For the past couple weeks, I have been wondering if I should write anything in regard to the event which prompted protests around the country, including nearby Madison.
But, what could I say that hasn’t been brought up by others? Is it my place to say anything?
Then, my mind brought forth an unforgettable image – George Floyd, pinned to the ground, Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin’s knee on the back of the man’s neck. George Floyd, shouting that he couldn’t breath and his stomach hurt. Three other officers stood there, doing nothing to stop their colleague.
And I realized I was so angry at the other officers for not stepping in; so angry that while the incident was being filmed, no one from the crowd attempted to physically intervene.
I noticed while several of my friends spoke out against the hateful incident, others were silent. I didn’t understand why they were silent.
Then I realized, as much as I have posted on social media, I too was being silent on the platform where I can reach the greatest number of people.
I’m not here to talk about the right or wrong way to protest or my thoughts on police tactics. No, but I am going to write about something that may be challenging to address.
Activists have posted online that the path to becoming an anti-racist is acknowledging it’s a difficult conversation to have. As much as someone says they are not racist, that does not automatically mean the person is anti-racist.
Our country has been dealing with racism since its beginning and as much as we like to think we’ve evolved beyond it, events like the death of George Floyd remind us that it’s still an epidemic in our country.
The truth is, racism goes beyond the death of Black people by authority figures or use of slurs. It’s the covert racism that occur on a regular basis – the fact white people feel the need to touch Black women’s hair, store clerks following Black customers around the store, moving to the other side of the street when you see a group of Black males approaching, the lack of Black people in leadership positions, and the erasure of Black experiences in history books.
My path to learning about anti-racism came from books and the Black people who wrote them; and from leaders and activists in the black community who spoke out against injustices.
One of the books that really made me examine my own actions was “So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo, published a bit more than two years ago. It made me examine how much of society is built on white supremacy and how everyone, no matter what race, participates in these actions. I encourage people to read it. The book helped prompt some difficult discussions I had with myself.
To see racism’s impact on Black people, I suggest watching “When They See Us,” about the five teen boys who were falsely accused and charged with the assault and rape of a white woman in 1989. The actual assailant was identified in 2002 and the five convictions were vacated. The Netflix limited series was created, produced, co-written and directed by Ava DuVernay, who also helmed an excellent documentary called “13th” focusing on race in the United States criminal justice system.
Beyond learning about becoming an anti-racist are the actions we can take – ensure school curriculums include reading materials by Black people and other people of color, talk to people about words and actions that may be covert racism, and examine your own actions and thoughts.
Eventually, the protests against George Floyd’s death will dissipate, and hopefully, justice will be served. We can continue learning that being an ally to marginalized communities is a continuous journey where we must be willing to listen to leaders of those communities.
As former First Lady Michelle Obama said: “Race and racism is a reality that so many of us grow up learning to just deal with. But if we ever hope to move past it, it can’t just be on people of color to deal with it. It’s up to all of us—Black, white, everyone—no matter how well-meaning we think we might be, to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting it out.”