an open letter to my dental hygienist

Dear my dental hygienist (sorry, I don’t have anything better to call you),

I’m not going to lie; as it stands, I already really hate coming to the dentist.  Well, I doubt anyone really enjoys the dentist, but for me, it’s like a torture chamber.  I have this thing about metal against my teeth, like a nails-on-chalkboard cringe-y feeling (I avoid biting my forks and spoons for this very reason), so I’m sure you can understand my distaste.  Also, I apparently have really weak enamel (I’m a very diligent brusher, promise!), because every time I come to the dentist, y’all are like, “You have 300,000 cavities!  Guess you might as well move in here for the next few weeks while we freeze your mouth and drill your teeth out of your head!”

Anyway.  I should get to the point of this letter, which has little to do with my predisposed dislike for those in the dental profession.

As you know, at your particular place of work, there are TVs in the treatment rooms, so that patients may distract themselves with something while you commit unpleasantries in their face-holes.  Usually I ask for something innocuous, like the Food Network or Say Yes To The Dress.  But, on this day, you did not ask which channel I would prefer.  So, we watched the news.  Amid reports about the unseasonably warm weather and the upcoming holidays, a reporter appeared to relay information about a (then) recent occurrence in New York:  Ismaaiyl Brinsley ambushed and fatally shot police officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu as they sat in their patrol car, before being found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a nearby subway station.  Brinsley had allegedly cited the cases of Eric Garner and Mike Brown as motivation for the attack.  In light of this, the reporter went on to say, the police department had issued new policies for its officers, including that they should avoid arresting anyone unless it was deemed absolutely and completely necessary.

At these final statements, I emitted an incredulous chuckle.  It’s a bit too little, too late for that now.  Countless innocent and unarmed black folk have already been murdered under false pretenses, and it shows no signs of slowing.  Too late for your policy changes, NYPD.

You, working some horrid buzzy instrument around my teeth, also laughed lightly.  “Crazy, isn’t it?” you said.  I grunted in agreement.  That’s the other thing I hate about the dentist; the conversations are always awkwardly one-sided.  “You know,” you continued, “no matter who you are, if you just stay out of trouble, these sorts of things won’t happen!  That’s what I tell my kids: stay out of trouble, and everything will be fine.”

As the utter ignorance of this assertion washed over me, I once again lamented the fact that your hands were all up in my mouth.  I had to allow you to suck up my angry replies along with my saliva with that weird sucking thing.  After the torture was over, I seriously considered saying something to you; regrettably, however, I did not, so I shall say it now, with my six readers and my mom as my witnesses.

Look.  I know that to you, this seems to be a very black-and-white issue (no pun intended).  You are a nice blonde lady with a cozy job in residential Oakville cleaning other upper-middle-class people’s teeth.  You probably have lovely blonde children named things like Kayedenn and Mickeighlah who go to a quaint elementary school and you know that as long as you teach them not to pick their noses or hit other kids, they’ll be just fine.  And even if they do pick their noses, the worst that could happen is that they’ll be called Boogerhead, and even if they do hit other kids, they’ll just get a time-out or something.  You’ve never even had to consider the effect the colour of one’s skin can have on their existence.  Life is so beautifully simple for you.

You are blissfully unaware that, as you drive your kids to soccer practice and dance class, other mothers across North America are forced to have a very sad and uncomfortable discussion with their own offspring.  And no, I don’t mean the sex talk.  I mean the talk about how the colour of their skin will strike unreasonable fear into people’s hearts, and how they need to behave a certain way in order to not be perceived as a threat by the police.  How young black men are 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by the police than young white men.

