Wrestling with white privilege

The Newton Kansan

The social media event popped up and was seen by the editorial staff of The Newton Kansan.

“Justice Walk for Matt.”

It was for a march protesting police brutality and racism. Those rallies have been popping up across the country following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn. An unnecessary death caught on video.

The case of Matt Holmes, shot and killed by a McPherson sheriff’s deputy on Interstate 135 after a 20-mile car chase that started in Newton is much murkier. Unedited video has not been released. There are all kinds of facts to look at when considering the context of the shooting — the context of what led to the shots fired is important.

And, dear reader, that last paragraph is filled with white privilege — rationalization of the death. That is something we here at The Kansan have been staring at ourselves in the mirror over for quite some time.

And it is something that smacked our editor in the face very, very hard on Wednesday.

As word of Wednesday’s protest spread through Newton on Tuesday and Wednesday, this small city got a little on edge. Car dealers moved their cars inside. Restaurants considered closing early. There was fear moving up and down Main Street.

That came from watching news reports from other cities in Kansas and beyond of protests that were not peaceful, protests that led to looting and crime.

Our editor did what he loves to do — get prepared. He wrote the Matt Holmes backstory, and wrote more than 1,000 words about the incident that led to his death. No responsible journalist would ignore what happened that night as a group planned to rally around him as a martyr.

And that is what he kept telling himself until he started thinking about how his own white privilege has been an aid to him in our society.

When our editor sat down to write the story of the protest, he threw out almost all of those 1,000 words. In his own words, he believed it was not prudent to drag all of that out during coverage of the protest.

For one, the protest was not really about just one man. The protest was about institutional racism that has been on full display across this nation. To not treat it as such would be a disservice to our community, our readers and those who were making a statement on Wednesday.

And to spend all that ink retelling the story of Holmes’ death blow by blow would have done two pretty jarring things.

First, it would have diminished the message of those walking on Wednesday and taken away from telling the story of how they conducted themselves and interfaced with the very people they were protesting. Second, it would have been a very real exercise of white privilege and white fear.

We probably did not get the coverage of that night perfect. We are human. But we’re pretty sure we did a much better job after thinking long and hard about our own white privilege and what we do with it, and about it.