I am writing this today, as a white woman and Minnesota citizen, to express my feelings about the public’s reaction to the murder of George Floyd.
I write this with a heavy heart. I also begin, first and foremost, with recognizing my white privilege. I cannot pretend to know what the black community is feeling, or what any BIPOC* (*Black/indigenous/people of color) communities are feeling right now. There is nothing that I can say or do as a white person, in this moment, that will make this better or erase the horrendous racism that has persisted for the last nearly 300 years.
Because it happens all the time.
And that’s exactly what I’d like to address.
I was born and raised in Minneapolis, and I was very disappointed by the level of shock that rippled throughout our city community. The morning after Floyd’s murder, many of my friends and acquaintances flooded my social media feed with the horrific video of his killing, captioned with great ignorance.
“It’s crazy that this happened so close to home.”
“Minneapolis is usually so liberal and accepting. How could this happen?”
“I can’t believe this. Our city is better than that.”
“I’m utterly shocked that this happened in my community. I never thought something like this would happen here.”
(Yes, these are direct quotes that I have shared from social media.)
Not coincidentally, everyone who shared such captions were white people. That’s precisely the problem: white privilege allows us to be blind. It allows us to decide which information to hear, or look at, or read. It allows us to have the choice of whether to inform ourselves of these issues or to remain in the dark.
White privilege is what allows us to feel shocked.
But this is not a shock.
Let’s start with the facts. According to CityPages, Minnesota ranks 45th out of 51 states in racial integration. That’s almost at the bottom of the list, meaning that Minnesota is one of the most segregated states in the country. And there is also another sobering disparity, specific to the justice system — black Minnesotans are killed 13 times more often by the Minnesota Police Department than white Minnesotans.
Those statistics did not just create themselves. It took ugly abuses of power, blatant racism, ignorance, and silence to let the system spiral into the atrocities it sees today — all of which white people hold responsibility for.
It’s not crazy that this happened so close to home. Black Minnesotans have been experiencing higher rates of police brutality for years, and they have consistently been ignored. To exemplify that very problem, George Floyd’s murderer, Derek Chauvin, actually had other incidents of brutality, and multiple complaints about it. He has killed people before. He killed an unarmed black man in 2008. Even as recently as 2011, he was placed on leave for unjustifiably shooting someone. But he got back to the system, and another nine years later, killed a man in cold blood. Someone made the decision to place him on leave rather than fire him. Someone made the decision to let him back onto the police force. Someone made the decision to give that man the opportunity to commit this heinous crime. This happened because someone never listened to yet another victim of color.
And Minneapolis may appear liberal, but who assesses the liberalism and level of acceptance in Minneapolis? As white people, we are viewing the world through a completely different — and tone-deaf — lens. Regardless, politics do not make anyone immune to being racist and contributing to such disparities.
It’s alarming to hear how many people were shocked at this situation. It’s alarming to see people posting on social media, so rattled that this happened in their community, as if it’s a one-time thing. It’s alarming to see people realizing, suddenly, how many beautiful lives have been ended by awful monsters. I was astounded at the amount of people that struggled to accept that Minnesota could be capable of this. We are capable. We have been capable. George Floyd’s death is one of millions. His situation is the norm — rather than the exception — for black Americans, and that is horrifying.
As a white person, I am begging other white people: do not be shocked.
Be enraged, be appalled, be sad, be upset, be disturbed, be loud — but do not be shocked. If you are shocked, realize that your privilege has allowed you to be shocked, has clouded your worldview for years, has given you the ability to turn the other cheek when another black life, another black family, another black community, is destroyed.
Instead, use your emotions to inspire you to act now. Do not stand idly by, because we have, for too many years. Do not post the video on social media to «sread awareness», hoping that absolves you of the responsibility to actively advocate against racism. We need to find ways to help without being patronizing, offensive, or invasive in a space that is not our own. So start reading articles by BIPOC people. Listen to podcasts made by BIPOC people. Attend seminars that address white fragility and racism. Advocate for BIPOC, even when no one’s watching, even if it’s nothing but white people in the room. Google how to be racially conscious. Volunteer with an anti-racism organization. Follow BIPOC social media accounts, specifically those that use their platform to address race issues. Express support for your BIPOC friends, your BIPOC neighbors, your BIPOC strangers. Do not expect them to inform you, or to do all of the work for you. But stand with them, listen to them, hear them, understand them. Check yourself. Hold yourself accountable. Fight.
The time is up for white silence.
If you are shocked at George Floyd’s murder — or Ahmaud Arbery’s, or Breonna Taylor’s, or Philando Castile’s, or Jamar Clark’s, or Treyvon Martin’s, or young Emmett Till’s long ago, or the millions of others’ — let this be a wake-up call.
I sure will.
My heart is broken for Floyd, and for his family. I still feel that I don’t have the words to express how tragic this is, how disgusting, how cruel. I’m not even sure if there are words. I feel responsible. I feel an immense amount of pain and grief for someone that I didn’t even know. I find it difficult to see a picture of George Floyd without wanting to burst into tears. He was a beautiful human being who died at the hands of evil, injustice, and white supremacy. We cannot accept that. We cannot move on and make empty promises, only to let this happen again, and again, and again. George Floyd was one of many. He was human. He is more than a statistic, or trauma porn, or a breaking story in the news. He was somebody.
I feel guilty for having the privilege of resuming my normal life, or being able to turn off my phone to take a break from the news. When I hug my family, or come home to a warm house, or sit safely in my quiet bedroom on a quiet street, I feel the constant reminder that many black Americans worry each day that those things will be ripped from them. And yet: I don’t even know the half of it. I acknowledge that.
To the people of color in this world — both those that I know, and those that I don’t — I am so, so sorry. We need to do better. I need to do better. I know that words can be empty at a time like this, in a society like this, and there is nothing that I can say that will change what has happened. I won’t blame you if my words feel useless, coming from the mouth of the oppressor after a tragedy. White people are certainly not in a position to opine right now on what the black community needs.
But my heart is heavy. As a white woman, I have never done enough to dismantle racism, and I will never feel that anything is “enough,” but I am going to hold myself accountable. I am going to hold my friends and my family and my strangers accountable, too. I am going to try, each day, to do better than the day before. I am going to step away from the white spotlight, listen to BIPOC and hear their words. I am going to act now. Because my voice is futile without a commitment to practice what it preaches.
White people have already failed you. There is no excuse, and we can never take away the pain and casualty we have caused with all of our irreparable actions, but we can’t let that stop us from fighting to change the future. I will not let it stop me. Our privilege has enabled our silence for long enough — but no more. Black. Lives. Matter.
I don’t expect my personal sentiments to elicit meaning. I am part of a sickening, shameful cycle; there are no words that can rectify that. I confess that I don’t know what to say. Nothing I can say would be right.
But please, hear my message. This is not a shock. This is not a surprise. This is America.