In all my years witnessing and reporting on the killings of Black people by police in America, I have never seen a white mother crying on television over her Black son — until Katie Wright.
As a Black journalist who has a white mother, I have never had to cover a family that so quickly reminded me of mine.
Most of my career has involved covering the far-too-common story of Black people having their lives taken by officers who were quick to fire a shot. From Philando Castile to Tamir Rice to too many others, I’ve sadly had a front-row seat to what is a devastating repeat episode in this country.
As a Black journalist who has a white mother, I have never had to cover a family that so quickly reminded me of mine. But this week, as I watched clips of the Wright family crying on snow-covered steps, having to explain the unimaginable, something hit me.
That something was the realization that part of me was in a small way holding on to this myth I’ve heard my whole life: that a future of more mixed kids would somehow magically relieve America of its race issues. But that isn’t and never has been true.
Mother of Daunte Wright: ‘I never imagined this would happen’April 13, 202104:48
Daunte Wright’s life, cut short after he was shot by a police officer during a traffic stop, is now sadly evidence of that.
We’ve seen much fanfare over the years — especially after the election of President Barack Obama, when we entered what many tried to frame as a “post-racial” era — that the future is very much going to be interracial. And the data reflects that.
A 2010 Pew Research Center study found that 1 in 7 new marriages in America were interracial or interethnic, and rates were projected to continue steadily climbing. In 2017, 50 years after Loving v. Virginia, Pew reported that number was 1 in 6.
In 2013, National Geographic released an article, along with a larger project helmed by NPR’s Michele Norris, titled “The Changing Face of America” that dove into how mixed children were literally changing the typical facial features of Americans.
It’s painfully clear that sex or love or children can’t break apart the white supremacist foundation of a country where police officers can somehow mix up their Tasers with their guns on a Sunday afternoon.
The royal family got in on the trend with the 2018 marriage of Prince Harry to actor Meghan Markle. Just weeks ago, with Oprah Winfrey’s world-shifting CBS special, we were shown the public fallout of how racism not only impacted them in public but also in the inner workings of the royal family itself.
The underlying thread through all of this coverage over the years has been that a more “mixed” America is the solution for our hundreds of years of systemic racism, which is also why members of the far right are not big fans of families like mine.
But sadly, it’s painfully clear that sex or love or children can’t break apart the white supremacist foundation of a country where police officers can somehow mix up their Tasers with their guns on a Sunday afternoon.
After the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, we saw the world shift its focus back on the realities of being Black in America. It’s been a cultural phenomenon that I have personally found overwhelming after seeing the epidemic of police shootings go largely ignored during the Trump presidency. Under former President Donald Trump’s reign of chaos, it seemed America was willing to look away from the vital conversations that began in the wake of Mike Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri.
Wright's death arrives at quite a moment in our nation’s history. Things changed over the summer, and this week we all find ourselves on edge after a year of reckonings as we await a verdict on former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin in connection with Floyd’s death. The more than 9 minutes of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck was clearly captured on video.
But Black Americans are bracing themselves for the possibility that justice will not be carried out. We know far too well how the things can swing against us when you get news like Tuesday's reports that the officer who shot Jacob Blake is back on duty and won’t face discipline.
It’s evidence that a trial cannot magically solve it all. Just loving a Black person enough won’t, either. What we need is real reform and systemic change.
Wright's tragic death has only rubbed salt in the open wound many of us have been reeling from for our whole lives. The fact that many non-Black Americans are now paying attention is positive. But Wright's death is also evidence of the enormity of work that lays before us. It’s evidence that a trial cannot magically solve it all. Just loving a Black person enough won’t, either. What we need is real reform and systemic change.
We need police to be eventually defunded and resources redirected to nonviolent intervention training and systems that can allow for communities to be truly supported. We need to not be afraid to call 911 for fear an officer will arrive with a gun drawn. And we need each American to do the real work to confront the fact that we were all raised in a white supremacist society that touches all aspects of life; the only way to start to undo it is to admit it.
There’s a story that my sister and I like to share with people when we are together. We were at a restaurant as a family when we were very young when a woman approached our table to ask our parents if she could have a word with us.
She began to speak directly to us, ignoring our parents, and said that we may feel alone, but we are not; that there are other people like us in this big world and that we, many do believe, are the future. Over the years, I have often returned to this day in my mind as I found myself navigating through the racist systems we both still face today as Black people with an interracial family. It used to comfort me, but does so less during weeks like this.
Because what that woman did not say, and what needs to be said now, is that no matter how mixed America becomes, no matter how close to whiteness different folks of color find themselves, it will not be the antidote to stopping the violence we face from the very systems that allegedly protect us — systems like education, systems like health care and especially systems like criminal justice, where police officers are given carte blanche to erase bodies like mine during traffic stops across this country.
While our country may be becoming less and less "black and white" in some regards, it isn’t when it comes to a traffic stop in America — especially when "black and white" has become the biggest factor for an officer when they decide to be judge, juror and executioner during these moments.
Until we make meaningful change, they will only continue to be so even if the mother crying on TV is white.