I’m not writing this blog post because I think I’m important or because I think my opinions matter any more or less than those of the person standing next to me. I’m writing this for my own development and education, and as a form of therapy given the events of the past week following the killing of George Floyd and the protests that followed.
Most important to recognize is the catalyst for this blog post – the gruesome murder of George Floyd. I watched the video not out of morbid curiosity, but because I felt like I needed to view to better understand specifically what upset so many people. For those who haven’t watched it, I don’t know where to start. There are no words I could write here to do it justice. I feel so bad for his family and friends.
It’s also important to recognize that – as if my first and last names don’t give it away – I am a white male. I have been pulled over several times when I was younger (and once, more recently); been briefly detained by police twice (once was my fault…sorry Columbia, PA!); and lived in Maine, Pearl River (NY), Germantown (Philly), Montgomery County (outside of Philly), Shippenburg (PA), San Diego (CA), and East Rutherford, Clifton, Jersey City, and Hoboken – all in NJ. I’ve worked in New York City for nine years.
I have never in my life felt targeted based on the color of my skin. Not once. Not by those of a different race, and not by police. For that reason, I have to understand that until that day comes, I cannot see this from the perspective of a person of color.
Discussing police men and women and their use of force is a very difficult topic for me. I have friends who are police officers and good people, and right now I worry for their safety on the front lines. They go to work every day not knowing what to expect, and I’m sure these past few days have been harrowing. Thinking of protestors spitting and screaming in their faces upsets me.
I also know a few police officers who are not such good people, and who are indeed quite racist. I suppose at the end of the day police officers are just like the rest of us – many of them are very good at their job, which in this profession makes them a hero, and some of them are not, which makes them a villain. Derek Chauvin is a villain and an embarrassment to the real police officers who put their lives on the line for US, and perhaps some of these protests would have been avoided if he’d been immediately brought to justice…
…which brings me to the George Floyd protests. Because of all the reasons listed earlier, I feel like it’s not my right to tell people of color how to protest racial violence or inequality. Whether I agree or disagree with the things we see on TV or read on social media, it doesn’t change the fact that I’m a 36 year old white male and for that reason, I just can’t identify with the problem and thus the protests that stem from it.
What I can say is this…
…Colin Kaepernick looks pretty good today. He kneeled peacefully before professional football games – stating from the beginning that it was a protest against police brutality, and guess what happened? White society told him he was wrong. The NFL blackballed him. President Donald Trump said “…maybe you shouldn’t be in the country” and referred to fellow-protestor Eric Reid as “a son of a bitch.” Kaepernick worked with and was supported by military members, trying to protest and raise awareness peacefully. Maybe America should have listened at the time. He’s not the only name being brought up right now…
…I continue to see people say “this is how you protest” before referencing Martin Luther King leading marches through the streets. While MLK is treated as a hero now, let us not forget he was vilified in the years and months before he was assassinated. Before you point to MLK as the shining star, remember that he too met a violent and premature end.
My last comment on the protests. Destruction and looting hurts us all, not just the taxpayers and city officials, but especially the small business owners watching their store shelves emptied or their storefronts burned to the ground. I’m a small business owner, and I can’t imagine what they’re going through. To pretend George Floyd’s murder requires a tit for tat with small business owners and other community members seems so short sighted. Watching these clips tightens the knot in my stomach.
Where do we go from here?
We need new leadership, and I’m not just talking about government. Yes, the President of the United States is openly racist and has a career littered with racial events. This is fact. When he saw Nazis in the streets of Charlottesville, they were “very fine people.” When he saw far right militia armed to the teeth screaming in the faces of police officers because they didn’t want to wear masks, they were “very good people.” When he saw black people peacefully protesting in the first couple days following Floyd’s death, they were “THUGS.”
…But it’s not his fault. It’s ours. Society’s. We let this happen because we haven’t spoken out enough. We haven’t been active enough in our communities. We’ve sat idly by while wealth disparity in the US balloons to unthinkable numbers. We’ve allowed people to work hard and be poor, while others who don’t work are handed everything. We haven’t done enough. Blaming federal officials for these past few days feels so lazy…
…so what can we do? We’ve all made mistakes, myself included. I’ve used language that I thought was funny or attention-getting when it was just wrong. I’ve been insensitive. I haven’t done a good enough job of hiring people of color. When it comes to this topic, I’ve done very little that’s productive other than do my best to positively influence the behavior of my family and friends. This is really my first time speaking out publicly. I have to be better…
…but I don’t pretend to have real answers, only broad comments that seem obvious to me. I feel like we need to be more accountable and improve/change our behavior at the local level, which I think will make a national impact. We need to remember that change can start at any place, any time, and that it’s very contagious. The efforts we make today in understanding racism and doing our best to extinguish it, will pay significant dividends tomorrow. If not? I don’t want to know.
We can’t bring George Floyd back, nor can we do so for any of the untold number of people of color who have been murdered, intimidated, bankrupt, attacked, bought, sold, fired, and otherwise prejudiced against because of their skin color.
But I am an optimist, and I hope we can be better people today and tomorrow, and look back on 2020 as the tipping point.