In America, White Lives Matter More Than Black Lives — Wake Up Now

by Nikkya Hargrove
Sean Rayford/Getty

This is America. It is broken, this we know. It is weak; this was proven last week with the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse.

Why does his acquittal matter so much? Why does it hurt so much? It hurts because it is a reminder that white privilege is alive and well. Author and host of Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, Emmanuel Acho in conversation with Brene Brown, explains incredibly well what white privilege means. We’d hoped that after the murder of George Floyd, the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, the white people who walked beside us in support of Black and Brown lives, that progress forward was being made. Rittenhouse’s acquittal proves us wrong: two steps forward, six steps back.

And now, with indescribable anxiety, we wait for the verdict of three white men accused of killing a Black man, Ahmaud Arbery, who was just a man out for his Sunday morning run on February 23, 2020 in Georgia, when he was hunted down and murdered. Three months after Arbery’s murder, we had another, the murder of George Floyd. Three months after George Floyd’s murder, we had the shooting of Jacob Blake in August of 2020, a Black man shot seven times by police in the back, in Kenosha Wisconsin — the very place Rittenhouse opened fire, killing two and wounding one. This is our America.

We are a collective human body with flaws and faults. The verdict in the Rittenhouse case proves this point. As humans, we have our own identities, and what we identify most strongly with depends on who we are. We often see the world by the way we identify with it. Recently, I did an exercise at my job in diversity, equity, and inclusion meeting. The question was, which of these identities do you identify with the most: race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or religion?

For me, it was race. In response to the Rittenhouse acquittal, mom and district administrator in Maryland, Tisha, 38, shares, “There is an acute anxiety that has gripped the pit of my soul since with no idea what to do with it. Or how to manage it, just quietly waiting for the other shoe to drop,” she said. Like Tisha, I know change is hard to come by for a country with a history like ours. I know I cannot change how people see my dark skin, how they caste me into a system based on the color of my skin, or how they understand the plight of my ancestors.

According to the NAACP, “84% of Black adults say white people are treated better than Black people by police; 63% of white adults agree based on 2019 research on police relations.” The white “QAnon Shaman,” Jacob Chansley, from the January 6, 2020 insurrection, got organic food in jail, for crying out loud.

The world will always see me as a Black woman first. Not as a mom, a daughter, a wife, or a friend. If I were imprisoned, I am sure my calls for organic food would fall on deaf ears.

Once I am boxed into “Black woman,” new adjectives arise, like: angry, caretaker, maybe even hard worker — stereotypes that society has constructed for us. The same goes for Kyle Rittenhouse; some have deemed him a victim while others as a young white boy with privilege. He committed a premeditated murder, an attack on human beings, shot them down in the street.

I spoke with a few fellow Americans, and Evie, who lives in California, says, “This seems like the end of democracy and civilization. It’s devastating for the families of the murder victims and devastating for equality for Black people. Vigilante crimes are now apparently legal. That judge was signaling his bias from the beginning and should be disbarred. It’s a travesty and I’m terrified by this country.” I too am scared of what comes next for us as a whole in the American justice system.

This is why we must pay attention to these verdicts; ignorance will lead us into even scarier territory. We cannot change a broken system alone, and our criminal justice system is incredibly flawed. In courtrooms across America, decisions are being made by people who see the world through their own eyes. Human nature tells us that, “We are motivated to see the world in ways that reinforce whatever our prior attitudes and beliefs are,” Christopher Federico, a professor of political science and psychology at the University of Minnesota, said in an interview with NPR.

I hope that after the dust has settled, if ever, from the fact that Kyle Rittenhouse is freely walking around, that we can look at the world through the eyes of others, to understand the most delicate parts of the reality we have here: white lives matter and Black (and Brown) lives do not.

There is no mistaking what happened that day in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Its context is delicate and emotions high. The same is evident in the Ahmaud Arbery trial. The jurors — one Black man and eleven white jurors — are now deliberating, deciding the fate of three white men accused of killing Ahmaud. The whiteness, the privilege fills the courtroom, from the defense attorneys who think they have the right to decide who sits in the seats witnessing the trial, like Rev. Jesse Jackson, to the judge who rules the room with reminders that it is his courtroom.

I can’t help but wonder how different these two trials would be if these were young Black men. Would they be cleared? History tells a different story — remember the Central Park 5? Black lives matter less than any others in our America.

I think the biggest flaw in our justice system is that all humanity is lost when defendants enter the courtroom. The Central Park 5 weren’t seen as young teenagers, but Black men, which altered the views of those in the courtroom the minute those young boys took their seats. White people are assumed innocent, while Black people are assumed guilty from the onset.

Kyle Rittenhouse and the three accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery should serve time, yes. They need to be held accountable for what they took from families and society. We must not look away. We need to pay attention to what is happening in America. It is not a Black and white issue. We must dig deeper. People are watching, especially our children.