A couple hours ago I finally watched on video the murder of George Floyd and felt an immediate and visceral reaction to seeing and hearing that on my computer screen. I cried first, relentlessly. And then I sat back and thought about the racist power structures that continue to be upheld within the United States. Not just through the institutions, but through inaction.
And then I spoke.
You can find my original video recording here. This post is mostly a transcription of that video, with some edits for clarity and extra burns now that I’ve had more time collect my thoughts.
So I’m on Twitter right now following the #GeorgeFloyd trending hash tag. I watched the video–in its entirety, with the audio on–of George saying: I can’t breathe. They’re going to kill me. Mama.
I watched and heard the cries of the people recording the video, begging the police officers to check his pulse. Trying to get them to stop.
And I witnessed with my own eyes the cold-blooded murder of George Floyd, caught on camera. I saw him lose his life at the hands of a white cop who had his knee on the back of his neck, and three other cops who did nothing to stop it, one of whom is an Asian American.
To say that I’m disappointed or upset or angry is to undermine the severity of the loss of an innocent life. I want to say that I’m tired, but I’m not. The burden of being colored and living in the States is such that we are always tired.
Tired of trying.
Tired of failing.
Tired of simply existing, because even life is routinely denied when you are a black American.
I’m not just talking about the many cases of police brutality that my generation alone has seen. I’m talking about the fact that the United States as a country was built on the backs of slaves that were forced here by our Founding Fathers and white colonizers. How slavery, after the Civil War, manifested itself as Jim Crow. How that then evolved into the war on crime, mass incarceration, and police brutality. So when we talk about police brutality now, we’re not just talking about isolated incidences of people in power abusing that power. We’re talking about the systemic oppression of black Americans throughout the entirety of their existence here in this country. It is baked into our history and our foundations. Here, our society, government, and systems of determining right and wrong all come back to one group of people. Not those who were here before, but those who had the power to say: there was an America that needed to be discovered.
She was a virgin.
She was colored.
And she was not enough.
Understand that when people say you have to be anti-racist, this is what they mean. Even if you’re not explicitly racist, you have to recognize that you’re moving through a society that–for the majority of its existence–sought to exclude and marginalize, and that things are only the way they are now because some people had the audacity to speak up. Even so, this is an uphill battle we’re fighting because we’re going against the inertia of the establishment and the sheer power and will of a white society.
If you are black, Indigenous, or a person of color (BIPOC), you’ve existed and lived within this structure that was set by white supremacists and created by the political elite to specifically exclude us. Maybe some of you have been able to succeed within that structure. But if that’s the case: if you’re in a position of power, or if you have personally benefited from this system, do you recognize what it means to live outside of that? And when it comes to dismantling these types of systemic oppression and institutions that feed and persist and exacerbate racism and other forms of injustice, will you be on our side?
Because I don’t believe that you can work within the system to succeed at dismantling the system.
I don’t want to work within that system to succeed, period.
I don’t want to remake myself in the image of the white man so that I can have a voice. I don’t want to try to play the game to beat them at that game because this game was never meant for me.
When I think about how I want to move through society, and when I think about how I want to make a difference, I don’t want it to be in the way that has been previously defined by those who are in power. Because what good would that do for the people who aren’t able to have a voice? What good would it do for me to move through the system, with relative ease because of my skin color, mean for my goals of dismantling the system entirely, to create a new way of gaining and redistributing power, and giving agency and voice to those who have been marginalized, raped, and murdered by the United States for the past 300 years?
I don’t want that.
We want to do it on our terms.
And our terms are fighting terms. As Malcolm X says: ‘if [the white man] is not ready to clean his house up, he shouldn’t have a house. To catch on fire. And burn down.’
Don’t tell me that now is not the time to be starting a political revolution. Don’t tell me that now is not the time to be inciting and dividing society. Don’t pretend that life now is better than outright chaos and certainly do not do it under the guise of civility and order. Maybe it’s better for you, but it certainly isn’t better for everyone else. I often quote the following from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail because it is worth repeating:
‘Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied”… I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.’
This passage is worth repeating and often read but it must be taken in conjunction with Minister Malcolm X’s beliefs. We need to take action. It must be direct. It must be forceful. It must be now. To say only with words that you support us without taking the actions necessary for us to get to our goals, is to be complicit as everyone else.
Calling for justice is the same struggle no matter where you’re demanding it. If I let it slide–whether it’s the murder of George Floyd or otherwise–if I just retweet this on Twitter or post something on Instagram and say yes this sucks but there’s nothing we can do about it, then I’m conceding to the powers that be, who want me to think in that way. And in doing so, I am aiding in the efforts to obfuscate and bury justice from ever seeing the light of day.
I’m tired and pissed and incredibly sorry that society is so deeply unfair. I think to myself enough is enough, but we should only have to say that once. Not every time this happens. And it will happen again.
If people aren’t ready to burn some shit down, then they really don’t understand what it means to live as a black American in the States. People who say all lives matter don’t understand what we’re trying to achieve when we say black lives matter. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie articulated, we have to name the problem. And the problem right now, is the white wo/man.
I hope when the time comes to take action, we all do. Because there really is nothing more important than achieving a just society.
We don’t have that right now.
We are not free. We are not democratic. We don’t have liberties, unless of course you’re white.
Everyone else is just trying to remake themselves in the image of that white man. We’re clawing desperately at a goal that’s unattainable because of course there’s a glass ceiling. Of course there’s a bamboo ceiling. Of course there are these barriers that are there, because this was never meant for us. The upper echelons of society were not and are not and will never be for us. Don’t pretend that you’re close and that you’ll be able to do something to change the system once you work through it. It doesn’t work that way. Have some solidarity, for fuck’s sake. This world is not meant for you if you aren’t white.
And of course, if you are white, then it is incumbent upon you to make your voice heard, and to be an ally to those around you. It’s one thing for a woman of color to speak to women of color issues. It’s another thing for a white woman or man to take these issues and elevate it to the level of national discourse. Mary Beard discusses this phenomena in her manifesto, Women and Power. If only women ever talked about women’s studies, then it will always be seen as Women’s Studies. It’ll never be seen as something that’s worth debating on a broader scale. Similarly, if only BIPOC folks are talking about BIPOC issues, then it will always be seen as this other, sub-segment of society. And frankly that’s just not productive.
So say it with me.
Black. Lives. Matter.
We need justice.
We need justice now.
Contact Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and demand he call off the National Guard.
- Phone: 651-201-3400
- Twitter: @GovTimWalz
Contact Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and demand he call off the National Guard and push for charges for all four officers who were involved.
- Phone: 612-673-2100
- Twitter: @MayorFrey, @Jacob_Frey
Contact County Attorney Mike Freeman and demand he charge all four officers with murder.
- Phone: 612-348-5550
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Fuel the protests and organizing by donating:
Food Justice For Frontlines: People in the area are hurting, the grocery stores in the neighborhoods are no longer open, and many people are out of work. Starting Saturday Twin Cities DSA is supplying hot food and groceries (including fresh produce purchased directly from a local farm) near the 3rd Precinct.
Twin Cities Solidarity Fund provides a direct disbursement of cash without means-testing. We are still in a pandemic and people are struggling!
Donate to the official George Floyd Memorial Fund.
(Artwork by Shirien)