This is my granddaddy’s right hand. At one time, my small infantile body sat cradled in it. Before I was born, it gripped baseball bats and captured baseballs in mid air. It squared and doubled onto itself ready for various fights and spats during and on the way back from school. It was unmatched in victory. In my granddaddy’s boyhood, it picked through Alabama cotton plants, never lonely of soil and calluses–never lonely until pay day.
My grandfather once recounted to me that to receive his small pay, he would have to bend his torso parallel to the ground, eyes downcast, and arm outstretched. Only then would my granddaddy’s right hand be lonely as it quivered, upturned in the Alabama sun waiting for metal coins to fall into it. Even when the coins were safely given, my granddaddy’s young back would stay bent and still as a tree branch in the eve of a storm. In this position my granddaddy would slowly back away from his master because temptation was an eye flicker away. It was not uncommon for the master to bring his wife scantily clad as to dangle a dangerous seduction–a reason to retract pay and charge punishment, even death. My granddaddy avoided any such charge. He avoided the charge of looking upon a white woman. He avoided the charge of looking upon white flesh. He reached only with his right hand and nothing more.
I remembered this account in the recent eve of Philando Castile’s murderer’s acquittal. In the dashcam video his murderer asked for identification. I wonder if Castile’s life would have been spared if he would have given his license and registration in the way my granddaddy received his pay. I wonder if is his murderer’s fear would have been quelled before a black man folded and small–his outstretched hand quivering with what had been asked of him. Is this the level of compliance needed to pacify bodies–white and brown– of fear?
Reader, Castile’s skin sounds of fear only because you and his murderer didn’t realize you both had been screaming the whole time. What are you scared off?
There is something inside that fortress you call “proper behavior”, “proper suspicion”, and “instinct” that stinks of your own faulty insecurities. Your temporary discomfort and your overflowing spout of trembling assumptions is the lasting White American justification to put a person to death. It was enough to put Castile to death. His murderer was reaching with his right hand long before Castile had time to reach for his requested identification, for his daughter’s tearful face, or for his girlfriend hand. Insecurity and fear is not a crime, but it should never be enough to allow an officer who deliberately shot a man acting within the law seven times to be vindicated in the court of law. Your fear, your suffocating ignorance, your comfort should never be reason enough to snuff out a life and say that it was justice. If so, then your blessed American justice is a function of your weakness. It is something I have no trust in or respect for. Castile was given a request, but his murderer was too consumed by fear to receive it. Reader, do not simply ask for something you are too frail of mind to handle, buck up and reach!
My grandfather was forced to reach for a lot in his life to compensate for the widespread defective mindset called the American Dream. But dreams are dreams because they aren’t real. Wake up and stop killing us.