And yes, some such as obviously very trustworthy Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly have tried to debunk this claim by pointing out that in 2012, 123 African-Americans (out of 43 million) were shot dead by the police, compared to 326 whites.  One problem with this “proof” (among many), is that O’Reilly failed to mention that the American population consists of about 72% white people, or about 223.5 million (as of 2010).  Now, I’m no mathematician, but I think we can reasonably conclude that this means that Bill O’Reilly is full of shit.  By this logic, for whites and blacks to have been killed at a comparable rate, the white fatalities would have needed to be nearly double what they were.  And that’s not even accounting for the fact that those two population statistics don’t match up timing-wise, and the white population has undoubtedly grown similarly to the black population (the 2010 statistic lists about 39 million black people, showing an increase of 4 million between 2010-2012).  In addition, O’Reilly got his statistics from a less-than-trustworthy source, as noted here (this article is also critical about the 21-times-more likely statistic and does raise viable points, but I think we can agree that the particulars are unimportant).  Furthermore, this mere statistic leaves out vital information, such as whether the victims were actual dangerous criminals or unarmed innocents, as well as the race of the cop doing the shooting and whether the cop was indicted or not.  Plus, you know, he hails from Fox News, AKA the headquarters for extreme right-wing, white supremacist trolls like him.

Now, before I continue any further, I would like to emphasize that I am by no means excusing or supporting Brinsley’s crime.  The murder of those two officers was incredibly tragic and pointless, and they were certainly not personally to blame for the atrocities committed against Mike Brown, Eric Garner, or the innumerable other victims like them.  It is also worth noting that apparently Brinsley had earlier shot and wounded a woman believed to be his ex-girlfriend, so clearly he had some other issues to work out there.

Anyway.  Back to your ignorance.  For you, a white lady, it generally holds true that as long as you keep your nose clean, you will live a nice, quiet life.  And I know you are assuming that these black folks must have done SOMETHING wrong in order for them to have been punished so harshly.

This assumption is entirely incorrect.

How do you explain Tamir Rice, who was 12 years old?  Young Tamir was chillin’ in a public park, playing with a toy gun.  After a 911 caller informed Ohio police that “There’s a guy with a pistol…you know, it’s probably fake but he’s pointing it at everybody.  I don’t know if it’s real or not,” the dispatcher asked twice whether the boy was black or white.  Officers arrived on the scene, and surveillance footage confirms that Tamir was shot within two seconds of their arrival.

Then there’s Aiyana Jones, who was just 7 years old when she was shot dead during a police raid on her home.  She was sleeping on the couch at the time.  The officer who fired the shot claims that Aiyana’s grandmother reached for the gun and caused it to go off, but forensic evidence confirms that none of her fingerprints could be found on the weapon.

And let’s talk about John Crawford, 23, who was shot dead in a Wal-Mart in Ohio after some frantic idiot called the police and claimed he was running around pointing a gun at people.  In actuality, he had merely picked up an (unloaded) BB gun off the shelf of the store (at which, I should add, you could purchase both fake and real guns. ‘Murica).  Surveillance footage (included in the link) confirms that he had not pointed it at anyone, and that he had been casually wandering about the store whilst talking to his wife on his cellphone.  Question for the people of Wal-Mart: How do you suggest purchasing such merchandise from your store if apparently you might be murdered for picking it up?

Darrien Hunt.  22-year-old Darrien was cosplaying as a samurai from a show called Samurai Champloo, and thus had a toy sword on his person.  Again, someone called the police about a black man with a sword who was “acting suspiciously”.  As we all know, samurai swords are very common mass-murder weapons, so this person definitely had reason to be concerned.  Surveillance footage confirms that Darrien was running away when he was shot six times.

Trayvon Martin.  This high-profile case saw 17-year-old Trayvon confronted by neighbourhood watchman George Zimmerman as he was walking home from a snack run to the convenience store.  While the exact details of the altercation are fuzzy at best, it has been confirmed that after calling the police, Zimmerman was told not to pursue Trayvon, who was by all accounts minding his own business prior to being approached.  Yet, he chose to anyway; I suppose Trayvon just looked so threatening that Zimmerman was so afraid of what he would do in the few minutes it would have taken to wait for the dispatch.  I mean, he was wearing the internationally-known symbol for Horribly Violent Criminals Inc.: a hoodie.  I would have been scared too, George, if I saw a dude walking down the street in a hoodie.  In fact, when I look in the mirror whilst wearing a hoodie, I have to stop myself from screaming and running away.

