LIKE MARVIN GAYE, MY WHITE FRIENDS ARE ASKING ME: WHAT’S GOING ON?
Below is a discussion of social privilege — and life without it. Policing Black Athletes: Racial Disconnect in Sports, is my forthcoming book where I work hard to lay out for folks the pathway that leads us to where we are in sport and society — and a way to social justice.
But first, the most salient topic on many people’s minds is not a lesson in American history, and not even executions in broad daylight by those sworn to protect, but rather the looting that media camera crews are collecting as they cover anguished citizen protests about inequality.
Black people have reached a tipping point: George Floyd was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I’ll explain how we might frame what happened to George Floyd in a bit. But first, let me get past your resistance.
Many white people have said to me, “The protestors are not honoring George Floyd’s death. Because, looting!” Even otherwise good Black folks are saying this. I got it. None of us LIKE mayhem in our lives or cities. So, let’s agree that this takes away from the main message we are protesting about — the continued subordination and execution of Black people for 400 years.
Many folks, sadly, can’t get further than “property,” so we have to address that so you can see clearly. Because I understand your logic: “If a protest is not to my liking, regardless of what you are protesting about, I won’t listen.” But it does say something about communication if we’ve screamed loudly for all these years and you find yet another reason to say, “Hell no!”
Got it. Well how about we prosecute neo Nazis and white supremacists, who want a race war, so that they stop vandalizing in and around 2020 social protests?
Many groups who want Black folks to fail are inserting themselves into this movement on foot — and online. There will be many more negative essays about Black Lives Matter (BLM) that are false and made-up to tarnish this movement and our requests. The same stink happened to Martin Luther King in the 1950s and 1960s. The same nastiness happened to the Black Panthers. [Actually, the FBI’s COINTELPRO was much more vicious to the Panthers.] The same vilifying happened to Colin Kaepernick, who was called anti-American, anti-troops, anti-police and anti-first responders (a stretch).
This is a distraction. Do not fall for it.
Keep asking yourself why peaceful protestors are angry, because it certainly isn’t about demanding free sweatshirts from Foot locker. And since you can’t move forward until I denounce those folks, I won’t.
I understand how anger at injustice can lead folks to protest loudly, and on occasion, violently (towards buildings, and cars, not people); and if an opportunity presents itself to take something that is not mine, like say, an Oakland Raiders jersey from a store, then yes, that qualifies as theft. That’s how 45 got elected. You didn’t leave the country in protest over that, did you?
The theft of an election (it helps to disenfranchise young and old Black voters whenever possible) and the constant monetary theft via compulsory hotel stays by government officials at facilities and golf courses. And did you know 45’s family members in the white house make commercial deals with quid pro quo promises — leveraging their influence of proximity to the man in charge?
This, too, is theft, and at a much higher rate. But you and I are used to that. We can’t do anything about that, right? Besides, “White collar crime hurts nobody,” we tell ourselves, so we put on that flesh-colored band aid to take away the sting. We barely see the crimes. Or we simply change the channel.
But not for people stealing tennis shoes. You are enraged at that. Well, if that is what it takes to get your attention, I’ll go Nike hunting, too.
Those folks who might decide to take tennis shoes know very well that 45 has now let his friends out of prison — because, power. Where is the law? Where is the order and equality and justice we are told exists?
Equal justice before the law? Really? Not in our neighborhoods.
So, if we have a conversation about why you hate seeing people take advantage of a chaotic situation, I want you to witness how the Commander of Chaos has led us to where we are.
Many think he is now attempting to steal our beloved democracy. He (and a reporter or two) tells you to “look at the looters,” while he puts his sweaty hands deep into the pockets of America and throws billions to corporations (who didn’t ask for it) for Covid-19 recovery purposes.
And you scowl at shoes being stolen. And you scream “criminals!” And you condemn. And you judge. And then you say, “If Black people really wanted equality, they’d work hard like I do.”
And you look away from the social injustice part of the equation because people who steal don’t deserve anything. Just like you’ve looked away since you’ve been alive regarding these pesky “Black” issues. These are American issues, just like apple pie (or sweet potato pie, if you’re buying).
Don’t fall for the psychological con that 37 million African Americans do not deserve justice because a few hundred black people stole shoes.
Your mind might fall for the con anyway — even if you know it is a con — because you need a justification for the cruelty you’ve witnessed all these years. On the sofa. Seeing people steal stuff, while you don’t like it, gives you that “out” you need to keep on living and smiling. The more they show people steal, the angrier you can get, until you have popped your hood and are full-blown ‘They don’t deserve shit! Because jogging shoes!”
