It was the full video that did me in. I was upset before they released it. He was killed for nothing. Murdered. If that’s not enough, his girlfriend was in the car. So was her daughter. A four-year-old little girl. Four.
I watched the aftermath broadcast on Facebook Live. A man in a car with a woman and a child. An unlikely scenario for a murder. Or it should be. But it wasn’t. It isn’t.
I was mad before the full video, so I didn’t expect watching the dash cam footage to do me in like this.
I’m driving my car, unworried that I may get pulled over. My own four-year-old is attempting to meld her voice with Justin Timberlake’s, but I’m hearing the recorded exchange, not the recorded lyrics, over and over in my mind.
“Sir, I have to tell you I do have a firearm on me.”
“Don’t reach for it then.”
“I’m, I, was reaching for—”
“Don’t pull it out.”
“I’m not pulling it out.”
The four-year-old in the back of my car wants me to sing with her. But I don’t have the same feeling inside my bones.
Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!
Seven shots fired. Seven.
It’s too much. Even the memory of the shots feels excessive.
There’s so much I don’t know about the issues that brought us to this place. The place where Philando Castile’s recorded murder could be dismissed or explained. Or even happen. I am trying to learn how we got here.
I glance in the rearview mirror. My green eyes and light skin intrude on the reflection of my dark-skinned, brown-eyed daughter, Elliott. She’s one. She doesn’t share my complexion but she shares my name. We’re visual opposites bound together as family.
I am a novice in the world of systemic racism, racial injustice, and the kind of discrimination that compels majority culture to forget that minority culture is equally human. I read. I listen. I ask. But still, there’s a lot I don’t know.
I do know more than the little girl in my rearview mirror. All she knows is us, our family—a white daddy, a white mama, a white sister, and a world of people who love her and celebrate her black skin—lots of them are white too.
But she’ll learn fast. It won’t take long for her knowledge to surpass mine. Experience has a way of teaching that listening and watching can’t bring about.
Elliott looks lazily out the window. There’s a lot I don’t know, but I know this for sure: my white self can’t protect my daughter from the hard parts of her story as a black girl, woman, person. And I want to. And I’m sorry.
I’m sitting at my usual writing spot today. It’s in an affluent part of town, a food-purveyor-meets-fancy-coffee-shop type of place. They sell Stumptown coffee. All the lifestyle bloggers in Dallas post pretty Instagram photos from here. I do it too sometimes.
My table is white marble, Carrara I think. Everyone around me is white too, just like me. The sixty-something-year-old woman sitting directly to my left keeps catching my eye. She’s wearing a tailored white shirt and bold rimmed statement glasses—refined, casual, and hip for her age.
I want to ask if she’s seen the Philando Castile dash cam footage. Her nose turns up just a touch at the end. I know she didn’t choose her nose, but it makes me think she hasn’t seen the video. Maybe she’s seen it. She could have. She hasn’t . . . I bet she hasn’t.
I didn’t ask her.
I keep my headphones on, wipe my cheeks, and sip my water. It tastes salty now. It feels right for my water to taste bad—everything’s not as it should be. It’s just salty tap water, but it’s helpful.
I cry silent tears and wonder if any of these people have tasted salty water since they released the full video. Maybe so. They could have. They haven’t . . . I bet they haven’t.
Will we do this alone forever? Will people like this care as little for my daughter’s story as a black girl, woman, person as they did his story as a black man? Is crying over the possibility that they won’t something I will always do silently in fancy coffee shops without anyone noticing?
“Mom, please don’t scream ’cause I don’t want you to get shooted!”
I can’t sleep. Every time I shut my eyes I see her. I’ve never really seen her though because I was weeping before I heard her plea; my vision was blurred. Since I don’t know what she looks like exactly my mind has made her into my own daughter. Elliott shares a skin color with the four-year-old in the back of Philando Castile’s car. The one that watched him die. The one that begged her mother to restrain her screams because she was scared she’d lose another parent.
I see a girl that looks like Elliott begging another woman, one who knows more about blackness than I do, not to scream.
I can’t keep seeing this, hearing her. So I work. I slip my headphones on leaving the rest of the house to their dreams.
Pandora just conjured a Gungor song. It’s telling me that “he’s not finished with me yet.” That’s good news because I’m a wreck. But is he finished with us yet? I hope not. He can’t be, right? Because this four-year-old little girl knows her mother’s wails could cost her mom her life.
And she’s right. And she’s four.
What’s wrong with us?
“You’re a Good Good Father” now. It’s a Zealand Worship cover of the Chris Tomlin chart topper. The evangelical world loves this song, so do I, at least usually.
Good, good. Jesus doubled up words for emphasis too. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” That’s John 16:20. Jesus was talking about the disciples’ sorrow over losing him fading into joy at his return—truly, truly.
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” That’s John 16:33. So, it’s going to be sad that Jesus is gone, then it’s going to be hard to be in this world, but the sad and the hard will end one day—it’s a guarantee. For the Bible, John 16, tells me so.
Good, good. Truly, truly. I believe you. I want to believe you. Do I believe you?
“You’re overwhelming all my fears with peace,” coo’s Ellie Holcomb. I’ve got to change this station. And I need to go to bed.
I feel my whiteness these days. It’s soaked from my skin into my chest and into my brain and I hold it there all the time.
I feel it at Target, the doll section is whitewashed, even the few black representatives on the shelf have green eyes. I have green eyes too. I use them as I smile at the beautiful black girl sitting in my cart.
Even my math feels white. I can tell you the ethnic makeup of any room I enter. It’s instantaneous. I am always counting. Usually the math is off, my counting is fine, but the equation is wrong. We’re at a private pool: fifty-seven to one. Too often there’s no one there that looks like my daughter. I don’t look like her either. I have to fix the equation, that’s on me.
Lots plus one equals staring. Most people smile too. But almost all of them are confused. They have so many questions. Is she ours? Where is she from? Is it hard to do her hair?
Yes. Local. Yes.
By the time we leave the private pool there are two other people who share my daughter’s skin color.
I’m always counting.
But mostly I pray. Because her story will surely reveal scenes of racism, discrimination, and injustice. Because I can’t keep the history I’m learning from sinking into her tomorrows.
Then I pray I’m wrong. I plead actually, begging that as I walk with her through a world that values white he’ll protect her story as a black girl, woman, person. That she won’t hear the n-word spat in her direction, that she’ll never hate her 4C hair, that she’ll never watch an innocent man she loves die from a bullet that came from a police officer’s gun. That her own daughter won’t have to beg her to stop screaming.
I pray for him to protect her story because I can’t. And I want to. And I’m sorry.
Cover image by Nathaniel Tetteh.