Why It’s Helpful for White People to Feel Bad About the Death of Justine Damond

MLKEssay

I don’t feel the same way as the white people on the left who say they aren’t sad or angry about the death of Justine Damond.  I keep forgetting her name (to be perfectly honest) but this fact is as little credit to my humanity as it is to my memory.

August 9th will mark the third anniversary of the murder of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri.  Constant rage and hurt have kept Michael Brown’s name alive in my memory, as well as the date, the place and the name of his murderer.  But again, this is not a significant indicator of my ability to remember or my capacity for feelings of deep love and hate (which, as Huey P. Newton once said, are on the same pole, and, together, are the opposite of indifference).  After all, Black people– Michael Brown’s community, or the colonized African community in the United States– have continued to speak his name.  If anything, my own expressions of rage and hurt are but faint echoes of a far more profound experience of authentic humanity in the collective heart and mind of the Black community.

Therefore, it’s no sign of political consciousness or righteous anger when white people are indifferent to the suffering of any person, particularly at the hands of the capitalist state, whether that person is Michael Brown in Ferguson or Justine Damond in Minneapolis, and whether the victim is an Black/African person or a European colonizer from Australia.

White people being indifferent to human suffering is nothing new.  That is the basis of capitalist power.  This disregard for humanity is “how the West was won.”  Of course, in the processing of gaining power and conquering the West (and the world), whites have had even less regard for the lives of Indigenous peoples and Africans and the majority of people outside Europe.  But callousness about the death of another white woman isn’t going to lead us out of this inhumane system called capitalism, any more than the “American Revolution,” the Civil War, two World Wars and countless other examples of white-on-white crime were successful at overthrowing this system and restoring our humanity.  White people not loving other whites is as old as the first time we clubbed our neighbor over the head in his cave and stole his wife and his piece of half-cooked meat.

White people who say they don’t care about the death of Justine Damond are engaging in behavior that sounds a lot like the phrase “showing out.”  Big deal.  It’s playing to a Black audience in much the same way as our signs proclaiming “Black Lives Matter.”  It’s another instance of what’s called “performative allyship,” not to mention the “white gaze”– except in reverse.  That is, we hope Black people are gazing at us, taking note of our “wokeness.”  “Look at me– I don’t care about the police killing an Australian woman!”  Wow, you sound lovely.

White indifference to the death of Justine Damond is also a cynical use of class divisions within the settler colony of the United States.  It seems to argue: if those white people over there— disgusting Trump supporters?– are all outraged about the death of a white woman, and are attacking the Somali cop who killed Justine Damond, then these white people over here— socialists, leftists, or whatever– must need to be against anything they are for.  Granted, it’s likely that many white leftists are currently engaged in a great deal of “All Lives Matter”-ing when it comes to Justine Damond’s death, even if the white right abandoned their “Blue Lives Matter”-ing as soon as they saw, next to all that blue uniform, Mohamed Noor’s melanin (and name).

Nevertheless, this use of class divisions– within the white settler class, or the oppressor nation on this occupied continent– is one of the reasons why the “majority” has never been able to organize an effective revolutionary struggle against the capitalist system whose violence primarily targets Africans, Indigenous peoples, Latinxs (so-called people of color) but also harms Europeans (whites) from time to time.  An entire global system built on violent oppression is bound to get some of its violence on whites.  That’s just the nature of the beast.  And until we recognize that capitalism is inherently dangerous to all of humanity– and nature, of which we are a part– then we won’t move against the actual basis of police violence, and racism, and misogyny, and economic exploitation, which is capitalism itself.  Instead, we’ll be focused on how awful Trump is, or how Senator Kamala Harris shouldn’t be the next boss of this system because of her ties to … whatever.  As if that’s the point– the point is to bring this monster down, not to put our favorite person in charge of the system as we “Feel the Bern.”  If you’re a white person who thinks “a good U.S. President” really matters in the struggle to dismantle global forces of oppression, maybe your progressive politics aren’t so hot after all.

At the same time, it’s inhumane and, well, monstrous to expect Black people to feel bad about Justine Damond’s death, or to have feelings of love and concern about white people in general.  We’re so busy telling them to forgive little white murderers who go into churches and slaughter Black people, we may have overlooked the whole history of slavery, genocide, colonization, mass incarceration and every other form of white supremacist violence we’ve committed against Black people.  Why should they care when one of us dies or is killed?  Telling the oppressed to love their oppressor is like saying they should sleep with a sharp knife next to their face.

