Four years ago, when Philando Castile was shot dead by cops, I thought “this is the moment.” Because how could America continue to believe there wasn’t a problem with racism and police brutality, when someone who was literally just sitting there, literally doing nothing wrong, winds up dead? His girlfriend filmed the encounter, for God’s sake. His young daughter was also in the car. This had to be “the moment.” If not now, when?
Of course, that’s not what happened. Nobody was held accountable for his death. The officer who shot him, while he sat innocently in his car, was acquitted.
Somehow, America still didn’t see.
Now, there’s George Floyd. Well — there have been hundreds in between, but it’s the same story every time. How much clearer does it have to be for you to see that what’s happening here is the clearest symptom of the disease that is American racism?
And now, you see. It feels different, this time. I see you speaking out and showing up. We see it all across America. Would this have happened now, without the COVID-19 pandemic? Without black folks under double assault, trying to survive the disease and the police? Without so many folks at home, taking the time to watch and listen? Without the most dangerous bigoted imbecile of a blistered bladder in the White House, rejecting requests for life-saving ventilators and tweet-bragging? There’s a relationship there that historians will write about, but it’s a little hard to synthesize this moment with the relentless wave of one collective trauma after another happening to my community.
So, I think it’s fair to say it’s been a pretty crappy year so far. But…
No, not but. AND.
The absolute dystopian depravity of 2020 has also been met by the most gorgeous displays of human empathy and compassion. Between the damn COVID-19 pandemic and the social uprising, people have shown us their best selves. The NURSES. The TEACHERS.
The doctors. The scientists. The reporters. The small business owners of Minneapolis standing with protesters, and the bus drivers of NYC. Folks sewing masks. Folks braving pepper spray and rubber bullets to hand out water.
By all accounts, the white supremacists have come out to play. They think they can divide us. They think we will be confused, and won’t be able to tell justice from revenge, or love from hate. They seek to reinforce the stereotypes that many white folks use as a crutch for their racism. They will fail, because in spite of it all, I have seen that love wins. We have shown each other how love wins every day since the second week of March.
You could see it, finally. It took way too fucking long, but you were finally starting to see as you watched George Floyd die. You remembered those that came before him. Philando Castile. Oscar Grant. Sandra Bland. Tamir Rice. You shook your head. Maybe you made some calls or wrote a letter. Maybe you even found yourself thinking “it’s too bad, but they shouldn’t have…” But you couldn’t ignore George Floyd calling for his mama, or the indifference of his killers.
Just as you can’t ignore what is happening in our streets now.
What’s happening in our streets are not riots, but uprisings. They’re not PC, or quiet, or polite. This is not your grandmother’s civil rights movement. The People are presenting America with a bill to be paid, which is long overdue. The wealth and prosperity America enjoys today was built off the backs of the ancestors of those fighting for their lives in the streets this week.
So as uncomfortable as the images of boarded up businesses and broken glass may make you, ask yourself just what is the appropriate response to four hundred years of brutality and oppression? Remember that while items can be replaced and structures rebuilt, human life cannot be replaced, and consider the tragic human toll that American racism has exacted from us.
So, hold on. However you feel about the civil unrest, there is no going back now. Transformative change is past due. The revolution is being televised. It’s happening.
So take care of each other, and be a helper. Be led by love, but also by justice and equity. Be vocally anti-racist and support causes doing the work to dismantle white supremacy.