Chelsea Clinton made a campaign stop in Minneapolis in which she fielded a question from a little boy who was still grieving the loss of his “best friend,” Philando Castile. Castile was killed by police this summer.
Chelsea Clinton, while understandably attempting to be mindful of her young questioner, committed a blunder in completely avoiding the use of any language that might have accurately described what happened to Philando Castile.
Q: “I am really sad that he has to (sic) passed away.”
A: “Thank you for reminding us when our country isn’t at our best and that we have a lot of work to do to ensure that anyone and everyone can live up to their God-given potential as my mom has talked about, without having to worry that they will not be alive or to not have every opportunity they deserve because of the color of their skin.”
To someone who is unaware of how Philando Castile died, Chelsea Clinton’s answer could easily imply that Castile died in his sleep. Moreover, Chelsea’s usage of her mother’s oft-used religious trope, God-given potential, was nonsensical and completely out of place.
Philando Castile did live up to his hard-earned potential. He was a beloved
teacher “nutrition services supervisor at an elementary school. Potential has nothing to do with safely driving while Black from point A to point B without being stopped and killed by police. Potential has nothing to do with living or dying, nor does it have anything to do with deserving opportunities or making use of them.
Children deserve and need our honesty. They deserve to hear the unvarnished truth from adults, even if it is ugly and painful. This child, clearly, knew something bad happened to his beloved teacher and he is still grieving. Chelsea Clinton did her best to only use positive words to address a negative situation without making mention of any of the ugly details that make up the truth. Chelsea’s approach is emblematic of how America handles telling the truth: we whitewash it.
This child wasn’t reminding us that we’re not at our best or that we have work ahead of us. He was expressing the grief he is still processing. By using the words “he has to passed away,” the boy most likely looked to an adult, like Chelsea Clinton, for an explanation of his friend’s death. Clinton could have given the boy any number of other answers designed to help him understand and motivate him to be civically-aware and active. She didn’t.
She could have told him that the person who didn’t didn’t live up to their potential is Officer Jeronimo Yanez, who had the potential to be kind and fair but chose not to be. Clinton could have explained how Black Lives Matter to this little boy. She could have told him that when he grows up, he too can live up to his potential and work to make his city a safer place for his friends. She could have told him about Martin Luther King, Jr., and transforming a neighborhood into a brotherhood.
There are ways to talk to children about bad, incomprehensible things people do. This wasn’t it.