Philando Castile. Alton Sterling. Brent Thompson. Patrick Zamarripa. Michael Krol. Michael Smith. Lorne Ahrens.
They’re the names of people who were shot and killed last week. The first two were black men shot by police officers: one in Baton Rouge and one in Minneapolis. Then five police officers were shot in Dallas by a sniper.
These shootings are part of a long line of similar incidents, all of which shed light on the racial tension challenging the country.
There’s a long road ahead toward what some label as “unity.” But it’s also true we’ve traveled some distance down that road in this country – at least, according to some who’ve been traveling a little longer than others, like Winfred Mackey of Lufkin, Texas.
Mackey is a Vietnam veteran who is black. He’s seen the country both change and stand still when it comes to inclusion.
“There were things as a black person that I was not able to do (in the 1960s) that I am able to do now,” he says. “There are places I couldn’t really go into. There were no facilities made for us to use in those particular places.”
Mackey’s grandson, Austin-based writer Kahron Spearman, has been able to go where his grandfather could not. He says he’s traveled to many places with a freedom others have not had.
“I think there’s tremendous value in that – being a color of person and traveling,” he says. “It will also make you appreciate the diversity. … You go to certain places and they’re great, but they’re homogenous.”
But Spearman says some things haven’t changed enough.
“Black people have always existed, regardless of what state, as ‘the other,’” Spearman says. “In the state of ‘other,’ we’re still continually having to justify our existence. We have to justify our self-agency.”
But this justification often goes wrong, as in the case of Philando Castile.
“He did everything he was supposed to do,” Spearman says. “He told the police officer he had a gun and he was licensed to carry a gun. And out of that reaction, he was shot. That isn’t a new thing, even away from guns. When African-Americans decide to create definition in their life, somehow or another it gets shaken up.”
Spearman is a journalist – a definition which he says has caused him trouble. He’s repeatedly marginalized as a black journalist. But he says he refuses to let that stop him from bringing his voice to the forefront. Instead, it fuels him.
“I’m hoping to piss people off,” he says. “I’m trying. I want you to have an opinion one way or the other. And I’m not going to stray away from that because I’m afraid that you’re not going to like it, or because I’m black.”
Spearman wants a world with fewer guns, like many of the places he’s traveled to abroad. He looks forward to a time where racial tension will lessen, where people will be more intentional about their treatment of one another.
“Texas is going to be darkening, literally,” Spearman says. “For some of the fringe racists, that’s going to be a problem. … As the country gets darker, as the state gets darker, we’ll see less and less and less [racism]. Hopefully, I’ll live to see that.”
Post by Beth Cortez-Neavel.