Philando Castile and theatre critic Hedy Weiss are connected

I was talking to my therapist today because I couldn’t sort out my thoughts around two events that happened this week. One event has garnered two drafts of a post that I have yet to publish because I just can’t get to the heart of what I want to express. The other involves the Philando Castile verdict that came out this week. I am haunted by both. I finally realized they are connected.

Philando Castile is the Black man who was pulled over for a routine traffic stop by a White police officer and then was shot and killed by that police officer. The officer killed him after Castile informed him that he had a registered gun on him and assured the police officer he wasn’t going to take it out.

Castile’s girlfriend filmed the aftermath on Facebook Live. Her young daughter was in the back seat of the car. On June 16th the officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of second-degree manslaughter and two counts of intentional discharge of a firearm that endangers safety.

The second event was a review written by Hedy Weiss the theatre critic for the Chicago Sun Times. Ms. Weiss has a widely known history of bigoted, racist, homophobic and misogynistic language in her assessment of theatre. In another review she called Pulitzer Prize Winning playwright Tony Kushner a, “self loathing Jew.”

“Incapable of understanding standards of professional and ethical conduct” — Tony Kushner.

This recent review was the final straw and provoked an official response from Steppenwolf Theatre (who produced the play Pass Over), various other statements by Chicago theatres admonishing her and an online petition started by The Chicago Theatre Accountability Coalition requesting that theatres stop granting her free tickets and inviting her to their productions.

…We denounce the viewpoints expressed in some of these reviews as they fail to acknowledge the very systemic racism that PASS OVER addresses directly. Particularly egregious are the comments from Sun Times critic Hedy Weiss, whose critical contribution has, once again, revealed a deep seated bigotry and a painful lack of understanding of this country’s historic racism. Her contribution is actively working against the kind of theater we are striving to be… ~Steppenwolf Theatre

Philando Castile. Hedy Weiss. What do the two have to do with each other? One is a review and by comparison seems unimportant when it comes to a man’s murder. They are representative of the macro and the micro. The disrespect, dismissiveness, condescension and bias inherent in Ms.Weiss’ review is the type of thinking that leads to a jury accepting a man’s murder at the hands of a police officer.

The play Pass Over addresses police violence against Black men in this country. Ms. Weiss wrote in her review:

To be sure, no one can argue with the fact that this city (and many others throughout the country) has a problem with the use of deadly police force against African-Americans. But, for all the many and varied causes we know so well, much of the lion’s share of the violence is perpetrated within the community itself. Nwandu’s simplistic, wholly generic characterization of a racist white cop (clearly meant to indict all white cops) is wrong-headed and self-defeating. Just look at news reports about recent shootings (on the lakefront, on the new River Walk, in Woodlawn) and you will see the look of relief when the police arrive on the scene.

This is the exact kind of thinking; the blaming of the victim, the idealization of the police and denial that bolsters the systemic and institutional racism that leads to a not guilty verdict. Ms. Weiss’ opinion of the show is hardly the point. The point is that her views are emblematic of a belief system in this country that damages and kills Black people; a belief system that makes me afraid to get pulled over by a police officer for fear that I will be killed; possibly in front of my children.

Racism is in the details. It’s in the small infractions, things said and unsaid. It’s in the myriad ways a person is dismissed, diminished, suppressed, looked over, shamed, blamed and hurt. Micro-aggressions are what lead to macro-aggressions. In fact you can’t have macro-aggressions unless micro-aggressions exist. The micro feeds into the macro, sustains it and enables it to thrive.

I have been haunted by Ms. Weiss’ review all week. I am crushed by the verdict for Philando Castile. I chose to watch the dashcam video of the incident in order to bear witness. If you choose to watch take note toward the end how the other police officers are more concerned with supporting, comforting and protecting their colleague not Castile’s girlfriend. Instead they make her get out of the car, put her hands up and kneel on the ground while her boyfriend bleeds to death

Right now the message is loud and clear. Black lives don’t matter in this country.

Mr. Castile may you rest in peace.

For more on issues of race listen to my podcast Race Bait or watch my video series A Minute on Racism.

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