George Floyd is an African American man who was murdered at the hand of a violent and racist police officer while three others participated; it spawned a gaggle of riots, protests, looting and civil disobedience in 50 states and 18 countries worldwide. In the wake of such a moment in our country’s history I think it is important to get a new perspective on this issue, and on the difficulty some have in talking about it all. If, as entrepreneur and podcaster Tim Ferris has said, “a person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have,” it’s time to get at it, because it has been through ignoring such conversations that police brutality against people of color has continued.
There’s a talk that almost every black parent has to have with their children when they reach a certain age (no, not that one). It’s the talk about how to handle prejudice and white power whether it be from a racist police officer or one of many other kinds of discrimination. While Black Americans make up just 13% of the population, they are twice as likely to be killed by police. So when I see a case like George Floyd I am hurt, but not surprised because fatal racism is a pandemic in America that started long before coronavirus. With the rise of social media came the rise of a violent new political cycle. First a black man dies at the hands of police, there is a moment of silence and mourning that takes place usually on social media, then a debate in the news around the issue, protests and riots, and then all is silent. There is no legal change, no institutional shift- nothing sticks. It might advance the awareness of the movement but does not result in reform. I worry that the Black Lives Matter movement is following the same pattern as the gun reform movement which only brings conversations and movements after a tragedy.
Even without police brutality Black americans have a very hard time gaining access to the American Dream. Government has ignored and even encouraged discrimination in many forms in such a way that it is unavoidable that black americans cannot truly pursue the American dream. For example a man lives in a highly policed neighborhood. He wants to move out but he can’t get a bank loan due to racially predatory loan policies such as redlining. nSo he decides to go back to school but can’t get a federally subsidized loan and instead has to borrow from a private bank at huge interest rates leaving himself in deep debt. nOnce he actually graduates he struggles to get a good job, and if he manages to find one often he is not promoted to the level he deserves.
There are people, including students at MHS, who refuse to address white privilege. I would argue that perhaps they suffer from a condition called “fragility” in which any recognition of racism in America is perceived as a personal insult, and even an attack on America itself. While acknowledging that there are many ways of affecting change, for those who choose not to use their voices to speak in tangent with the black community and communities of color for fear of “getting political” I would ask how is human life- my life- up for debate? If America is such a free country how come so many of us cannot live freely? And if you are comfortable using the N-word while listening to your favorite rap artist why aren’t you willing to have conversations about the lives of the people who are negatively affected by that word?
Remember that we are setting the stage for the type of world where we want to raise our children. In twenty years, they may ask what you did to better the world- do you really want to say, “Nothing”? History remembers revolutionaries such as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Ghandi- but no one remembers the cowards who let their egos and fragility keep them silent.