An Open Letter to Whites After Michael Dunn Verdict

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This evening Michael Dunn was found guilty of four of the five charges he was facing. Sadly, the one count which the jury failed to reach consensus on was the most important one: the murder of Jordan Davis.

Many of you will be tempted to say this was a victory because Michael Dunn will be going to prison for potentially a considerable amount of time. But that should bring little comfort. You see messages matter and the message that this verdict sends is that you can take the life of an unarmed black teenager as long as you don’t fire at his friends.

By only finding Michael Dunn guilty of the attempted murder of Jordan Davis’ friends the verdict has given life to the idea that black men, just by virtue of being black men, are a reasonable threat. The inherent danger and aggressiveness of Black men is one of the core tenets of white supremacy and provides the ideological foundation upon which white supremacy is built. It has been part of the white public’s imagination forever and is memorialized in D. W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation.” We have been socialized to simply accept this and all its implications, specifically that Black life does not matter.

You might think this has nothing to do with you. You are wrong.

There is no other group of people in this country with more power and responsibility to dismantle white supremacy than the descendants of Europeans, those we now call white. The reason for this is actually fairly simple: we are the ones who have been asked to buy into the idea of whiteness. And boy have we done just that. Europeans went from working and eating and rebelling side by side with African’s as indentured servants to being the ones rounding up runaway slaves and enforcing whatever the latest iteration of the Fugitive Slave Act was. Europeans didn’t naturally hate those humans with more melanin, but our institutions incentivized and encouraged Europeans to separate themselves from not just African slaves but all people of color (think the granting of land to freed indentured and how that pitted poor Europeans against the Native people).

When our ancestors first stepped foot on this land they were, more often than not, broke and desperate, they came here searching for something better. In fact, they were so desperate that they were willing to pay a steep price for even the hint of an opportunity: their culture. Many of our ancestors quickly learned that their name, their language, their religion, their accent, and their traditions had to change; they learned quickly they had to become American, they had to become white. Teddy Roosevelt was optimistic that this Americanization could be accomplished in two generations. Part of that Americanization was certainly the learning of racism and white supremacy, as Toni Morrison observed: “When they got off the boat, the second word they learned was ‘nigger’.” The legacy of this Americanization is what we now call whiteness: the set of norms and values and traditions that manifest through white supremacy, which marks every aspect of American life. Whiteness, or more accurately the maintenance of whiteness, is why the New Deal programs were largely off limits to people of color and, sadly, why, in 2014, Michael Dunn can say Jordan Davis was a threat while presenting, literally, no supporting evidence and it still hangs a jury.

So what do we do? This is the question that will weigh heavy on people’s hearts, minds, and souls. The answer is: identify differently, socialize ourselves differently. Whiteness is a social construct developed to funnel power—economic, political, and social – into the hands of a limited few. It has been maintained by granting bits and pieces of this power to those who have demonstrated their uncompromising allegiance to this social order. It is time to recognize this and begin divesting, begin resisting. We need to recognize we have more in common with people of color than we do the rich white men that monopolize power. We need to talk and listen in multicultural settings. We need to ask questions when we don’t understand and we need to accept the answers instead of getting defensive. One of the most important things we can do is get back in touch with our cultural selves. When we focus on building culture we will find our commonalities and be better prepared to celebrate our differences. However, none of that matters if we don’t fundamentally change the way we think about ourselves. James Baldwin once said “As long as you think you’re white, there is no hope for you.” We must think of ourselves first and foremost as human beings, one with every other human being on the planet. From here it will be easier to not only accept the realities of white supremacy but to work in a truly authentic way at dismantling those realities.

Yes, Michael Dunn is going to go to prison, but not because he murdered an unarmed, innocent Black teenager. In fact at least one member of the jury believed that Dunn was justified in taking Jordan Davis’ life. This is unacceptable. Plain and simple. Now is not the time for rationalizations or talk of civility and both sides of situations. Now is the time for action. For European-Americans that action needs to be radical and all encompassing. This is the only way there will ever be true justice for the countless people who have lost their lives at the hands of whiteness. Furthermore, until that justice becomes reality there should be no peace.

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12 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Whites After Michael Dunn Verdict

  1. Speaking as a Black man, quit playing this racist bullshit and do something. We can either sit back and bitch like Spike Lee or we can try to not cry “White people hate us” everytime something like this happens. Get out there and educate yourself on this shit. Btw, you misused literally. Innocent until proven guilty means he didn’t need no evidence to show he didn’t do it. There had to be evidence to show he did. Quit being a victim.

