I am horrified at the police killing of George Floyd, because I continue to have faith in humanity; because humans are capable of astounding love and compassion and sacrifice.
But I am not surprised.
Yes, we must demand justice (inadequate as it is) from the police department and the mayor’s office and the DA, and all of those systems have to change, but they are just branches on the tree of American Racism, rooted in slavery and held up by the broad, thick trunk of American history and lies.
It is possible that those police officers are psychopaths, but it is a thousand times more likely that they, just like us, are the products of a racist education, racist myths, and racist media. Some of us are lucky enough to have been born into or found a community that attempts to deracinate that American foundation; others wind up in frightened, ignorant White families or frightened, toxic police departments that cultivate and extend those racist roots.
We were all taught that Black people are more violent, less intelligent, more impulsive, less diligent, and less human than White people. Many, maybe even most of us, have learned better, but those ideas cannot be erased from our consciousness, especially since they are perpetually reinforced explicitly, subtly, or by exclusion, in politics, movies, news, and on and on. If we really believed that African-Americans were equal, then we would not stand for underfunded schools, undernourished & environmentally poisoned children, the removal of millions of Black men and women from society and the removal of their rights after “paying their debt.” What debt do we owe to Black Americans?
I think we have to start with honesty. And that begins with acknowledging that pretty much everything we hold up and revere as iconically, admirably American is racist. All men are created equal is only true if Black men are not really men. The blessings of liberty promised in the constitution did not apply to slaves because slaves were not considered human, or at best, a lesser form of human. This lie has served to ensure inequity century after century, from the gift to Whites that was the Homestead Act to the doubling-down on racist structures that deprived Black WW II veterans the benefits of the GI Bill, to racist school underfunding and racist arrest and incarceration practices that are used to justify the lie of Black “achievement gaps” today.
No one is born a racist, and every racist is the product of their environment. That does not remove responsibility. Those cops must be prosecuted for taking George Floyd’s life, and that is the urgent action in front of us today. (Time to step up, Minnesotans.) But the long-term work requires continually exposing the lies Americans are still lapping up, and dismantling the racist systems that rely on those lies for their survival.
Zoe Benston 612-708-1943 firstname.lastname@example.org