On Saturday, May 25, 2020, a police-involved killing in Minneapolis, MN triggered a wave of protests and mass gatherings across the United States, and parts of the world. George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man died in the neighborhood of Powderhorn, Minneapolis after being arrested and violently subdued by police outside of a local grocery store. Eye-witness footage of the arrest showed a white police officer, surrounded by colleagues, kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck after taking him into custody. This horrific aggression happened in spite of the fact that Mr. Floyd was defenseless, handcuffed on the ground, and pleading for his life. The brutality of this arrest rendered Mr. Floyd unconscious, and after minutes of being forcefully held down, his motionless body was carried into an ambulance. Mr. Floyd was pronounced dead an hour later at the Hennepin County Medical Center.
Racism is Not Getting Worse, It’s Getting Filmed:
This catastrophic sequence of events immediately set off an eruption of protest and mass outrage. But beyond taking to public forums to demand justice, people from all walks of life have been forced to reckon with the controversy of persistent racial injustice in society. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, bearing witness to the circumstances of Mr. Floyd’s death makes it impossible, if not unconscionable, to turn a blind eye to racial inequality in America. It is clear from the countless stories of recent police brutality; from the health disparities reflected in COVID-19 fatality rates; from cumulative sociological data overall – that victims of racism have no refuge from its cruelty. Victims of racism have never stopped advocating for equal rights, even decades after the civil rights movement elapsed. This is certainly a red flag. For the sake of humanity, these anguished voices of protest should not be ignored. Unless your conscience is at peace with the suffering that is clearly on display, then it’s time for every single member of society to step up and lend a helping hand. It’s time for every victim, and everyone immune from racism, to put political baggage aside, and work together to bring about change. Here are a few practical steps you can take to fight against racial oppression:
1. Promote Human Rights:
Racism manipulates people into dehumanizing one another. It encourages people to make judgements based on superficial biases. Shun this mentality. Speak out against it, and reject it. Support the ideal that all people are created equal, and that all people have a right to freedom, safety, dignity and opportunity – including Black People. Black People don’t deserve to have their human rights violated or disregarded just because it’s relevant to say that all lives matter. If all lives do indeed matter, then the moral decay which contributes to police brutality and racial discrimination must be condemned by the entire human race.
2. Appreciate that Racism is Complicated:
Racism manifests in many forms and intensities. It can be individual, and it can be institutional. It can be conscious, and it can be unconscious. It can exist as premeditated hatred, or it can exist as indifference to pain. Stop defining racism as a one-dimensional phenomenon. Stop labeling it merely as contempt. Racism is an elaborate combination of beliefs and systems which ultimately demonizes people with dark skin. If you do not have dark skin, there is a high probability that you have been sheltered from the insidious nature of racism. Which makes it easier to snub people who complain about racism.
3. Desist from Minimizing Other People’s Pain:
There are people in this world who grieve because of racism. There are people in this world who are frustrated and struggle with problems caused by racism. Even if you don’t understand or identify with their plight, it’s callous to belittle and turn a blind eye to their discontent. Centuries of historical bigotry carved out the racial disparities that exist today. That legacy may very well take centuries to heal, even if laws and norms have been re-written in favor of equality. It’s unreasonable to imagine that the trauma inflicted by generations of bigotry, would somehow vanish just five-and-a-half decades after the civil rights movement.
4. Don’t Let Discomfort Make you Defensive:
Being victimized by racism is painful and humiliating. On the other hand, being immune or benefiting from the oppression of others can also upset the conscience. If you truly believe in justice, it’s impossible not to wrestle with guilt or shame about past and present discrimination. But even so, don’t let embarrassment harden your heart towards the agony of others. Don’t be contrarian just to save face, or soothe your ego. Don’t be willfully oblivious just because the truth hurts. Swallow your pride, cross the divide, and make your contribution to change, in spite of how uncomfortable it feels to confront racism.
5. Stand Up for your Fellow Human Beings:
There’s a difference between being non-racist, and anti-racist. It’s not enough just to despise bigotry or refrain from it. Racism has to be denounced proactively, and relentlessly. If you see someone being racially harassed, intervene to protect their dignity. Demonstrate visible solidarity with marginalized or targeted groups. Voices of exclusion are emboldened in the current geopolitical climate. These voices need to be eclipsed by a chorus of universal humanity.
6. Reform Your Community:
Voicing your opinion has value, but racism as a system of oppression can only be weakened through civic engagement. It requires advocacy and political action both at the national, and local level. Do some research about every single statewide elected official in your community, and use your vote to empower tolerant ethical leadership. Don’t just vote at the federal level, vote in every single election you are eligible to vote for. Provide financial support to organizations or civil societies which fight racial discrimination. Champion the values of heroes from the civil rights movement, and follow in their brave footsteps. Use your talents to be an ally who talks the talk, and walks the walk.
There is no question that society has made progress since past eras of racial intolerance. But it’s also irrefutable that there is still work to be done before hatred is purged from our way of life. And this is a problem which can’t be solved if everyone just wants to look out for themselves. If you are someone who doesn’t experience racial discrimination in the same way that Mr. George Floyd did, use your advantage to help the vulnerable. Channel your efforts towards bringing an end to the conditions which foster racial discrimination. But most importantly, don’t stand idly by while lives are lost, and hope is jeopardized. To quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr:
“You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be. And one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid…. You refuse to do it because you want to live longer…. You’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will stab you, or shoot at you or bomb your house; so you refuse to take the stand. Well, you may go on and live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.”