Over the past few days, people have been sharing and re-posting anything and everything to do with George Floyd. On Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and pretty much every other social media app, George Floyd’s name has reverberated. It’s amazing to see so many people, of all different races, coming together to talk about this. But sadly, George Floyd is not the first black man to be unjustly killed by a US police officer. Heartbreakingly, we know that he will not be the last either.
Racism in America operates on a colossal scale. And I want to talk about racism in America because, right now, America is one of the least safe places in the world for a black person to be. This does not mean that any other country is exempt. Or that, for example, there are no racist police officers in the UK. There are. But this post is going to be about racism in the US and racism as a whole. I’ve never shied away from talking about race on this blog and it’s important to me that I say my piece on this.
So here are some statistics. Black people make up 13% of the US population – just 13%. Yet, they are two and a half times more likely to be killed by the police. California, Texas and Florida have the highest number of killings of black people. In Minnesota, where George Floyd was murdered by a white police officer who knelt on his neck, while another police officer stood watch, until he stopped breathing, black people make up only 5% of the overall state population. Yet, they are nearly four times more likely to be killed by the police.
Racist police brutality is not a 2020 wave, let’s get this straight. This hasn’t just started happening now, it’s been happening for years. In 2012, Treyvon Martin was reported as a ‘suspicious person’ for going to visit his father in Sanford. A white neighbourhood watch officer then shot him. Treyvon was unarmed. He was not suspicious. He was not a threat. He was 17 years old, a black boy and a victim of institutional racism.
Tamir Rice was 12 years old and killed in 2014 by a white police officer for playing with a toy gun.
Eric Garner was choked to death by a police officer the same year, after being arrested for selling cigarettes from packs without tax stamps. He wasn’t, by the way.
Mike Brown was hit by six shots from a white police officer in Missouri, who fired twelve bullets at him as he ran away. He was 18 years old.
Freddie Grey was arrested for being in possession of an illegal switchblade in Baltimore. The blade was not illegal and he fell into a coma in the back of a police van 45 minutes after being arrested.
There are so many more names of black men killed by US police officers that I could mention. But then this post would run on for days and days. For anyone who wants to know more about black men specifically who have been killed by US police officers, then I’ve found this article. It compiles a whole list of them – see for yourself.
99% of police killings from 2014 to 2019 did not result in charges, or consequently convictions, of a crime.
Based on the above, I find it impossible to deny that America is facing a racism crisis. And it’s doing so with very little consequences. It takes mass outrage, protests and retaliation for these police officers to come under investigation. Even then, you’ll find that the correct language is not being used. Reports in the media will tell you that these men died, not that they were murdered. Charges are never severe enough. There are always justifications, which I really do fail to comprehend. Unarmed, unthreatening, innocent black people are being killed in America simply because police officers have the power and the status to do so. We need to change this.
Up until this point I’ve been talking about black men. Black men in America are perceived as violent and dangerous simply for being black. They are the most racially profiled members of the black community. But please do not think that police brutality begins and ends with them. Black women such as Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor, who was shot by police officers in her own home, are victims of institutional racism too.
I don’t think that we have ever expected police officers to protect us. After all, they have a long history of doing the exact opposite. But in this day and age, we have the knowledge and the influence to at least fight for consequences. It’s very difficult to imagine a time when racism will not pervade our identity as black people and the generations of black people that are to come. So, I feel that the least we can do is fight for equal consequences. So that when a black life is lost, accountability does not lessen simply because it was a black life instead of a white one.
What is happening in America right now is opening the door even wider for overt racism. This is why we have cases like Ahmad Arbery’s, who was shot by two white men while he was out jogging. Racists don’t feel like they will face consequences for their actions because even the police officers don’t!
Then there are people like Amy Cooper, who called the police in New York on a black man because he told her to put her dog on a leash. She threatens that she’s going to call the police is “going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.”
I’ve even seen a video of a white woman being pulled over on the highway and being told by the police officer not to worry because she’s white. “We only kill black people,” he jokes.
You can find footage like this almost everywhere now. You can find even worse footage, of black people actually being killed, too. The fact that there is video footage of black people being killed by police officers is strangely eye opening for some people. It doesn’t sit well with me. Do you see the same footage of white people being killed? And, at this point, do you really need to see video evidence of somebody being killed to believe that it happened unlawfully? Mutilated black bodies have become a spectacle and I am not okay with that. So the next time you see a video circulating on Twitter or Instagram, please think twice before sharing it. Your words can be powerful too, you should use them.
Racism is a very complex structure of barriers that has been set up to guarantee and maintain the success of white people. It means that there are socio-economic systems that have been set up to make the success of a person of colour harder. As a white person, there are things you will never have to worry about. I’ll give you some examples of things that I face all the time as a black girl, that you don’t.
You never have to worry about seeing people that look like you represented in your dream career. Chances are, the leading figure in your field is white and your dreams seem more achievable because of this.
You’ve never had to explain your achievements to anyone because its not puzzling for you to be smart or well-spoken.
You’ve never had to dilute your appearance to make yourself seem more appealing – for example, at a job interview or at school. It’s well known that black girls’ natural hair has been regulated in the workplace and in schools. You’ve never experienced this.
You’ve never received a backhanded compliment about your race. “You’re so pretty for a black girl.” “You’re light skin so its okay.” “When I was tanned, I was pretty much your colour.”
Your natural features have never been seen as ugly on you but beautiful on someone else that looks completely different to you. We all know about the Marc Jacobs show that used dreadlocks on white models. It’s fashionable on you but as a natural hairstyle on us, it’s messy and unkempt. Or what about lip fillers? Having naturally full lips is unattractive on a black girl but sexualised and appealing on a white girl.
You’ve never gone to a cosmetics store and struggled to find something in your shade. Or been disappointed to find that a big beauty brand has a line of products that they haven’t even made in your shade, even though you and other people that look like you, are a big part of their consumer demographic.
You’ve never walked into a store and realised that the security guard is following you because the colour of your skin makes him think that you’re going to steal something.
Imagine having all of these experiences in your mind everywhere you go. These are things you never forget because they characterise your identity. People always want to celebrate black culture without understanding what the implications of being black are, on your everyday experience of life.
These things don’t leave you. I don’t have the privilege of just ignoring what’s happening in America today. I can’t fathom really, how anyone as a human being could disassociate themselves from the fact that innocent lives are being taken based on race. I really can’t. But that’s white privilege – feeling entitled to dip in and out of a culture as and when it suits you. Being able to say you don’t see colour when it suits you. Being able to say and feel like a racial fight is not your fight, simply because its not your people that are being killed. And exercising silence over situations like these because of that.
To me, that’s the same as saying black lives don’t matter.
So, if you are the kind of person that thinks a person’s life should not be valued by the colour of their skin, then you will have something to say about this. Hopefully, you won’t just take my word for it, but you’ll do your own research, you’ll form your own opinion and you’ll help to fight against racism. Whether that’s going to protests, donating to charities in America that are fighting for black lives, not being afraid to call someone out on their racism, or whatever else you want to do to help.
There are so many things you can do. Lead a life that is anti-racist, not silent – this is perhaps the most important one. But you really can’t sit back and expect an oppressed group of people to fight against their own oppression.