“Black America feels like it cannot breathe,” said Trymaine Lee, Host of NBC’s Into America podcast in a CNN interview.
On the same channel, Brooke Baldwin wept. “I’m so angry, and I cannot even begin….” As Andrea Jenkins, who represents Mr. Floyd’s ward on City Council, said, “What sparks so much outrage, is that there seemed no regard to humanity or for human life.”
And Bakari Sellers, author of My Vanishing Country, in another CNN interview sobbed as he said, “There’s so much pain…. It’s hard to be black in this country when your life is not valued. And people are worried about the protesters and the looters. It’s people who are frustrated, who for far too long have not had their voices heard.”
“It’s not an isolated incident. It is a continuum of cases and situations that has been going on for decades…. These are just chapters in a book. And the title of the book is ‘Continuing Injustice and Inequality in America.’ That’s why the outrage. It’s not about one situation. It’s about the same situation happening again and again and again and again.” Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York. He pointed out the systemic racism that has led to more minorities being affected by COVID-19 than anyone else. “Nobody sanctions the violence and destruction, he said, “but the protests, the fear, the anger, and frustration, yes. And they demand is for justice…. How repugnant to the concept of America.”
The sentiments of New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy were similar. “George Floyd should be alive today—not just as a matter of principle or justice, but as a matter of human dignity,” he said. “Too many times, we’ve gotten a national wake-up call and done nothing. Justice for George means acknowledging our nation’s centuries-old stain of racism.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden held a briefing. “No longer can we hear the words ‘I can’t breathe’ and do nothing,” he said, adding that what happened to George Floyd was “an act of brutality so elemental … it denied him of his humanity, it denied him of his life.” It’s time for us to take a hard look at the uncomfortable truths. It’s time for us to face that deep open wound.
One politician, the President, however, had a different view. “These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen,” Donald Trump tweeted shortly before 1 a.m. Friday, May 29. And he added, “Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Twitter called the tweet out, adding that it violated the platform’s fules about glorifying violence. Furthermore, the New York Times pointed out that the statement was unattributed quote of Walter Headley, Miami’s police chief in 1967, threatening citizens who were upset that police had terrorized a black teenager by holding him over a bridge.
A Gentle Giant
Christopher Harris, a close friend, remembered George Floyd as a gentle giant. “…You see he was like a big, soft teddy bear.”
“I’m never going to get my brother back,” said his brother, Philonise Floyd.
Like Bakari Sellers, mom and blogger Georgina Dukes thought about what the tragedy will mean for her young child. “When my beautiful black boy grows from cute to a threat” She spoke of having the Talk. “I wish I didn’t have to have this conversation with my brilliant son.”
We Can No Longer Do Nothing
Said John Pavlovitz in his blog, Stuff that Needs to Be Said, “As a white person, I am grieving how prolific the white hatred of people of color is right now, but more than that I’m grieving how comfortable white Americans have all made it, the unimpeded path we’ve provided it, the way we’ve cooperated with it.”
So, we must act. “It starts with self-examination and listening to those whose lives are different from our own. It ends with justice, compassion, and empathy that manifests in our lives and on our streets,” said Michelle Obama. “I pray we all have the strength for that journey, just as I pray for the souls and the families of those who were taken from us.”
Among them: Amadou Diallou, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Alton Sterling, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Amaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor.
Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo had that dialogue. “And when [white people] see everyday racism, they don’t stand up for it. Imagine how that feels to people of color in this country,” said CNN host Don Lemon. “The only word I can use it ‘hurt.’ It all hurts. This is why Colin Kaepernick took a knee. That’s why people are protesting.” This, as Mr. Lemon pointed out, is in stark contrast with those groups shouting in state capitols, white guys who are armed, heavily armed. “I am so sick, as a person of color, a black man… my actions, whatever I do is seen as being more aggressive or somehow sinister, just because of this shell that I am in. I am sick of it…. And that is how people of color feel in this country.
Among “75 things white people can do for racial justice,” are organizations to join, African-American businesses to patronize, civil-rights charities to support, and issues to follow. And a storyteller offers ideas on how white people can be allies, such as important books to read to become more knowledgeable on institutional racism—and being an empathetic listener.
Four excellent organizations fighting systemic racism:
- The Southern Poverty Law Center
- The Equal Justice Initiative
- Anguish and Action, and My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) from the The Obama Foundation
Seven must-read books addressing systemic racism:
- Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
- Ta-Nihisi Coates, Between the World and Me and We Were Eight Years in Power
- Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy
- Layla Saad, Me and White Supremacy
- Ibrahim X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist
- Patrice Khan Cullors, When They Call You a Terrorist, reviewed in this blog previously
More books can be found in this article in British Vogue.
If you are buying a copy of any these books, please go to Bookshop.org and support a struggling independent bookseller.
Other things you can do:
Not being a bystander – speaking out:
- Interrupt the conversation. Express that you need to talk about racism before proceeding.
- Question the person and remark. “Why did you call it the Chinese virus” or “What made you say that?”
- Educate the speaker. Tell them that the name COVID-19 was chosen carefully to avoid associating the pathogen with a specific group of people.
- Echo when someone else speaks up. Acknowledge and amplify the message that these terms are wrong and hurtful.