As a child, I grew up in abject poverty with our family being evicted often. A number of times I found myself in a poor African American neighborhoods or public housing. During those times, I was often the only white child in my class.
I can say in total honesty, I was never happier as a child than when I was in those neighborhoods, housing projects or those classrooms. Ever.
During the rare times I ended up in more “affluent” white schools, I was picked on constantly because of my poverty.
But never — not once — in the poor African American neighborhoods or classrooms. I was, and felt, accepted immediately.
Over the years since, people have asked me if there were any benefits or advantages which came from such a tough existence.
For me, there were three:
As that young boy, I was blessed to learn that “black America” was truly a great America.
As that child, I got to witness the very personification of heroism in the faces and actions of single African American mothers who worked two or three jobs at a time and sacrificed their own happiness to provide for their children. Women who became my earliest and most enduring role models.
And finally, I learned from those childhood experiences that even though we — as poor black and white children — were in the fight against the life together, society still said we were different. It insisted. Whether we liked it or not.
When I got older and moved out of those pockets of happiness and acceptance for me, I learned a very ugly truth.
Once out of those poor African American neighborhoods or housing projects, as a white man, I could wave and get a taxi; I could get a loan for a car or a home; I could walk down the streets of white America and not be looked at with suspicion or fear, or worst of all, be attacked simply for the color of my skin.
I thought about all of that first, three weeks ago when I learned of the seemingly cold-blooded murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. And again, when I saw the death of George Floyd beneath the crushing knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis this week.
The fact is, I now can’t stop thinking about either man and want to scream out in rage at the senseless injustice of it all.
An injustice which tells us that “killed while being black” is horrendously real.
Don’t go looking for any other reason. Don’t try to layer multiple excuses over it. Don’t.
As for Arbery, that young man was taken from his mom and those who loved him simply and only for being a black man.
It doesn’t matter if he had prior issues with the law. It doesn’t matter if he had mental health issues. It doesn’t even matter if he might have been suspected of a crime.
The same holds true for Floyd. It does not matter if he was trying to use a counterfeit bill or not. As he lay pinned to the street as a “suspect” in a nonviolent crime, he begged the police officer to ease the pressure on his neck because he could not breathe. That plea was ignored and a few minutes later, Floyd was dead.
If that sounds tragically familiar, that’s because it is. Six years ago in New York City, Eric Garner was placed in a chokehold by a white police officer because he was suspected of selling loose cigarettes. A chokehold that took his life.
Thankfully, in terms of justice, there are videos which show the killings of both Arbery and Floyd. With regard to Arbery, we see him trying to jog away from the men lying in wait for him. A video which shows in graphic detail, that those white men had no intention of letting Arbery get away.
As for Floyd, we see his last breath beneath the unyielding knee of a white police officer with three other white officers standing over him. All four officers now fired.
Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd had decades of life yet to live. Life which was brutally and wrongfully taken from them.
Now, in the year 2020, white America must acknowledge the truth behind these killings.
A truth which says to some: You can and will be “killed while being black.”
White America must scream out in protest as one against this vile reality.
Douglas MacKinnon (email@example.com) is a former White House and Pentagon official