Another name added to an endless list of names. This time, George Floyd.
Disturbing video footage on the news and across social media of a white police officer using his knee to pin down an African American man by the neck. Mr. Floyd is seen pleading for his life through moans and gasps. He could not breathe. He died.
A few months ago Ahmaud Arbery was gunned down while taking a run down a street in his very own community — something he did every day.
Raised in the Deep South, I witnessed racism in full swing from an early age. As a child, I felt like a stranger in a land of unforgiving humidity, feeling suffocated not only by the climate, but by the staunch ideals, brick and mortar mindsets, and paralyzed morals. I saw no difference between myself and children of other races, and was glad to have anyone as a friend.
I lived in a town that thrived on civic pride, but not everyone was counted as true citizens. Traditions were ever so sacred, many of which sprang from inhumane belief systems. It was understood that there was a line drawn in the sand, and “you stayed on your side, and we stayed on ours.”
What made it worse was that it was all carried out with smiles and handshakes, as if discrimination was a pill that was happily swallowed. There were clubs, meetings, celebrations, even church gatherings held under the guise that these were events meant for all, but there existed an unspoken agreement that whites only would attend.
We even had a “white prom” in high school. A group of parents got together each year and rented a venue on the local college campus. Our school’s student council worked hard and threw wonderfully memorable proms, but this alternative was provided (on the same night) as an “option.” To save face, a few black students were invited as well. My date and I started off at the school prom, had pictures made, mingled, then went to the other prom.
I regret participating now, but at the time I was oblivious in my ignorance of it being a race matter. I saw it as just another party and went to hang out with classmates. Thankfully, the whole thing was dismantled by some fed up students a few years after I graduated.
This prom fiasco is just another “us vs. them” example of exclusion. It was an elitist move and a manifestation of an ideal that wanted to remind everyone who still had the upper hand in our “friendly” community. That these parents were permitted to do this and take something away from what could have been a unified event for the school and for our student body was deplorable.
I did not understand at the time that this was white privilege. That was a term I would hear later in life. I lived unaware of the invisible umbrella that covered my comings and goings, which also kept me ignorant of my status being one of convenience and ease compared to that of so many others.
That segregated prom took place in the ’90s. Fast forward to 2020 and things have gotten worse.
As a white person, I will never know what it is to be black in America. I will never know the constant threat one lives under because of the pigmentation of skin. No one in my family will be judged, misunderstood, accused, and murdered simply for their race. I will not know the exhaustion of having to constantly check my surroundings, of having to keep watch over my shoulder. I will not hear the slurs, see the flash of paranoia in strangers’ eyes, and feel the sting of betrayal in a country whose inalienable rights are defined as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
I hurt for those deemed minorities and who are treated as such. The state of things is deeply grievous. Mostly, I am sorry that those I consider sisters and brothers must continue to see these atrocities unfold — for the fear, ache, rage, and heartbreak they are constantly faced with.
The flagrant disregard for human life sheds light on an “us vs. them” mentality that is still very much at work or else these senseless murders would not be headline news every few weeks. Perhaps these crimes are perpetrated because we the people, as a whole, are not grieved enough to be moved to action. Inaction produces just as much of a consequence as action. Indifference perpetuates injustice. Love for our neighbors, all neighbors, has the power to dismantle apathetic tendencies.
These horrors should not escape a single one of us. If we aren’t all grieved for George Floyd as if he was our son, brother, husband, friend, or neighbor maybe we should ask ourselves “why?”
I will never know what it is to be black in America, but I can make sure I know what it is to be an agent of change on behalf of my fellow members of the human race.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” — Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from the Birmingham Jail