    1. Peace LeVar, thanks for your comment. I think you misunderstood the point. Reread the essay I didn’t blame any white people I blamed the idea and culture and system of whiteness. Second when you presume Michael Dunn’s innocence you are assuming Jordan Davis’ guilt, thats not how that works. I’m not sure who you think is playing a victim so I’ll let you clarify that point further.

  2. I’m not black so I will try not to assume I understand the plight of the blacks, but I see similar injustices and inequalities in the Latino community. I agree with Lamar in that minorities need to stop writing essays that call for groups to “rise up” and instead we must focus on education and integration individually. Take responsibility for yourself. Speak like an educated person. Respect the rights and lives of people around you (by not blasting your car radio) and extending common courtesy to all people. Integrate yourselves into the culture you live in. Latinos have long been self oppressed by failing to integrate into American life by never learning to speak English. Similarly, I see and hear blacks using ghetto slang and gangster drawls when speaking in mixed cultural groups. This self alienates you in the same way that needing an English translator alienates latinos. I preach to my own community the same ideals and hope that we are abkebto some day distance ourselves from inequality. There are many examples of successful entrepreneurs in both the Latino and black communities of people who educated and integrated themselves nti American culture. The success you seek lies in that message not in one of uprising.

    1. Thanks for the comment Lusdegil. First you didn’t read the essay clearly, I am European and am talking to Europeans. I am indicting the very culture that you want your people to assimilate into. On that note, it is sad to me when people think they have to give up their culture in order to be accepted. That, in my opinion is a problem.

      1. I never suggested giving up your culture. Integrating into a culture does not preclude your retaining aspects of another culture. Learning to speak in the language of and with the inflections of a culture and being educated in the history and social norms of the culture you live in is just good sense. The Irish, Italians, Poles, and every other cultural group that has come to America has successfully integrated into America and are no longer considered minorities. Why are latinos and blacks still (after so many years) still resisting integration?
        I read your message just as you intended and I disagree. Indicting the culture you live in is a recipe for failure. If you are European than maybe its best that you look into this from another perspective.

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  4. There are bad white people, bad black people, bad latino, and so on. The common denominator is that they’re all people. Luckily, there are more good white, black, latino, or what ever other label you want to use people than bad people. “Whiteness” is a pretty damn broad brush your using and is the same type of stereotyping stupidity that Dunn bought into before shooting that kid. I disagree completely with your assertions about running back to our individual cultures – this is America – we should all assimilate to one culture and end the division. Now – it’s a lot easier for decedents of europeans because we look a bit alike. Not ALL white people are responsible for this kid getting shot no more than all black people are responsible for any single crime committed by a black person against a white person. You don’t hold a whole ethnic group responsible for the actions of an individual. And not to be jerk, but, European settlers came from a much more advanced culture than Africans. That’s just a fact. Some of the greatest discoveries in the history the world occurred outside of Europe which is also a fact. But the cultures of Eastern Europe and Central Europe were the most advanced by every measure. Now that’s not to say that African, Asian, or South American culture wasn’t amazing but it wasn’t as modern so why would have FDR suggested emulating anything other European cultures?

    1. Actually Europe was the least advanced… think Dark Ages. And I would encourage you to reread the essay as you have missed the point, when you reread it do so considering what whiteness is. What culture are you saying people should assimilate into

  5. I’m disappointed in the verdict, but I’m more disappointed in the prosecutor’s choice to charge him with first degree murder. A reasonable person could conclude that this killing didn’t meet the definition of “premeditated murder,” but that it did meet the standard of intentional murder.

    I think that if the charge had been second degree murder, the jury would have had no trouble convicting, just as they had no trouble finding him guilty of attempted second degree murder of the other kids.

    I can’t imagine the prosecutor was using over-stated charges to try to get a plea bargain on a high-profile case like this. It just seems like he was putting on a show: “I take this so seriously that I’m charging him with first degree murder,” except he knows that charge isn’t likely to stick and doesn’t really care.

  6. Why is everyone automatically assuming that any or all of the three holdouts in the hung jury were white? Is this thinking also not “racist”? Perhaps one of the holdouts was one of the black jurors. I say this because in the post trial interview, they interviewed a black female juror and she said she thought Dunn “Was a decent man”. So maybe SHE was one of the holdouts. This would blow the racism therory out of the water.

    1. No, even if the holdout’s were people of color it would not be racist nor would it “blow the racism theory out of the water.” Racism is power plus privilege and white supremacy can be perpetuated by individuals of any color. The hung jury is the result of the normalization of the white fear of black men. To believe that somehow a grown man could have a fear of an indisputably unarmed teenager is to believe that Jordan Davis is naturally a threat. That is racist. Point. Blank. Period. Thanks for your comment though.

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