White Fragility, Elijah McLain, & Robert E Lee


Do you remember Elijah McClain? If you don’t, here’s a quick summary. Elijah McClain was a young black man who was walking home from a convenience store in Colorado one evening in 2019 when he was put in a chokehold by police officers & then given an insane amount of strong sedatives (specifically ketamine) by paramedics without proper cause or proper monitoring afterward. Shortly afterward he died. And McClain had committed NO CRIME, nor even truly been suspected of one- unless of course walking while being black is a crime. Let’s be real- the way he was treated certainly indicates that it was.

I’ve always been surprised & disappointed that this disturbing case has not received the same amount of media sensation as many other cases, especially considering it seems like such an open & shut case. There can be little argument that the officers & paramedics were justified in their actions- it’s so painfully obvious that they weren’t. Thankfully, some two years later, a small measure of justice has been served as the officers & paramedics involved have all been found guilty of manslaughter & criminally negligent homicide. (To read more, click here: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/01/us/elijah-mcclain-officers-charged-colorado.html). Of course true justice can never be reached in tragedies like this because the innocent life that was lost cannot be brought back. But at least there has been some measure of accountability put in place here. I suppose that’s the best we can hope for- that & of course sending the message that such tragedies cannot be allowed to continue. Yet once again I am surprised & disappointed at how little attention this has received in the media, including social media. I realize we have other big news stories right now with Afghanistan, Covid, & hurricanes ravaging our country & the world, but even so, I’ve seen very few headlines, even deeply buried ones, about this. And I find that odd. And disappointing.

On a slightly different but somewhat related subject, a massive statue of Robert E Lee was removed from Richmond, VA this week, the capital city of my home state (as in the state where I grew up, not where I live now). As someone who loves history I’ll confess that this is always a challenging subject for me. But over time I’ve come to believe that such Confederate statues belong in museums, not in our city streets or parks. And yet I am disappointed at how many friends & family members I have seen posting & commenting about how heartbreaking it is to see this statue carted away. Y’all, no one is saying we should erase history here! We’re just saying that we shouldn’t have public monuments to people who fought for such inhumane practices as slavery. And whether we like it or not, that is exactly what Robert E Lee did.

Fellow white people, it has been over 150 years since the Civil War. It is high time we admitted that many of our ancestors were in the wrong. It’s not like our parents or grandparents or anyone we actually knew fought in that war. Those people are all long since dead & gone & were never known to us! Besides which, I have friends who have parents & grandparents who are (or have been) alcoholics, narcissists, drug users, & abusers. And as incredibly difficulty as it is, they have found ways to say “I might love this person but their behavior is wrong.” Or “I know I ‘should’ love this person but their behavior towards me has been nothing but hurtful so I am choosing to walk away.” If they can do that, we have no excuse for not being able to admit that our ancestors from well over 100 years ago whom we never even knew weren’t perfect. Grow up, folks!

Furthermore, if you are heartbroken over the removal of a statue of a dead man you never knew, but you have never once expressed outrage or sorrow over police brutality in cases like Elijah McClain’s- or other flagrant racism in our society- may I suggest that you need to get your priorities in order? I realize that as a white person it can be easy to ignore racism sometimes, to just say “Well, that doesn’t affect me since I’m not black. I don’t hate black people. Whatever.” Newsflash- been there, done that, had the courage to admit how wrong I was! Over the years I have come to realize how important this subject still is for all of us. One of my absolute dearest friends is married to a black man (she is white). Some of my next door neighbors are black. So are several other families on my street & in my neighborhood. Both of my managers at work are black. My new dentist (who is also my husband’s & daughter’s dentist) is black. So are several of the doctors & surgeons I work with. And of course I work & have worked with countless black nurses, nursing assistants, & medical assistants over the years. Many of my patients are black. In fact some days, most of my patients are black, & some days most of my coworkers are too. To not care about racism would be incredibly callous & cruel of me. And frankly, even if you are a white person who doesn’t interact with many black people, you STILL should care about racism, at least if you care about PEOPLE at all. After all, as Martin Luther King, Jr said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

So if you’re upset about these monuments being removed, please take a moment to consider how you might feel if you were a black person seeing monuments to people who fought to keep your ancestors enslaved. Please also consider how you would feel if you were black & had to see your white friends posting about how heartbreaking it is to see these monuments removed & yet to never see those same people speaking out against racism. If you’re offended by this, congratulations- now you know why the term white fragility was coined in the first place!