Updated: Aug 9, 2020
We have a certain fondness towards people we refer to as “household names.” We all know the term; famous individuals that almost every family in America has heard of. We know so well what they do that we cannot hear their names without seeing their faces is our heads. Sometimes, so well-known that even the utterance of the persons first name automatically makes us think of the last name that goes with it. Despite how many people we may actually personally know with this same name. Michael Jordon, Barack Obama, Will Smith, Lebron James. Household names of famous black men. But what about the infamous? Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and now George Floyd. Household names for all the wrong reasons.
These are weird times we live in. World leaders through insults back and forth on social media like high school kids, a global pandemic has locked people into quarantines, bringing massive economies to a halt, and family dinners intensify with the simple mention of whether you lean left or right. In a country more polarized than ever the events of recent days do not come as much of a surprise, and maybe that’s the most infuriating part. High-school aged kids woke up to the news of Trayvon Martin in 2012, ate lunch reading tweets about Michael Brown and are now continuing the rest of their day seeing retweets of George Floyd. How is this the America they know almost 60 years post Jim Crow?
As a black man in America I know all too well the effects of racism and prejudice. I know the feeling of being stopped while standing next to a nice car and asked by officers is this really my vehicle; being told to sit on the curb while they run the license plate. I know how it feels to be get pulled over on the highway and immediately call a friend, telling them, “I’ve just been stopped, I’m putting the phone down, if you hear anything going wrong call my parents.” I know what this kind of fear can do to a young mind. And the worst part about this that I’ve got it easy. My own privileges (most of them provided by hard working parents) greatly minimized my risk of falling victim to one of these hateful encounters. My brother and I had a basketball hoop in the driveway. We didn’t have to walk to a park every time we wanted to practice. Our parents had flexible schedules such that if ever we did happen to lose track of the time, we could be picked up and not have to walk home. For a long time, I was able to move about with a blissful ignorance to some of injustices this country had to offer.
For all the things we say about this about this social media age, a lot of good has come from it. It’s only recently that everything every person does is somehow caught on video and at first that can sound troubling. The exploitation and lack of privacy that comes with every iPhone owner searching for the next viral moment has become pandemic of its own. But the events that once took place in the dark are now exposed by the digital light that is Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and more.
“We don’t know what really happened.”
“If you comply with police nothing can go wrong.”
“Oh, he must’ve done something.”
There should be no more denials. We’ve seen the videos. Young black men jogging through neighborhoods, gunned down by civilians playing judge, jury and executioner. Only to have their lawyers ask the public to not rush to judgment. We’ve seen the videos of black men, in the midst of arrests for nonviolent offenses, targeted. Forced to beg for their lives with their last breaths. I’ve watched these videos as I sit with friends, frightfully aware that Ahmaud Arbery is one of us. A black man in his mid-twenties, jogging through neighborhoods, trying to exercise while state restrictions have gyms closed. Does it make sense that in 2020 I should be questioning what I may have stopped to look out while out for my run? Is there really equality for all if I lay awake thinking about who may have watched me run. And how can we fool ourselves into thinking we stand for anything close to justice if that person’s recklessness and prejudice steals my life and is able to do go on with their day like nothing happened. As if nothing matters, as if my life doesn’t matter.
So, what do we do? How do we prevent another George Floyd from being choked? How do we prevent another Ahmaud Arbery from being gunned down? How do we fight the racism and prejudice so deeply ingrained in our society that it’s almost like part of American culture? For starters, we must be heard. Let those who have sworn to protect us hear our cries and our pleas. Let the lawmakers hear and frustrations and our demands. We must be heard when we question the actions taken upon us and we must be heard when we demand answers and accountability. Let us be heard as we mourn our brothers and sisters and let us be heard as we demand justice for their lives, our lives.
We must come together so the "we" that I reference continues to grow. Because this isn’t a democrat vs republican, or man vs woman this is a humanity issue. No one groups humanity means more than another’s. The conversations will be uncomfortable. When its had people will try to dilute what is real with talk of politics or outliers but what is seen on these videos cannot be denied. What is felt by the mothers of those men cannot be denied. Unless we speak up, unless we act towards change this America we live in is no different than it was on August 28, 1955.
Rest in peace George Floyd.