And then there’s the two most well-known recent cases.  Just to recap, in case you have been living under a rock: 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot to death by police officer Darren Wilson, who has changed his version of the events approximately 900,000 times.  Eyewitnesses refuting Wilson’s version of the events have not changed their stories.  There are many other sketchy circumstances surrounding the case, such as the fact that the incident report wasn’t released until nearly two weeks after the shooting, and that the report itself is nearly bare.  There is far too much information for me to refer to every single bit, but here is a good comprehensive resource.

And finally, Eric Garner.   Again, in case you have been living under a rock, Eric died after Officer Daniel Pantaleo put him in a chokehold while attempting to arrest him.  Though Eric did have previous charges under his belt for non-violent crimes such as selling untaxed cigarettes and marijuana possession, police had no reason to believe that he was doing anything illegal at the time, and thus had no reason to arrest him.  In addition, chokeholds are prohibited by NYPD policy.  The coroner who performed the autopsy ruled Eric’s death a homicide by compression of the neck.  Neither the officers present nor the EMTs elected to perform CPR.  The famous video that sparked the protest slogan “I/We Can’t Breathe” can be seen here.

The sad fact is that I could go on for days listing the deaths of unarmed black people at the hands of police (or, in George Zimmerman’s case, a random guy who obviously considered himself some kind of vigilante).  In all but Aiyana and Trayvon’s cases, the officers responsible were not even indicted, meaning that the cases weren’t even brought to trial.  Neither Aiyana nor Trayvon’s killers were found guilty.  Disgustingly, people still try to justify these murders, often by means of “thuggification“.

For example, in the case of Tamir Rice, reporters felt the need to note that his family apparently had a history of violence.  I completely fail to see how this is in any way relevant to Tamir’s death.  How are his father’s domestic abuse charges to blame for the police viewing a 12-year-old boy as a threat?  The police did not appear on the scene and think to themselves, “Hmm, that kid looks like a kid with a possibly violent past.  I think we should just get rid of him.”  No.  They showed up, saw a black person, and shot him without any sort of consideration.

Or, in Mike Brown’s case, everyone loves to cite the fact that he was a suspect of a robbery that night.  The New York Times described him as “no angel”.  Whether or not he actually did steal those cigars is completely irrelevant; Darren Wilson didn’t even stop Mike and his friend because he suspected them of the robbery.  Additionally, saying, “But he stole the cigars!  And he smoked weed!” is essentially supporting the sentencing of an 18-year-old kid to death for petty crimes.  I’m sure you know plenty of people who nicked chocolate bars or lipglosses in their youth, if you didn’t yourself; and, I hate to break it to ya, but Kayedenn and Mickeighlah will probably smoke marijuana at some point in their lives, if they haven’t already.  Notice how none of these people are dead, and certainly nobody is out for their heads.

Such descriptions are made even more deplorable when compared to the narratives surrounding actual criminals who are white.  Ted Bundy (you know, that guy who raped and murdered 30-plus women in the ’70s) was conversely described in the same publication as “complex” and cited as a “Boy Scout, a B-plus college student; he loved children, read poetry and was a rising figure in Republican politics in Seattle”.  He also apparently wrote a pamphlet about rape prevention.  Oh, the irony!

The difference is disgustingly glaring.  Tamir Rice had a violent past; Mike Brown wrote raps with vulgar lyrics and got in a scuffle with a neighbour.  But Ted Bundy was complex!  He was misunderstood, he was a man of many talents and great promise, he just went astray is all!  When he killed those dozens of women, he didn’t really mean it.  If we call him a monster, that’s our issue, apparently.  Both narratives may technically tell the “truth”, but it is extremely obvious that these truths have been carefully constructed.

Given America’s love affair with guns, and given that the two cases involving “OMG A BLACK GUY WITH A [fake] GUN EVERYBODY RUN” both took place in an open-carry state (the same one, in fact), Tamir Rice’s and John Crawford’s race was irrefutably the reason for the police being called, or at least the reason the police reacted the way they did.  In case you are unaware of what is commonplace in an open-carry state, please observe:

As we all know, a trip to target is a dangerous, life-risking task. Maybe they've watched too much The Walking Dead or something.
As we all know, going to Target is a dangerous, life-risking task. I guess they’ve watched too much The Walking Dead or something.

I’m sure both of these people are still alive and well and continue to carry their beloved guns everywhere with them in case a zombie apocalypse spontaneously breaks out or whatever.

