My struggle to adequately describe the murder of George Floyd ended when I saw this picture late last night.
Take a hard look at this picture, because if you let it sink in deeply it will help you see much of what is wrong with America today.
One frame: Armed protestors, effectively taking over the Michigan State House…protesting the *lawful* order for them to stay home in the midst of the Coronavirus Pandemic.
Another frame: Tear gassed protestors last night, understandably angry at the police, because of the murder of George Floyd by officers earlier in the day.
Friends, if you don’t understand White Privilege, take a good, long, hard look at these two images. Because this is it, right here.
Black and Brown people, and their allies, continue to point out that the deck is consistently stacked against them in ways that the deck is *not* stacked against people like me, or against any other White person reading this.
And if you will say, “But they were unlawfully protesting, so they deserved the tear gas….the Michigan protestors were obeying the law…”
I will say to you: Yes….that is true…but WHY…why are the things in both images “lawful?”
Imagine, if you will, hundreds of armed African-American men, storming *your* statehouse with guns, even if it were legal under your state law.
How would they be treated?
Would the police simply stand there, and allow themselves to be spat upon?
Allow the protestors to SCREAM at them, within inches of their face?
You know the the answer.
They might not use tear gas, but the response would look at awful lot like that second picture.
In point of fact, only ONCE in American history have armed Black people stormed a statehouse. It happened decades ago in California, and arguably was *the* event that led to *both* the first gun control legislation in American….AND the creation of the modern NRA.
No joke. Look it up.
Black and brown people in American are not allowed the privilege of their understandable and justifiable anger, in ways White people are. That’s one side of the equation.
The other side is that White people are allowed —time and time again— to behave in ways that no other race is allowed to behave.
We are allowed to yell at cops, at point blank range.
We are allowed to effectively shut down a statehouse.
We are allowed to call the police on African-Americans at a picnic, a swim party, or even when they are asking *us* to follow the legal law and put a leash on our dog.
Far too many White people believe the law does not apply to them. That is a part of Trump’s popularity, of course. While there are many reasons White people support Trump, some of White people support him because of his willingness to show, day after day, how he believes the law does not apply to him…and therefore, not to them either.
For far too many White people in American, everything in their life —their personal histories, and even in the codified laws of our nation— has convinced them that they are above the law that applies to everyone else. This is not simply an historical truth. This is a *continuing* contemporary truth about our nation.
If you, dear White siblings, do not understand that you walk around with this privilege every day, I would suggest that you have not looked hard enough at your life.
As John Gorka sings in the song, “Ignorance and Privilege”:
“If the wind is at your back
And you never turn around
You may never know the wind is there
You may never hear the sound
I was born to ignorance, yes, and lesser poverties
I was born to privilege that I did not see
Lack of pigment in my skin, won a free and easy in
I didn’t know it, but my way was paved.”
Those officers were using a kind of training that they had been given, and a kind of training that many officers around the nation have been given. It might not have been the *current* training that they were supposed to use. (I expect that is what we will hear in coming days…)
But as I have said before, police have increasingly been trained to use military-style responses on American civilians….armed personnel carriers that police have literally bought FROM the military, or a knee in the back of the neck.
The combination of White privilege and that kind of aggressive, military-style response to Black and Brown bodies is deadly.
I hope those officers are held accountable. I hope they are charged with murder. I hope they get long prison sentences.
These are strange things for me to say out loud. But increasingly, I am convinced that it will take perhaps *dozens* of convictions like this for law enforcement to genuinely change their behaviors. And that, in itself, troubles me. Because what I am saying it, that it could be that perhaps as many as a dozen more Black and Brown bodies must die in the street before White people will wake up.
I hope that is not true.
I fear it is.
Again, ask yourself…how is it that officers stand by and allow White people to SPIT on them in the Michigan capitol?
Aren’t you outraged by THAT too?
Because *I* am!
That’s White privilege.
That’s total disrespect of the police.
And, friends, when mostly White armed thugs can effectively shut down a statehouse, our democracy is in real peril. We are swimming so deeply in an ocean of White privilege that we don’t even SEE how dangerous that moment really was.
Of course, the dangers of White privilege to Black and Brown bodies is far more existential.
Like those spitting armed thugs in MIchigan, George Floyd had a voice too.
He tried to USE his voice.
In fact, he said the same thing that far too many other African-American men have said in recent years,
“I can’t breathe…”
Did the police hear HIM?
I’m not going to post the video of his murder, because a part of the ongoing pornography of violence against Black and Brown bodies is that we all watch these images of their murders over and over. We see their bodies splayed out on the concrete. And maybe you need that in order to get outraged. Maybe you need those dozen-more corpses before you’re ready to change things.
But for me, it dehumanizes their personhood in ways that I will not participate in. I’m ready for things to change now. I’ve BEEN ready.
Dear White siblings, there is no secret knowledge you are going to gain from watching that whole video, even though I know that many of you will watch it.
You are not going to find an answer to what HE did to deserve it, because he didn’t do *anything* to deserve it.
Finally, I’ve heard White people say several things in the past day that I would like to confront in quick succession…maybe they are things you will say in response to this essay…
“Talking about this is divisive.”
I myself am mostly conflict-phobic, which is a truth I am sure some of you cannot believe. But it IS true. I don’t LIKE talking about *any* of this.
But I have listened very closely to beloved Black and Brown friends over the years. They are BEGGING us White people to talk about this more. And more than talk, they are begging us to use our privilege to change the law and behavior of our fellow White people.
They are absolutely convinced that unless and until WE speak up, act up, and truly confront the scourge of White privilege and power…nothing will change. I think they are right.
So, I am speaking up here…and if it makes you uncomfortable, ask yourself… “WHY?”
And don’t be satisfied with the easy answer…go deep.
“Those officers don’t represent me.”
I’ve seen posts that say this too.
Actually, yes they do. They represent *all* of us, just like Donald Trump does. Just as I reject the idea of “Not My President,” I also reject the idea that these are simply rogue cops.
Do I believe they represent ALL officers, or even the majority?
No, I do not believe they do.
But as long as the law and training they receive allow them to respond as they did (with knee on the neck), as long as armed thugs in Michigan can spit on cops and shut down the statehouse with their guns, I will point out this, which is the beating heart of this essay:
The law itself is out-of-balance.
You may not WANT these to represent us all as officers. But they do. And they must be held accountable.
What happened in this horrific murder, once again, is the all-to-lethal intersection of White privilege and police power. And if you are unclear about either, keep looking at the two images here.
Ask yourself how it can BOTH be true that armed and angry, spittle-tossing thugs can shut down a statehouse, while police can murder a Black man on the street.
And if you get to the place of asking, “How can EITHER of these things happen?”
Then, hopefully, the evil of White privilege —how it is enforced, codified, and accepted in LAW— is starting to dawn on you.
And then hopefully, dear White siblings, you are ready to do something about it.