s just being an American, and wanting to live up to our best and highest ideals, and to recognize that we have some tough history and we haven’t gotten though all of that history yet. And we don’t expect that in my lifetime maybe not in my children’s lifetimes that all the vestiges of that past will have been cured, will have been solved.

But we can do better. People of goodwill can do better. And doing better involves not just addressing potential bias in the criminal justice system, it’s recognizing that too often we’re asking police to man the barricades in communities that have been forgotten by all of us for way too long. In terms of substandard schools, inadequate jobs and a lack of opportunity.

We’ve gotta tackle those things. We can do better. And I believe we will do better.

Maybe, just maybe, dismissing black culture as a “victim cult” is deeply harmful, dangerous, and is thinking that should be thoroughly shunned. Maybe just focusing on crime rates without looking at the causes Obama and millions of others and dozens of studies uncover is not solving the problem.

Maybe this incident is about empathizing with another person as they’re bleeding, dying in a car because he dared to carry a gun (reminding me of part of the reason I, as a black person, don’t dare carry a gun) and follow the officer’s instructions. White people can carry guns. Black people…apparently, the second amendment, for them, is a gray area. And I guess we aren’t supposed to whine about that, right? Just don’t carry a gun. Are we allowed to cry when we got shot for the cardinal sin of having a license to carry a gun and carrying said gun while driving?

And here’s the thing — when I ask people, “Would Philando Castile be alive today if he were white?” there’s a bit of hesitation. Why?

Because we know that racism is involved. In spite of labeling black culture a “victim cult,” people know. They know that when Philando Castile says that her son got shot because “He was just black in the wrong place” she’s right. They just would like to teach black people that they don’t have a right to defend themselves against the brutality of discrimination they face day in, day out. They just want us to “suck it up.”

That’s wrong. As Malcolm X put it, “It is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the victim of brutal attacks.”

This is personal. Philando Castile’s story hits home for me. Like me, he was 32 years old (just a month older than me), doesn’t have a long rap sheet, and has a “respectable” job. Like me, he is respectful at police stops. Like me, he tries to follow all the “advice.” I am personally afraid of getting shot now, when I see these headlines and look in the mirror at the color of my skin. And that pisses me off, because regardless of what white society says, I know it’s not supposed to be that way. Standing up and fighting back is not being a member of a victim cult. It is refusing to be part of one.

And if that video hadn’t been taken, this would just be another black man shot. The complaining girlfriend would have just been a member of a “victim cult,” and her arrest at the scene would have been seen as justified. People would have said that Philando Castile was just something black people should accept. Nothing to see here.

When you realize that this happens, even if you do everything right, it does something to you. It does something to me. Why try so hard to respect the police and do everything “right,” if you’re just going to get shot anyway? It makes you wonder if all the excuses they use to mistreat black people who “acted up” in other cases were just that — excuses. It makes you wonder if you are sitting dead in the water no matter what you do.

If the Lavish Reynolds would have come to an atheist meetup influenced by the likes of TJ Kirk’s “victim cult” characterizations of black culture, people wouldn’t really take her claims seriously, if there had been no video. And yet black people who go through this day in, day out, realize that this story makes sense and would feel her pain instead of dismiss it. That’s why the likes of such characterizations should not be embraced by us.

This incident is further proof that white society needs to listen, not dismiss, the concerns of black individuals in this country. And those who say otherwise don’t know what they’re talking about, are making the problem worse, and should not be listened to.

What we need to do is actually engage in the listening that will heal the divide and actually start fixing the problem.

And with that, I’m going to pack up and hold my breath as I drive to work.

Wish me luck.

Thanks for reading.

P.S. I have a Patreon, if you want to help me keep doing what I do.

[Image via Mojave Desert under CCL 2.0]

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