Disarming the Lethal Knot of White Fear

Dear White People:

Earlier this week, in another outrageous, egregious miscarriage of justice, the Cuyahoga County Grand Jury failed to indict the white police officer who killed a 12-year-old black child, Tamir Rice. And once again the justification for letting a uniformed murderer go free is that the officer believed he was in mortal danger.

When are we going to demand a truthful accounting of who is actually in mortal danger in this country? How many black men, women and children have to die a brutalizing “death-by-scared cop” (Stacey Patton) before those of us who are white bring our collective hearts, minds, and souls to the task of excavating, naming and untying the lethal knot that resides in white imaginations? This knot has many threads – each one a legacy and manifestation of white supremacy: Threads of fear of black bodies. Threads of contempt for black bodies. Threads of envy for black bodies. Threads of rage at so-called “insubordination.” Threads of feeling powerless while we wield structural power. Threads of feeling small even when we’re armed with assault weapons.

Michael Brown was unarmed and no taller than Darren Wilson when Officer Wilson shot Brown six times before killing him in August 2014. But the grand jury failed to indict Wilson after he testified, ‘When I grabbed [Michael Brown], the only way I can describe it is I felt like a five-year-old holding Hulk Hogan…that’s just how big he felt and how small I felt…he had the most aggressive face… [he looked] like a demon.”

It is not the work of black people to unearth, diagnose, untie and disarm this lethal knot of white supremacist consciousness that remains so deeply rooted and endemic in the white psyche. This is our work as white people. None of us is exempt from this work. You and I and all of us who are white must do this work in every relationship and vocation at our disposal – as parents, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and citizens of this nation.

If we fail to do this deep work, white demagogues like Donald Trump will continue to step into the breach, misname the mortal danger, shore up the guns and tanks, and stoke the lethal fear with terrifying and terrorizing consequences. And we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.

With fierce hope,

Melanie S. Morrison



Melanie S. Morrison, Ph.D., M.Div., is a white woman passionate about racial justice. She is founder and Executive Director of Allies for Change, a network of anti-oppression educators based in Michigan. For the past 20 years, she has led Doing Our Own Work, an intensive anti-racism program for white people who seek to deepen their commitment to confronting racism and white privilege. She believes it is possible to grow ever more aware of the reality of injustice without surrendering our capacity for compassion, joy, and hope. She is working on a new book with the working title Murder on Shades Mountain: The Legal Lynching of Willie Peterson and the Struggle for Racial Justice in Jim Crow Birmingham.

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