We can no longer look away from our American Apartheid. We have allowed it to fester. I am complicit, too. I “hope” more than I “do.” I wait around for the leaders to lead. But those days are over. And if my Black ass has reached its limit — and I LOVE White people — then I have a strong subterranean feeling this is not only a local phenomenon for this kid from Oakland.
When people are at what former Harvard Law Professor Derrick Bell calls, The Bottom of the Well, they might 1) resent the national government welcoming Covid-19 into the country (“It will all disappear soon”), 2) question the integrity of a leader who refuses to protect or help them (“That’s up to the states”), 3) grow frustrated with rampant unemployment (40 million newly-unemployed), and 4) and scream bloody murder that there is still — still — no national testing program or plan to keep us all well and protected.
People have children taken from them by child protective services for bad parenting. That’s the system we have to protect the innocent. And what of the innocent folks our government looks the other way from? This is cause for professional malpractice. We need protective services from our leader. Imagine that.
What does that communicate to people when the person who is sworn to protect you opens the gates of death and welcomes the plague in, knowing Covid-19 might kill you or someone you love? I’m a Black man with Type II diabetes and high blood pressure. I have got skin in the game.
“Get back to work!” Is what our government says to those Black, White, Brown and otherwise who are in low-paying service jobs. And if you leave your job because you are afraid for your Black or Brown Covid-infused life, you will not be allowed unemployment insurance money. “Sorry. You should have been born rich.” This fate falls to many in my family.
So, no, I don’t condone stealing, but I see it from a different angle. I see this disaster from the angle of people at the bottom of the well who live with nothing else to lose. As Trump once asked Black people while buttering them up for votes, “What have you got to lose?” Our lives, turns out. And we are losing those daily.
That’s sad in and of itself in this great nation of ours.
So, do we agree? Stealing = bad. Covid death at high rates for Black and Brown folks = bad. Rampant unemployment that adds to the already rampant unemployment/underemployment of folks who look like me = bad. Poor and middle-class White people who don’t give a shit = bad. Allies = awesome.
Now, back to George Floyd. This is — and isn’t — about only George Floyd. It isn’t, because we’ve been at this for quite a while. We have been marching for decades; holding prayer vigils for decades; crying for decades; and trying to heal our trauma and heartbreak — for decades…as far back as 1619, when the first of us arrived via ship at Point Comfort.
We have voted, we have laid foundations for major communities, like Tulsa Oklahoma and Rosewood, and have had those burned to the ground by White Supremacists and the local, county, state or federal government, who at times were one and the same thing. We are American.
We have sat in the streets with our hands up; we have told you when we can’t breathe. Three Black women started a movement, Black Lives Matter, specifically because we were being killed illegally and without any justice. We have elected national officials who had it in their hearts to change policing and criminal justice laws but could not fight the forces of those who love the status quo.
As a last resort, Colin Kaepernick kneeled. He refused to salute a flag he felt oppressed black people by vicious policing. You hated that, too. I’ve asked before and I will ask White people again: What would you have us do that will work?
Why is everything we do so wrong? Why don’t you see what we see?
So, this is much bigger than Floyd, just so you know. Many deny us job opportunities by denying us interviews or membership in Unions, refuse us housing via restrictive covenants, deny us health care in low-wage jobs, then decimate the educational system in urban areas. And it is all our fault, you say.
Oh, and did I mention that it is now completely acceptable to lynch black people in front of an international TV audience so everybody globally knows “who’s the boss of Black people?”
So, whenever you start to condemn, slightly alter your condemnation. Here’s a suggestion (why criticize your slacker attitude without a way forward?). Say to your one, Black, awesome friend over a bottle of Pinot:
“Wow — Dude! I never realized African Americans have been through so many decades — centuries of accumulated trauma. The death of so many on camera recently gives a voice to all you have been protesting about during the last century about police brutality. And maybe Black-on-Black crime has more to do with lack of jobs, poor educational outcomes, low-grade housing, and the poor urban food deserts many Black folks live in, rather than who we’ve made you up to be. I’ve used Black-on-Black crime as part of my defense against cop shootings. But I see they are part of the same systematic infrastructure that keeps you “off the grid” and of a status that does not warrant our White respect. I’ve been hoodwinked and bamboozled. We have to make wholesale changes to our way of life way beyond police reform — so we don’t make swiping a watch from a damaged storefront a means of getting ahead. We have to stop the source of the pain. We’ve never done that. I don’t LIKE that people HAVE to steal.”
