Isaiah Washington, Tell Us Again How "Adapting" to Racism Will Save Us

by Anna Gibson

Comedian Chris Rock has been taking selfies of the last three times police officers pulled him over and sharing them online, trying to prove a point about discrimination and racial bias in police officers. In response, Isaiah Washington tweeted that as opposed to documenting the racial profiling that Rock experienced, he should “adapt” to the circumstances. In the tweet he mentioned that he downgraded his Mercedes G500 to purchase three Toyota Priuses instead.

This train of thought is as old as the Civil Rights Movement, though recently black people have seen a resurgence in respectability politics. From Bill Cosby telling young people to pull up their pants, to Don Lemon demanding that we “accept responsibility” for racism, our leaders and “role models” have been trying to tell us that racism is our fault for years. What these actors and media pundits fail to realize is that the problem of racism doesn’t begin with us. It’s been perpetuated over the years from slavery to modern times, and is the result of perpetual stereotyping, myth creation, and structural oppression. The problem doesn’t lie with us “pulling our pants up” to garner respect from white supremacy. We shouldn’t have to dignify our humanity in order to not be harassed, racially profiled, or shot down.

Last year, Eric Garner’s death was caught on tape spawning protests across the country. One of the many reasons that everyone was outraged was because even though it was recorded, he was still murdered. This made the argument around police needing to wear body cameras lose credibility entirely. Recently, it’s been disclosed that the man who took the video was arrested and put on Rikers Island. He says that he “fears for his life” and believes the food they fed him is rat poison.

The past year’s rash of police killings is a strong indicator of just how little black lives matter to the police. Anthony Hill, an Air Force veteran who allegedly suffered from bipolar disorder, was gunned down mercilessly earlier this March. Before the shooting, he was seen crawling around on the ground in a state of confusion and banging on the doors of his neighbors—a possible indicator of what could have been a manic episode. When the police were called, he was shot twice in the chest. The police couldn’t say he was reaching for his waistband, or that he had a concealed weapon because he was completely naked at the time of the shooting. The police officer claimed he charged at him, but the media later found that he carried a Taser at the time of the shooting.

On Tuesday, April 7th, The New York Times showed video footage of Officer Michael T. Slager shooting and killing unarmed Walter Scott after a routine traffic stop in North Charleston, South Carolina. Originally, Slager reported that Scott tried to attack him with his own Taser gun, and thus he felt "threatened." The video reveals that Scott was actually running away when Slager shot at him 8 times. The officer then proceeded to plant the Taser gun next to his body. Slager has been charged with murder.

So, Isaiah Washington and his ilk are poorly mistaken if they believes that one should just “adapt” to the realities of racism in the U.S., when one black man is killed every 28 hours by either a police officer or vigilante. Furthermore, a number of unfortunate studies show a clear racial bias during police trainings against black and brown people.

There is no adapting to systemic racism. There is no adapting to the system that deems your very existence to be "threatening."

History has shown us time and time again that people who “accept” oppression in any form will continue to be oppressed. There is no liberation in acquiescing to racism. Only by seeking the root of structural racism and dismantling it, can we begin to live peaceably in the world around us.

Photo: Isaiah Washington on CNN

Anna Gibson is a student at Wayne State University and practicing Buddhist who seeks to create a safe space for people to tell their stories and illuminate the struggles of the marginalized. You can find her on Twitter @TheRealSankofa or on Facebook where she’s hiding under the name Introspective Inquiries.

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