I Can’t Breathe

I’m angry. I’m hurt. But mostly, I’m tired. I’m tired of the platitudes, the calls for peace and unity. I’m tired of the thoughts and prayers at times like these. I’m tired of watching and reading about another black person murdered in their home, in their car, at the grocery store, in the park… just going about their normal lives. I’m tired of the silence and inaction of white people and their failure to confront and throw out the giant white supremacy elephant in the room.

If you’re a white person reading this and it makes you uncomfortable, then I’m glad, I hope it stirs you into action. If you feel attacked, then use some of that righteous indignation to defend those in society who need defending most.

The thing the #AllLivesMatter brigade refuse fails to acknowledge is that all lives don’t matter. Not really. Some lives matter more than others. The lives of the police officers who shoot first and ask questions later matter. The Amy Coopers who are quick to call the police on their black neighbours for occupying the same space as them, their lives matter. The people who are okay with seeing children imprisoned in cages because their parents had the audacity to want a better life for them, their lives matter. But you know who’s lives didn’t matter?

George Floyd, aged 46, he wrote a cheque in the grocery store and was killed as a result moments later.

Ahmaud Arbery, aged 25, was killed when he went for a jog in his neighbourhood.

Botham Jean, aged 26, was killed while he sat in his apartment watching tv and eating ice cream in his underwear.

Alton Sterling, aged 37, was killed because he was selling CDs.

Atatiana Jefferson, aged 28, was killed while playing video games at home with her nephew.

Breonna Taylor, aged 26, was killed while she slept in bed with her boyfriend.

Trayvon Martin, aged 17, was killed because wore a hoody and ate Skittles.

Renisha McBride, aged 19, was killed because asked for help after a car accident.

Tamir Rice, aged 12, was killed because he was playing cops and robbers in the park.

Philando Castile, aged 32, was killed in front of his girlfriend and 4-year-old daughter because he told a police officer he had a licensed firearm with him.

Freddie Gray, aged 25, was beaten so badly he suffered an internal decapitation following an illegal arrest.

Eric Garner, aged 43, was killed because he was selling cigarettes.

Walter Scott, aged 50, was killed because he had a broken brake light.

Michael Brown Jr., aged 18, was killed while he walked in the middle of the street.

John Crawford III, aged 22, was killed while shopping at Walmart.

Samuel DuBose, aged 43, was killed because he was missing a front license plate.

Jamar Clark, aged 22, was killed after he broke up a fight between his girlfriend and another woman.

Terence Crutcher, aged 40, was killed because he got high.

The list goes on… All killed despite posing absolutely no threat to the authorities or those around them.

#BlackLivesMatter exists because the despicable reality is that you need reminding.

Let’s be honest with each other for a moment… white people have fought, lobbied, protested, rallied against and rejected social injustices when it mattered to them. Gay rights, gender equality, sexual assault. They didn’t let up until real, lasting change occurred. Black people were, and continue to protest alongside you on these issues too.

But where is the white activism for reforming the judicial and prison systems? Where is the white activism against healthcare inequality? Where is the white activism for education funding reform? Where is the white activism against housing discrimination, tokenism, the use of racial profiling in policing, anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric? Where is the white activism for dismantling these structures that maintain and perpetuate white supremacy? Where is it??

The pockets of a few dozen, or a few hundreds or even a few tens of thousands are but a drop in the ocean when a few tens of millions remain silent.

If you are a white person who doesn’t put the same energy or passion into calling out and protesting against the casual slaying of black people as you do when you confront homophobia, or sexism, or misogyny, or sexual abuse, then you should definitely ask yourself, “why?”. I’d suggest it’s because all lives really don’t matter as much as you say they do.

This is the true face of racism. It’s not the N-word, or the KKK burning crosses into black folks’ lawns. It’s not graffitied swastikas, blackface, or even the racial slurs. Those things reside in the corners of life and are enacted by a depraved minority. The true face of racism is the white silence. It’s the knowledge of a deeply unequal society and the absence of will to change it. It lives in the “I don’t see colour” remarks, the spurious claims of reverse racism and the denials of white privilege. And it thrives in the ignorance of middle-class suburbia, the meritocracy myths and the assumptions that good intentions are enough.

“The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.”

The New Jim Crow

Let that sink in.

Talking about unity, togetherness and peace ultimately solves nothing. Our society was founded on the broken bodies and discarded corpses of people of colour. An entire group of people continue to exist as little more than commodities especially because of society’s success in dehumanising them. At worst, we are mindless and uncivilised thugs, and at best, a select few of us are ‘exceptional individuals who are a credit to our race’… People see videos like the senseless murder of George Floyd and make remarks like, “I can’t believe this is still happening in 2020”. Why can’t you believe it? What have you done to change it?

The racism of slavery and Jim Crow never went away, it just became better packaged and more insidious. Segregation, voter suppression, redlining, mass incarceration, discriminatory lending, Eurocentric school curriculums, the racial inequities in access to public spaces and public goods… the fear of people of colour.

I watched the video of George Floyd being killed. I watched as he pleaded for his life. I watched as his struggle faded and he lay there lifeless – still pinned under an officer’s knee. For ten minutes, I watched as one human being slowly killed another. What I found most reprehensible was the officer’s evident sense of justification, apparently empowered by the system he serves to carry out such an act with the world as his audience. It was the casual way in which he took someone’s life that broke me and the millions of others who watched the video. That officer would have felt George’s struggle to cling to life end, but he remained unmoved and undeterred.

George’s life was so easily snuffed out because the parts of society where power and privilege reside didn’t see him as a whole human being. It saw him as a threat. A mindless, uncivilised thug who needed to be brought under control at any cost. Unfortunately for George and too many others that look like him, the cost was his life.

Platitudes and kind words are not enough to right this ship, it needs to be razed to the ground. It needs the voices of the silent tens of millions demanding change. It needs their sweat, blood and tears invested in the hard work of holding the men and women in power to account.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Edmund Burke

It needs them to be part of the solution.

If that’s you, then you can start here: George Floyd: How can I help? and here: For Our White Friends Desiring to be Allies

Image by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

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