If you said that to your Black friend, they’d think you were awesome. And an alien. But they’d buy your meal and that pinot noir. And peach cobbler.
Part of me fears you will stop reflecting on Black lives and social justice once people stop stealing and Black protests stop making the news. Give that a thought. And then don’t do that.
But this is my wish. I’d like you to prove you love liberty. Join a protest. March alongside your American brothers and sisters. We need you. Your White voice is more socially respected than 10 times the number of Black voices. I wish that were not so, but this is where we’re at.
White cops treat White people better. White people talk cops out of tickets. We fear getting killed. See how that works? That’s the America we live in.
Ask any Black actress or actor, Black athlete, Black politician, Black musician, Black newscaster or Black Professor. Check in with your favorite Black star — see what they say about the low public value placed on Black Lives. We all agree, with few exceptions.
But you’ll likely hear one Black voice say, “It’s our own fault, Black folks!” And that is the ticket your conscience needs to feel “okay” about whatever ill treatment is meted out. You take a deep breath, and then change the channel.
Liberty is not just about you being able to eat in a restaurant during Covid-19.
You’ve talked your entire life about what you “would have” done in the 1960s had you been of age. Maybe you were of age and protested. Covid-19 High-five! I thank you for your service and dedication, just like I thank military veterans and my niece and nephew who serve in the Navy. You were down with the cause. Remember the good old days when Black and White and Brown and Native and Asian protested alongside each other?
What is awesome is the youth and seniors and colors of the human rainbow and genders and sexualities all banding together to put in the time to make this country what it could truly be: A haven for equality and justice and opportunity and love.
Now might be the time for you and more White people to join peaceful protests. Because this fight for justice will only work if White people are involved in a massive way. Consider it. And promise me you won’t steal anything from Ikea.
Now we can move forward in this conversation.
Here’s why this IS about George Floyd: The recent trifecta of deaths show that we have gone nowhere good in terms of our policing in this country. It has to be said: Our police have been given too much power. When Ahmad Arbery, was killed, his killers ran free for days. Even though the police knew who did the killing. Death by jogging — by an ex-cop and his gun-toting son.
Add in our wonderful EMT, Black female Breonna Taylor, who got shot eight times in her bed while she slept. Because the guy the cops were really AFTER — had already been arrested. “Oooops!”
She was shot in her home by cops whose only defense was, “Sorry.”
And then we have the public execution of George Floyd. Here is why this IS about him: That slow, excruciating death traumatized every black person for the next 100 years — three generations. People yet unborn will have to watch George Floyd die as parents warn their kids about police. We have no choice but to watch. Many non-Blacks can afford the luxury of looking away.
There will be Black parents who say, “We must not watch this video in this family. Forget the past trauma and move forward.” I get it.
Others will say, “No — they must be traumatized so they know their history. This will protect them — by knowing what might happen.” I get that too.
We will be agonized for decades to come and battle over this very visual act within our culture. We can’t look away from a society that holds a mirror and a pistol up to us wherever we go. You can get on with your comfortable life.
We sit paralyzed watching the way Floyd was killed — while he prayed for his life, while bystanders begged for mercy, while other cops simply looked on and condoned his killing. What do you think George Floyd was thinking? As he was being lynched while face down on the pavement, he must have thought — “Why is this happening to me? What did I do? Am I going to die here?”
And then, George, you will ask for your mother. I would, too. You were born Black, George, and that means it was your fault and you deserve to die because White people will say you had an “Unsavory record.” Of course they will. They have to. Or else admit a problem. But that is an inconvenient truth.
What if, individual White person reading this, it happened to your father, son, brother, partner? What if you had to watch your father slowly have his last breath with a knee on his neck? Would you cry? Would you break a window? Don’t steal anything, or we will think your father had it coming to him.
After Mr. Floyd was dead, the Man in Blue adjusted himself to hold his knee hard into the neck of his “catch” for another two minutes and fifty-three seconds: 2:53. Those are numbers we have to remember, in addition to 8:46, the time that cop knee was ground into the neck of an American citizen by the occupying force in Minneapolis that has dealt many blows to the local Black population. [And be sure to see 8:46 by comedian Dave Chappelle. Badass.]
George Floy’s crime? He gave the store a $20 bill that happened to be counterfeit.
I once gave a bartender a $100 bill that turned out to be counterfeit. I didn’t go to jail. I didn’t get choked out by a rogue cop. I was living in New Zealand. It was no big deal. Many people the same night found $100 bills and thought they, like me, had struck gold.