And, in fact, Black people feeling bad about the troubles of white people is not a great difficulty for them, or for most so-called people of color.  Their humanity isn’t the issue.  People of color didn’t create capitalism and proceed to terrorize the world.  They didn’t commit genocide against the Indigenous peoples of the Americas and Australia.  People of color weren’t leading the charge in the “Scramble for Africa” at the Berlin Conference in 1884-85.  People of color didn’t tell anyone to hate themselves based on the color of their skin.  So, while we’re telling Black people and people of color to forgive us for our crimes against humanity, and we’re telling them to hate themselves and love us, white people may have also overlooked that we’re the ones who have the whole “empathy” problem, who lack love, who lack culture, and humanity, and civilization, the works.

So it’s not that we should expect Black people to shed tears for Justine Damond.  But being a cold-as-ice low-life about her death won’t help matters either.  Maybe it would be nice if whites started to feel compassion, even for other whites– and not based merely on the fact that they aren’t Black.  That of course isn’t love– that’s just more hate.  Or it’s not even hate.  It’s emptiness: nothing.  It’s the sort of thing that causes whites to send those “troops” we support so much to a distant country in order to kill brown people, and then when the “troops” are killed, we pay them a tribute at a Mets game between bites of cheesy nachos, and then go back to the game– not the baseball game, but the game of hating and murdering brown people.  Whites seem to be incapable of forming any sort of community or identity that isn’t based on hating (and harming) someone else while trying to make a profit off our own feeling of superiority that we now call– “patriotism”?  It’s no wonder we think “Blue Uniforms Matter”– or camo uniforms– instead of loving actual lives.  We have nothing else.

The behavior of white people is despicable– that’s obvious.  But if we don’t begin to form some sort of community that isn’t based on the destruction of all other (or Other-ed) communities, we will truly be doomed.  Which may not be a bad thing for humanity, but it could be bad for us– that whole “no longer existing” thing, it could be a problem.  Instead, we’re dead set on promoting the “American” identity, which is a fake community based on the destruction of Indigenous and African lives, and people of color, in this settler colony of the United States.  And then our progressive struggles as “Americans” (on the right or the left) turn into a race to see who can get the largest share of the loot– so we can then invest it in infrastructure, either in new bridges and schools or in a new wall dividing one part of occupied Mexico from the other.  It’s all stolen.  You might be able to build a lousy wall, but you can’t build an authentic, humane identity or community on the foundation of stolen property, stolen lives, and unpaid reparations– in other words, on the national identity of the United States (or Australia, or Canada, or Israel, or South Africa).

Anyone who doesn’t fight for themselves and for their own interests cannot be trusted.  Solidarity doesn’t mean self-negation.  But the question isn’t “Are we going to start loving white people?”  Because whiteness itself is the problem– whiteness is inseparable from white supremacy, capitalism, “America,” and the ongoing attack by white people against Africa and the world.  The question is: “Are we going to find a positive identity that can become the basis for positive action?”

It would be better if white people, out of our love for Justine Damond, burned down the police station and marched on Washington, even if we continued to show how much we hate Black people.  Because nothing shows our anti-Blackness more than our willingness to allow capitalism and the United States to exist.  If we moved against the system, at least we would begin to dislodge its oppressive elements, and expose its contradictions, and exploit meaningful class divisions (rather than Republicans versus Democrats, or Trump versus Bernie), so that Africans and all colonized communities– strengthened by their own unity– could move against this system too, against our common exploiter, which is the capitalist ruling class.

Fred Hampton didn’t tell poor whites in Chicago that they shouldn’t care about themselves and neglect their own struggle for empowerment.  Fred Hampton recognized that these coalitions that the Black Panther Party was building– even with racist whites, as all whites are– could bring down the power structure more effectively than whites simply trying to show we care more about Black people than ourselves, as we rush to get close to them and their humanity in order to make up for our lack thereof.

So, whether it’s out of authentic feelings of deep love and hurt, or it’s a strategy for bringing down the capitalist system, it seems to me it’s a good thing for progressive white people to care about the death of Justine Damond.  After all, if we were Justine Damond, we would care about our own life … or would we?  Because whites seem to care more about preserving a system that is destructive to life– capitalism– than about loving and defending the people who are harmed by this system, even ourselves.

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Why It’s Helpful for White People to Feel Bad About the Death of Justine Damond

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