Or then there’s this guy, who was chillin’ around in a children’s park at 11am with a real gun, contemplating suicide.  He is still alive.  The police performed a revolutionary maneuver called “not shooting on sight” and talked to the guy for a solid two hours, before non-fatally shooting him when he actually raised the gun.

If you’re still not convinced, let us observe this lovely gentleman:

This is Joseph Houseman, a 63-year-old resident of Kalamazoo, Michigan.  He caused a bit of distress in his neighbourhood when he decided to take his pet gun for a walk down the street while being pretty obviously intoxicated, prompting a few 911 calls.  In case you don’t feel like watching the video, let me summarize: Mr. Houseman parades around carrying his rifle; when police ask him to put it down, he flips them the bird, grabs his crotch, and shouts at them.  After 40 minutes, he put the gun down, apologized, and claimed that he had a “bad attitude because we’re losing our rights.”  The gun was confiscated, but was returned to him the next day.  He is also still alive.

Astounding, isn’t it?  Both of these men were afforded long periods of consideration upon police arrival.  Tamir and John got mere seconds.

There is statistical evidence to support that we are more likely to perceive black individuals as dangerous than white – even black people are apparently afraid of themselves, as a result of the cultural conditioning that we are all privy to.  Darren Wilson, despite being 6’4 and weighing in at 215 pounds, said that he felt like a “five-year-old holding on to Hulk Hogan” upon grabbing the arm of 6’4 285-pound “gentle giant” Mike Brown.  Given the size similarity, Darren, it sounds more akin to a slightly smaller Hulk Hogan holding on to Hulk Hogan. Not really all that unmatched. The labelling of black folks as otherworldly, wild animals is very common (Wilson referred to Mike as a “demon” and an “it”).  In addition, the racial empathy gap causes people to think, consciously or unconsciously, that black people are more impervious to pain than white people, even in a medical setting.

By all accounts, it seems that the story goes like this:

  1. Kill a black person.
  2. Find random bullshit that somehow makes it okay/sound like their own fault that they were killed.
  3. ?
  4. Profit. (Literally. Darren Wilson has been raking it in by means of support campaigns.)

I could go on for literally days about this topic and how angry and sad all this makes me, but hopefully in what little I have said, I’ve made my point.  The fact is, my little tooth fairy, none of these people were getting into any “trouble”, unless your definition of “trouble” includes “walking home with Skittles in your pocket” or “picking things up in a store that you might be interested in buying” or “sleeping on the couch” or “walking down the street”.  Remember, when you try to justify these deaths, you are trying to justify the death of unarmed, non-violent people, who were, in many cases, children.  Also, realize that the fight for civil rights didn’t end the day Rosa Parks sat at the front of the bus, or the day Martin Luther King Jr. made his “I Have A Dream” speech.  He certainly didn’t get into any “trouble”, and he is still died of the same deadly disease known as “being murdered”.  The black community has been demanding equal rights for decades; centuries, even.  I think it’s high time we listened.

Picture this: the next time your son goes to the corner store for a bag of chips, he doesn’t return.  The next day, you find out that he has been killed for doing nothing but walking home, probably while looking forward to plopping down on the couch in front of the TV to devour his snack.  How would you feel if someone told you, “Well, if you’d only taught him not to get into trouble, he’d be alive today”?

Sincerely,

Your humble patient Sam Kim, who is not going to floss just to spite you, even if it means getting more cavities.

P.S. If you’re ever looking for a nice game to play, try Racial Incident Bingo!

Fun for the whole family!
Fun for the whole family!

P.P.S. If you’re interested in learning more, here are a couple of excellent videos to watch:

As well as as this outstanding page which features answers to many of the counter-arguments and questions some may have in response to my claims as well as more facts regarding Michael Brown’s case, and this amazing article that discusses white treatment of black issues.

P.P.P.S. Shout-out to my awesome sister Emily for her invaluable help and suggestions in the writing of this post, and for her application of the classic step-by-step profitable business plan to this context.

This post is dedicated to all those who have lost their lives as a result of racialized violence.  May they rest in peace.  Black Lives Matter.

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2 thoughts on “an open letter to my dental hygienist

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