Is New Zealand more democratic, fair and just than the USA?
George Floyd’s death is seared into our Black collective memories forever, just like September 11, 2001, is always in the mental background of anyone living in or around New York at the time.
Local authorities in Minneapolis did not want to arrest the cops responsible. What does that communicate to Black people? That police are a protected class. That whatever they do — and whatever 45 in the White House does — is above the law?
This is what many White people would say if this lynching happened to someone they knew: “This is unconscionable. This is un-American.”
We are a patient people. Far more patient than White Americans.
You try telling gun-toting White Americans that they cannot go to restaurants and tattoo parlors and coffee-shops and their jobs (in order to save their lives and keep those around them protected) and watch what happens — the threat of armed takeover of state capitals, complete with AR-15 automatic weapons, and yelling at police!
I’ve never yelled at a cop — with a gun at my side. Not that I’d want to do that. But your peeps did.
The response by the U.S. government: “Way to go! Take back your state from tyranny!” No tanks, no national guard, no tear gas for those protestors. Instead, a high-five from 45 in DC. That’s some privilege for you to chew on.
So, tell me again, what we should do in the face of 400 years abuse? And just where do we buy some of that wonderful “privilege” and “American Justice” we’ve heard so much about?
This isn’t going to end like all those other marches and protests and prayers and tears. Because of that tipping point. This will go on. This will swell. This will soon involve other countries, other international organizations, and finally, what should have happened decades ago: Change.
I know you think this will end “tomorrow.” But it won’t.
There is no going back. I’m reporting to you as a sociologist who studies race and ethnicity. Here is one major distinction between past marches and the current social situation — there are more non-Black folks protesting than Black folks. That is your tip-off.
White people are disgusted. That tells you something. Love to all White and non-Black allies who see our pain and want this country to finally live up to its creed. You are awesome.
This is my recommendation: Congress, sit down to reform our criminal justice system. In total. Local governments, make police forces accountable. If we cannot change their racist ways, we have to change their racist actions. Write down that there will be consequences for abusing innocent civilians. Like jail time and giving that cop pension money back to the people.
Once the bad cops know there are consequences, we will have an end to this abuse of our freedoms. Don’t leave DC until it is done. Bipartisan.
Come out, announce all the severe penalties for shooting, say, mental patients because they run around with a knife, so that police realize who they work for and who pays their salaries. It is tough being a cop. I couldn’t be a cop. I’d shoot everything that scared me. Likewise, many cops are unfit for service if they are shooting and killing without regard for saving lives first.
Change. Then watch the peace unfold. For everybody.
You had some special meetings for Covid-19 and came up with some solutions and bills. You also had special meetings for the economic collapse of 2008. You came up with legislation and cash. You got together to decide on impeachment. You impeached. You convened for the Mueller Report. And those were SUDDEN social traumas.
This two-tiered civil justice system has gone on too long without serious discussion, legislation, or an infusion of cash for many segregated communities starving for good education, good food, good housing, and good jobs.
Black people know that if they stop protesting now — nothing will be done. Just like the last time. And the time before that. And the time before that. And thousands of other times. Get the idea? If my finger on the pulse of this unrest is correct, a new country ethos will have to come forth. The Congressional Black Caucus is a good place to look to for change and criminal justice and police reform. That is a start. And at your company. In your department. Ask each other, “Are we exclusive in any way? What are our blind spots?”
Let us be clear: America was never “great” to Black folks. But that is what we want now: We demand America to be great. For everybody. But If troops start killing Black people and White people during these protests to “flex American muscle,” we will find out how “pro-life” so-called conservatives truly are. More like “pro-law and order and death if necessary.”
There is no such thing as pro-life. We all love life. Some just have the right to live longer.
And when do the White supremacists get activated? Many reports say they are causing much damage already by tricking gullible White people (looking for any reason to hate Black people) into thinking Black people are the vandals while they spray paint “BLM” everywhere and break windows and start fires.
What about those who have trained and loaded up on ammunition for years? Do the skinheads attack when they hear the dog whistle about “Your second amendment rights” from the White House? I don’t know when and where these extremists truly enter the fray, but I’m guessing November 2020. Right around the election. Just before, or just after.
Recall, they usually attack where they don’t have to confront much opposition. At least that was how the KKK operated. Small towns. Little resistance. Keep an eye on that one.
So, step back from today. Breath. Understand the history that is unfolding in front of you is a tip of the long historical trajectory of what has happened for decades.
George Floyd’s globally broadcast execution is one small slice. Do something to end this shame on our nation.