Nothing about 2020 has gone the way anyone expected. Our lives have been placed on hold as we try to navigate through a crippling pandemic that has taken the lives of 500,000+ people and climbing. As we try to survive a virus that has gripped the world, North America is gripped by another illness. It’s a sickness that has plagued humanity for almost centuries, but it stops now. We’re fighting racism head-on this year.
Sadly, this outcry for change came at a steep price: The life of George Floyd. He was arrested for allegedly attempting to pass counterfeit money and subdued on the pavement by four Minneapolis police officers, with officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck and back for eight minutes and 46 seconds. After repeatedly crying out for help and that he “couldn’t breathe,” Floyd became unresponsive. He was later taken to the hospital where it was announced that he had died. An autopsy report showed that he died of “asphyxiation from sustained pressure.” The entire incident was captured on video and spread on social media before being picked up by news stations.
Floyd’s death was the latest in a long line of unjustified killings of blacks at the hands of law enforcement. Another name added to a list of Black Americans killed during interaction with law enforcement: George Floyd, Ahmed Aubrey, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Travoyn Martin. African-Americans finally reached their boiling point following the death of Floyd, taking to every and any platform to voice their outrage, grief and dissatisfaction with life as we know it. 2020 may be the year many consider lost, it also can be one of significant social change.
Since Floyd’s murder, there have been protests, looting, shootings and civil unrest not seen in decades. Curfews have been imposed in some states to de-escalate tension across the continent.
Many individuals and organizations took part in #BlackOutTuesday in a show of unity against racial injustice. The anti-racism movement may have begun with ordinary men and women, but it was championed by athletes, celebrities, elected officials and major corporations. They’re supporting the Black Lives Matter campaign, which is no longer viewed as an extremist group, but rather a collective looking to end inequality between races. That cause is now being advocated by many different races across the globe. Stars such as LeBron James, Chris Long, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Hilary Swank have lent their voices to the cause. Some celebs would prefer to let their money do the talking, as millions have poured in to support charities such as BLM, The Bail Project and other social justice-related charities. Michael Jordan’s Jordan brand announced they would donate $100 million to “organizations dedicated to ensuring racial equality, social justice and greater access to education.” For the first time in a long time, it seems that the world is acknowledging cohesively that there’s a flaw in modern society.
People of all races have struggled to come to grips with their racial identity. If you think about it, I’m sure you can find times where you have questioned what the color of your skin means or says about you. But have you ever been given the speech? You know the one. Where you mother, father or grandparent open your eyes to life’s harsh reality. You’re told that you have to hold yourself to a different standard. You have to be cautious about what you wear. Don’t ever put your hoodie up. If a police officer approaches you, take your hand out of your pocket and refer to them as sir or ma’am. If you get pulled over, get your identification out quickly and put your hands on the wheel. They’re going to antagonize you by calling “boy,” but never react. You’re going to be shadowed when you go into most retail establishments. Keep your temperature in check. As much as we preach that no man or woman should be judged by the color of their skin, many stereotypes continue to fuel lifelong discrimination. It’s a harsh reality for families of color. Sitting any young (BIPOC) child down to explain the harsh realities they face as soon as they walk out the door is both humbling and terrifying. It’s the conversation where you learn that you’ll be judged harsher than others based on your pigmentation.
The fact that we need to hold rallies for people of color to be heard and given the same amount of respect as their white counterparts is truly disheartening. The pleas for freedom and a right to live have fallen on deaf ears for far too long. It was the same call to action launched by former NFL QB Colin Kaepernick when he took a knee during the national anthem. Having seen enough of police brutality aimed at Blacks, taking a knee during the anthem was viewed as a radical form of protest. Flash-forward to today and we’re now seeing mass marches, protests, and even rioting. But it’s not just one person, nor just one color. Complacency is a thing of the past after recent events, and everyone in the country is showing where they stand by their actions or their silence. Cries for change are finally being heard.
This discord caused by skin color shows how far North American society still has to go. Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean that other lives don’t. Black Lives Matter advocates for those who are victims of unjust inequality, with a spotlight on systemic racism and inequality within modern society. The organization states this on their website:
“We are unapologetically Black in our positioning. In affirming that Black Lives Matter, we need not qualify our position. To love and desire freedom and justice for ourselves is a prerequisite for wanting the same for others.”
Being black is not a crime. Skin color doesn’t make you guilty. The protests, marches and speeches on inequality continue because inequality continues.
In a year where fighting for survival has become a daily topic, people of color are also fighting for their humanity. Can all this action and attention result in tangible change? It depends on what you consider real change. Forcing the conversation to the top of the headlines is a major accomplishment, but creating a movement on social media and a trendy hashtag only does so much. Eventually #BlackLiveMatter will be replaced in the news cycle by other events. Those who don’t live with being black, or as a visible minority, will go about their lives.
But the cries for change shouldn’t fall back into silence. Change is only possible with honest efforts and uncomfortable discussions. We can’t afford to lose our voices.
It’s ludicrous that we still have to convince others that, despite our skin-deep differences, a human life is a human life. We all should be embarrassed and appalled that protests for racial equality continue to happen, 157 years after slavery was formally abolished. There shouldn’t be a set of laws that apply to people of color and another that applies to just whites. We are all entitled to the same liberties and freedoms in (what is supposed to be) an equal society. A young, Black child shouldn’t grow up afraid of the police for the crime of being Black. The line between good and bad has nothing to do with skin color. What we do know is that there are 7.7 billion humans who call this dusty rock home. Is it too much to ask that we have a bit of decency toward one another?