If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.
- Desmond Tutu
It is hard to believe that it has been 2 years since the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin. One question I keep hearing in the aftermath is “where are we now?”, but needs to be asked is “where are you now?”
Some people questioned my sobriety, even as President Biden won the election on November 7th, 2020. It’s the same sobriety I felt about the protests that same summer. While I was encouraged by the marches and social media posts, I wasn’t fooled into thinking that white America had somehow all collectively changed their hearts within a week. I kept thinking back then “They are with us now, but how soon before they leave us hanging?”
I can vividly remember heading into a predominately white neighborhood with my brother during a large march, seeing so many people with signs on their lawns and feeling a sense of optimism. I never thought I would see the day where we would have this kind of support. Those feelings were soon buoyed by a question that lingers in my mind to this day: “Is this for us or them?”. I’m not here to say we don’t have white allies who sincerely care (because we do), but I do wonder who was there to truly support our cause and who was there to absolve themselves of guilt?
How many people truly felt remorse and how many were just showing solidarity to prove to others (and themselves) that they weren’t like those “other” people? I only say that because, as the summer went on and into the fall, we saw those signs disappear. We saw those black squares and hashtags die down, and we saw corporations send out tweets of solidarity only to not hire the very people they say they cared about. We also saw those very same corporations continue to give to politicians who stand against police reform and voting rights. Now is the time where Americans (including corporations) cannot afford to remain neutral.
American history tells us that whenever there are any strides made in civil rights, there is always a white-lash against that said progress. This year was no different. An article from the New York Times showed that not only has support from white people for BLM fallen since last summer, but it’s lower than it was at the beginning of 2020 before the protests even started. While that is not surprising, the disheartening part is that many have blamed this loss of support on slogans or riots, which is unfair. If you believe in human rights, then at the end of the day you should still believe in those same rights no matter what happens in between. I’m not here to argue whether “defund the police” is a good slogan or not, but if that is the thing that causes you to drop support for the movement as a whole, then maybe you weren’t ever honestly behind it. While no one likes to see rioting, Dr. King said “riots are the language of the unheard.” You cannot expect people to care about buildings when you care about those buildings more than you do their lives. It’s an injustice to place blame on the loss of support on those who are fighting for their own lives. Instead, we must finally put the responsibility on white America to not look at these protests based on how they make them feel, but to instead think first of those who are fighting for their dignity.
It is now 2 years later. How much has changed? I don’t know. Maybe the tone on police brutality has changed, but the pushback has been just as loud, if not louder. I do know that Black men, women, boys, and girls are still being killed daily by state-sanctioned violence. That includes the murder of Amir Locke by Minneapolis police this year after officers executed a no-knock warrant in the wrong apartment. Most Black people don’t feel things have changed as much as some white Americans think they have. This is not due to a lack of faith, but because we have seen this before — Americans join in solidarity with our movement only to leave when it doesn’t fit perfectly with how they want us to act. Most people can’t see the fault in that way of thinking, but it upholds the spirit that seeks to control Black people (what my father has labeled as the spirit of slave mastery) — the thinking that if it isn’t done my way, it’s a threat to my way of life.
I know we cannot change every person’s heart, as Dr. King said “Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless”. We must have legal protections for those who are marginalized and mistreated in our society. The main problem we are running into is we have a Republican Party that either supports or does not care about police brutality or racial injustice, but we also have a couple of Democratic Senators who aren’t willing to be politically courageous and kill the filibuster to pass this bill. I also believe that the current administration needs to make more of a consistent public push for police reform. Now is the time for us to have a boldness — a courageousness rooted in love for our fellow American.
I write this not as an indictment but as a challenge. A challenge for those with the privilege to not look at yourselves as the main protagonist. A challenge to help rewrite a book where you are not the main character. I don’t want America to support Black lives because of an election or just because they don’t want to feel guilt. I want them to commit to making sure everyone who doesn’t look like them receives the benefits they have been given. I want them to not only disapprove of injustice and brutality, but to agree to do what is necessary to tear down what holds them up. We have to maintain the momentum we had and keep pressure on our officials (both federally and locally). Only then can we have the collective power needed to prevent the next George Floyd or Breonna Taylor. Achieving true justice is the only way to honor their memories. We know what work remains to be done and I’m sure in the end, it will be done. The question now is who’s willing to do the work?