Issac Bailey: 4-year-old girl's cautioning of mother after Castile shooting is tragic, turned-on-its-head version of "the Talk"
He says girl's pleading was logical end to "respectability politics" pressed upon blacks even though it will not keep them safe
Editor’s Note: Issac Bailey has been a journalist in South Carolina for two decades and was most recently the primary columnist for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach. He was a 2014 Harvard University Nieman fellow. Follow him on Twitter: @ijbailey. The views expressed are his own.
A four-year-old girl was left to protect her mother in the only way she knew how: by telling her mom to be just a little more perfect, a survival tactic many black parents have felt forced to teach their children in an America in which dark skin is still too frequently seen as threatening.
“Mom, please stop cussing and screaming ‘cause I don’t want you to get shooted,” the little girl told her mother, Diamond Reynolds, a woman who had just seen her boyfriend, Philando Castile, killed for no good reason.
The little girl’s pleading is the logical end to a respectability politics impressed upon black people even though it will never keep us safe. Black people have been told, repeatedly and over centuries, that if we are just a little better, dress a little better, study a little harder, be a bit more compliant and adopt more middle-class white values, we will be allowed to keep breathing.
Under no circumstances should we scare white people or make them, or others in positions of power, uncomfortable – because it would be unfair to those powerful people.
It’s why so many black parents have stressed to their children to make sure their hands are on the steering wheel, to remember to say yes sir and yes ma’am – just as Castile did before he was shot and Reynolds did as her boyfriend bled to death – to make no sudden movements, to make eye contact only if the officer wants them to make eye contact. Don’t worry about your supposedly constitutionally-protected rights, just survive, these parents have preached.
In the Castile case, that teaching was turned on its head. While a squad car video camera captured the scene, the child delivered “The Talk” to the parent. She had just seen a police officer kill her mother’s boyfriend. She was there as her mother streamed the scene on Facebook Live to the world before being placed in handcuffs in the backseat of a squad car.
That little girl knew no one was coming to her rescue. The National Rifle Association surely wasn’t coming, even though Castile was a law-abiding citizen exercising his Second Amendment rights. If it wasn’t clear before, the NRA’s silence on the Castile case makes it crystal clear that the organization isn’t about preserving the right of all Americans to carry a gun, only white people’s.
The good cops we keep hearing about weren’t going to show up, because they seldom do in situations such as these. They didn’t scream bloody murder and demand justice after police in New York choked a man to death or shot a man in Ohio for picking up a toy gun in a Walmart or shot a man multiple times in the back in North Charleston as he ran away.
Good cops, we are repeatedly told, are there to protect and serve. But the public silence of good cops sends a different message, that that protection they offer does not extend to threats against us if those threats come with badges and batons and blue uniforms.
Juries – who keep showing us that, no matter the circumstances, they will declare our killings justified if a cop says he was scared when he pumps us full of bullets – weren’t going to help that little girl and her family, either. That’s why the child resorted to the only thing she knew, an emotional plea born of helplessness in a sea of chaos that seems to have no shore.
That’s why I haven’t – and won’t – have “The Talk” with my black son, because during an interaction with a police officer, I know his actions aren’t the only ones that will determine if he’s allowed to come home to me.
It’s clear Castile did everything “The Talk” tells black men to do. And he’s still dead.