Blake/Rittenhouse- Part 2 (With a dash of evolution and bias theory)

After talking with some people about my last post on this topic and hearing/reading more thoughts on the these events- I felt it was important to make a second post speaking to them. Primarily because I am worried about the possibility that somebody could have read my last post and walk away thinking that race was a secondary factor in this scenario. That perhaps age was the main reason that these two situations were handled completely differently. So….I’d like to be a little clearer about how exactly these events were racist- no matter the extenuating circumstances involved.

I already touched on it in my last post- but let’s break this down:

  • Jacob Blake was perceived as a threat as he was leaving (not approaching) and without a visible weapon (Yes, one was found later. But it was a knife that he wasn’t wielding….and he was shot seven times).
  • Kyle Rittenhouse was NOT perceived as a threat although witnesses called out to officers that he had shot people and despite the fact that he was carrying a weapon.

I believe it’s clear that these two incidents were treated and perceived differently due to race. However, to everyone who is reading this who is skeptical of that- I would like you to consider the rest of what I’m about to say.

Every single human on Earth has some amount of bias about lots and lots of different things due to either nature or nurture, depending on the situation. Bias is not usually something we choose, it’s usually unintentional, and it does not have anything to do with whether somebody is smart, unintelligent, or in control of themselves. It’s a predisposition due to evolution. They’re something we don’t really need in most cases at this point, but we hang on to them because they didn’t get stamped out in “survival of the fittest” because after modern medicine they weren’t harmful enough to prevent us from procreating.

(**Side-note….if you don’t believe in evolution you can skip the next couple of paragraphs and move along. I’m not about to tell you how to live your faith. BUT I do know there are lots of people who find evolution to be congruent with their religion or people who don’t have a religion- so I’m gonna go with this topic for just another second).

Biases are like wisdom teeth. We don’t need them anymore. In fact, we usually get them removed. But we have them because way back in our earliest years as humans- we didn’t have dentists or toothpaste or anything like that….so having four extra teeth to fill in when a couple of the others fell out due to decay or damage was actually pretty helpful. The people with those extra teeth usually survived longer than their other gummy counterparts, had more babies, and then that trait was passed on. Now that we have modern dentistry and medicine….we usually keep our teeth, so having those extra four is usually unnecessary and can sometimes even causes problems. HOWEVER it usually doesn’t cause enough problems for us not to procreate. So we keep them. Just as we keep bias.

Bias started as an evolutionary mechanism to keep us safe. Our brains are literally physically split into sections that include a logical brain and a primitive brain (think ‘fight or flight’). Making split-second decisions about whether or not a situation or a person is safe used to be helpful and kept our species alive. But it’s not anymore. Now it’s harmful. Particularly for People of Color in our country who are instantly and unconsciously judged in a split second. Like with Jacob Blake and Kyle Rittenhouse.

EVERYONE is predisposed to “The Own-Race Bias” aka “The Other-Race effect” aka “The Cross-Race Effect”. Which is a term to describe the fact that people are better at recognizing, describing, and assessing traits (including age) of the faces of people whose race they share. I have an example.

I remember EXTREMELY clearly- attending a Music Education Conference in Minnesota and running into this. I’d befriended the flute player who sat a chair ahead of me in the Collegiate Band Directors National Association Honor Band and we spent much of the conference together. He is a phenomenal flautist, loved philosophy, and still influences my music and performance today. At one clinic we attended- a friendly woman about 15-20 years our senior joined us. We all whispered back and forth about our opinions on the presentation and little bits of humor as the hour went by. At the end- she stayed to chat a little longer…and eventually blurted out the following (with NO segue or prompt)-

“I just have to ask you (to my friend)….because you seem so fun and cool….can you tell the ages of other black people? Because I SERIOUSLY just can not tell. Like I couldn’t guess your age if you asked me. I always think you all are younger than you are.

So I’m just wondering- are YOU able to tell that about other black people?”

He laughed and politely answered “Sometimes!” We left quickly—although I naively had thought it was to get to the next clinic. When we got out of ear shot he pulled me aside to honestly, without agenda or pretense- “I just need a second. I hate when people ask me things like that. Why do people think that’s okay?” He wasn’t making “a big deal” of it….he just needed a minute to decompress. The same thing we would grant anybody else who had experienced any sort of stressful situation.

I’m bringing this up for two reasons.

  1. Somebody who is not me and who is not a science textbook verbalized “The Own-Race Bias.”
  2. It had nothing to do with any issue of social justice at the time.

It exists. It’s real. It’s there.

I know that if you’re a skeptic- I still haven’t given you the counterargument and you’re still possibly feeling like some fluke was at play during Jacob Blake and Kyle Rittenhouse’s very different experiences. Or maybe you’re thinking “Well…so what?

So. This….

If you try to dilute this equation down to age instead of race….you still can’t. Becauuuuuse.

Jacob Blake had three children in his car. They were 3 years old, 5 years old, and 8 years old.

Three CHILDREN. Were in the same vehicle. WITH their FATHER as he was shot. SEVEN TIMES.

They weren’t nearby…they didn’t witness it from afar….they were in the BACK SEAT of the car. Gunshots rang in their ears (which is physically damaging in ADDITION) seven times. In each of their little bodies, they felt the impact of each bullet hitting their DAD in front of them.

These police did not ONLY make a racial assumption about the threat level of Jacob Blake and Kyle Rittenhouse. They made a racial assumption about the ability of three children who were less than nine-years-old and their ability to handle a dangerous situation. They were instantly assumed as more capable of dealing with trauma or, at the very least, in less need of protection than anybody else in either of these situations.

Ask yourselves honestly….if there were 3, 5, and 8 year-old white children in the car…do you really believe that this officer would have handled the situation the same? With a white dad? Maybe you do. I can’t change everybody’s mind. I’m just trying to open a few of them.

But here’s another question….how old do you think Jacob Blake is? Write it down. Here’s his picture from a BBC article.

I’ll be honest. If you had forced me to guess when I first saw this, I would have guessed incorrectly. Because even though I’ve learned, read, heard, believed, and tried to do better….I am STILL susceptible to bias myself. The important thing though is to not be absent of bias….it’s to recognize, own, and challenge the bias you have. It’s the only way to reduce our personal bias and it’s one of the biggest steps to challenging and reducing racism in our society.

I have one last thing for you to mull over-

If you are someone who finds yourself irritated by all the talk about race and racism going on…. can you take a few minutes to try to figure out why you’re more irritated and annoyed by that than by the fact that there are people in our society who are still experiencing inequality, discrimination, ignorance, or hatred due to the color of their skin?

That sounds sarcastic, but I’m really not trying to be. I truly mean– ask yourself “Why?” over and over so you can find the root of the things that are bothering you or that you believe in. And then comment…because I really want to hear and learn and talk about this.

He’s 29, by the way. Same age as me.

Thank you for reading ❤

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