Following the murder of George Floyd, new waves of outrage have broken out in America, with fury and desperation being felt across the globe.
Floyd was a 46-year-old black man, who had moved from Houston to Minneapolis six years ago to build a new life for himself. He worked as a security guard in a local restaurant, and was a man praised for his loyalty, and strength of character. A figure well-known and well-liked in his local community, Floyd has now become a face recognised across continents — as another victim of American police brutality.
In an interview with CNN, Floyd’s girlfriend Courtney Ross described her partner as ‘nothing but an angel sent to us on earth’. Yet officer Derek Chauvin clearly did not see Floyd in this light. Despite complying with his arrest, Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck, eventually suffocating him to death. One of the many bizarre responses to Floyd’s death, is the immediate questioning of his compliance. The notion that non-compliance could in any way justify or explain the brutal death of a man is horrific. In this response, the narrative of the case is pitted against Floyd — where the blame is placed on his actions, and not those of the police officer and the institution he represents.
Floyd was accused of using a fake $20 bill in a nearby deli, an offence that would typically result in fining, or varying lengths of prison sentence. Whilst the nature of Floyd’s death is particularly horrific, the killing of people of colour in America still occurs too often, and too openly, for his death to come as a surprise. This is the tragic truth of modern America. In 2015, 15 per cent of all reported deaths from the police force were African American men aged 15-34. This is despite the same group making up 2 per cent of the total US population.
To say the US justice system is ‘broken’ fails to recognise the organised biased against BAME citizens living in America. For example, in New York City in 2008, 80 per cent of police stops targeted black and Latino citizens. This is in contrast to the 8 per cent of white citizens who were stopped and searched. In short: whilst 45 per cent of New York is white, and 26 per cent both black, or Latino — black citizens were around 10 times more likely to be stopped by the police. What makes this issue all the worst, is that around 20 per cent of African-Americans live below the poverty line, and therefore cannot afford to pay for the necessary legal action and advice requisite to fight the system.
‘Either the very weak Radical Left Mayor, Jacob Frey, get his act together and bring the City under control, or I will send in the National Guard & get the job done right’.
— President Trump’s tweet in response to the Minneapolis riots
Attempts to justify the disproportionate arrests of black citizens often stem from a narrative that refuses to recognise America for what it is. Whilst time may have passed, and legislation may have changed, the structures of the system, and much of its citizens remain racist. As a white person, I must recognise that I have been socialised into racial illiteracy, whether I like it or not. Racism in the modern age is both overt, and deeply nuanced. Yet the nuances of modern racism must not be used as an excuse to justify inaction, or explain a lack of awareness. At the same time, to only speak up in cases as vile as this, allows subtle, ‘every-day racism’ to fester and grow. We must challenge racism whenever we see it, and in incidents where we do not see it at all. If our black friends and family say to us: what you said, did, or didn’t do, made me feel unsafe, disrespected, or unheard — we must recognise their truth, and change accordingly.
From Twitter threads to conversations online, here are some points members of the BAME community urged white people to see:
First: white people must see that they continue to benefit from the systems and societies that perceive their colour and identity as the norm, and often as the ideal. In Britain, the characterisation of racial ‘otherness’ continues to bleed-in from our colonial past, appearing as another tragedy we must learn of, and learn from. In speaking to black friends and followers on Instagram, all want conversations about race to be normalised, and for white people to open their ears and eyes to the realities of racial injustice. From singing the ‘N-word’ in songs, to wearing braids, or justifying ethnic stereotypes, we must be alert to our ignorance, and change.
Another point raised by those I spoke to, was their disdain for the remark ‘I don’t see colour’. The claim not to see colour only leads to a blindness of systemic racism. This line is also frequently used by people as a tool to shelter themselves and to justify their inaction. The white person’s mechanical assertion that ‘I’m not racist’, is likewise a means to victimise oneself. It focuses on defending one’s own image, rather than the lives of innocent black citizens.
How we can educate ourselves:
The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin.
Yale Open Courses, African American History: From Emancipation to the Present.
Black History Studies, Introduction to Black Studies.
Coursera, History of the Slave South.
Let’s learn to see the world with more objective eyes.