On My Mind: A Different Kind Of Blindness

Aug 31, 2020

In this summer of so many terrible things that have happened on the streets of America, the most disheartening thing, to me, is something that didn’t happen.

It involves Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old who showed up with a rifle at the protests last week in Kenosha, Wisconsin. As the protests turned violent, he fired on the protestors, killing two and wounding one. Then the police moved in from down the street. And here’s what didn’t happen: The police didn’t pay any attention to Kyle Rittenhouse.

They didn’t pay attention even though people in the crowd were telling them he had shot someone. They didn’t pay attention even though he was jogging toward them with a gun. They didn’t pay attention even though he raised his arms, seemingly in surrender. They drove right by him. And so he left. He wasn’t arrested until the next day at his home.

I know you might be getting tired of thought experiments, because this entire year feels like a thought experiment that blew up in the lab. But just imagine, for a second, what would have happened if, in the middle of those protests, a Black teenager toting a rifle would have jogged toward an advancing group of police. You know exactly what would happen.

So many white people spout a line of bull about being colorblind. The truth is, they do have a blindness, but it’s not the one they think. It’s blindness to seeing other white people as a threat.

There seems to be no problem with white people seeing Black people as a threat. That’s why there were protests in Kenosha in the first place – because a police officer in a confrontation with a Black man named Jacob Blake shot him seven times in the back.

There’s video of that, the same way there’s video of George Floyd, and so many others. As the sports columnist Howard Bryant wrote for ESPN the other day, the images are as common as lunchtime.

But those people who claim to be colorblind can’t seem to see those, either.

They can’t see why NBA players would briefly shut down the whole league in protest, and how players in other leagues would follow. They can’t see why Kyle Rittenhouse shouldn’t be hailed as a hero.

It’s not colorblindness. It’s just blindness.

By this point it is nearly genetic, built on 400 years of history of white people in this country treating their fellow men and women as less than human.

How dare white people get offended when Black people assume the worst of us. They see what we can’t, or won’t.

But it’s a reversible condition. All you have to do is watch that video of Kyle Rittenhouse with open eyes and an honest heart. Watch that white teenager walking right past the police, literally getting away with murder.

All you have to do is try to see.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column normally runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

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