By Noah Bergam (V)
The far-reaching solidarity we see for Black America right now is a rightful cause for hope. However, we – and when I say we, I’m pointing to White people in specific – ought to make sure our energy on this issue does not fall back into familiar patterns of ignorance surrounding police brutality.
In other words, we have to make sure we don’t let this fade into the background of our political perceptions once the media hype dies down. If we want to fight this issue, and be real allies, we have to act and educate ourselves for the long run.
We know media attention alone has not fixed this issue. Even in the most high-profile cases, such as those Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin, we have failed to see the policemen found guilty. We have seen the media storms, the rises and falls of #BlackLivesMatter, to little real avail in terms of legislative change.
What makes the George Floyd protests different?
George Floyd’s murder was set in such a context to set off the perfect storm.
His murder came in the context of the coronavirus, which disproportionately hurt African American communities. His murder came after a string of other racist killings, most notably those of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. His murder was caught on camera from multiple angles, and was unacceptably gruesome.
The public outrage has rightfully reached a boiling point, and it has already been constructive in a number of ways. The dialogue is more far-reaching than ever. The petitions and donations are growing, and it’s encouraging to see so many people taking part. It’s unfortunate that people are trying to shift the discussion to the destruction of rioting, but ultimately I think many Americans on both sides of the political spectrum see such rioting (and its frequent roots in provocation from the police) as a symptom of a much larger issue that has to be addressed.
However, I’m disappointed to say that these riots were a wakeup call for me. It took this kind of public outrage for me to feel the pain of these injustices and realize how bad it’s been for Black America.
In the wake of the Floyd protests, I reread a certain chapter of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and listened to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. Two of my favorite pieces of art, which were about police violence and racism against Black Americans. I thought I knew these works well, but after seeing and hearing what was going on in protests in real life, something new clicked. My heart started beating faster. They suddenly made me stress in ways they never before did, even though I always knew the issues in them were real and ongoing.
The difference was, in the midst of widely recognized tragedy and tangible grief, I was forced to stop internally compartmentalizing and start empathizing. I was forced to realize the stress of being Black in America, and moreover my dangerous ability as a White American to ignore it.
That is why I want to hammer home that Black Lives Matter has to be more than a hashtag, a trend, a meme that rises and falls like any other. Because there aren’t going to be protests on the street forever. People are eventually going to stop posting activist messages on their social media as they hunger for some sense of normalcy.
We’ll get tired, along with the news cycle, which will eventually find another story. That’s the natural reaction. But the crucial thing here is that Black Americans can never really just forget about this. Police brutality is a burden on their community, and it always will be unless we non-Black people help them with this burden for the long haul, to effect real change.
As citizens, this means being an active and precise voter on every level of government. It means contacting legislators and local police systems, amplifying Black voices, taking part in rallies, donating to the right organizations, showing and acting on allyship consistently, treating this as a central political issue even when it isn’t always convenient to do so.
For Pingry it means a change in mindset. A change in curriculum, where we teach the manifestations of systemic racism not only in the 1800s but also in our present day. It means ongoing, uncomfortable, but ultimately educational conversations in the classroom between racial groups about why and how our country has yet to fulfill its social contract.
Ultimately, Black lives shouldn’t just matter now. They shouldn’t just matter when it’s cool to post it on an Instagram story, or necessary to uphold your reputation.
Black lives should always matter.