Bill Drake: The opportunity George Floyd’s death gives us
When Gen. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, apologized for taking part in the forced removal of peaceful protesters by military personnel for a presidential photo op, he expressed his anger at “the senseless and brutal killing of George Floyd.”
He went on to say, “His death amplified the pain, the frustration, the fear that so many of our fellow Americans live with day in and day out. The protests that have ensued speak not only to his killing, but to the centuries of injustice toward African Americans.”
The tragic murder of Floyd, which Milley acknowledged, offers us an opportunity. That opportunity for white people is to look at the racism that is far more pervasive in our society than many whites realize or want to realize, and to look at unconscious, if not conscious, racism we each have within ourselves.
We are fortunate to have two local police chiefs and a sheriff who are concerned about racism and support justice and equality. They want to address any problems related to their departments and find ways to improve. Other communities are not so fortunate.
Obama’s justice department under Eric Holder forced changes in a number of police departments in America that had serious problems with excessive use of force and racism. These efforts were widely publicized and should be well known.
Multiple studies and statistics point to problems with racism related to prison sentencing, schools, housing, employment, health care, and other areas. Even a study of who our white presidents have pardoned has found bias.
As Sen. Cory Booker recently said, “Race is still the biggest indicator of whether or not you are going to live near a toxic site, breathe dirty air, drink dirty water. Racism is the most profound indicator of what kind of education you get, about how economically fragile your family might be, about whether you’re food insecure.”
At the same time, while there are different layers of privilege, whites have privileges people of color lack. Some examples: We don’t have to educate our children to be aware of racism for their own personal protection. When we go shopping, we are less likely to be followed or harassed. We can be sure that if we need medical or legal help our race will not work against us. When we watch TV, we can see members of our race widely and positively represented. We will likely feel welcomed in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.
This long standing racism, and the disadvantages for people of color, directly relate to the poverty too many non-whites experience.
As an individual, my prejudices and my racism make it harder for me to live the reality that as human beings, our sameness is far greater than our differentness. They have resulted in harm to others and keep me from being all that I can be. And the advantages I have as a white person are available because others have disadvantages. This means I take part in a system that is unjust and that in itself diminishes who I am.
George Floyd’s murder gives those of us who are white the possibility of being more aware of the racism that is in our society and in ourselves. And the first step toward changing those things, toward our coming to “love one another,” is through awareness of these problems. With awareness comes the possibility of change.
We have an opportunity. Will we take it?
Bill Drake lives in Nevada City. He co-founded Creating Communities Beyond Bias, an organization that endeavors to help Nevada County become an empowered community that supports and honors diversity. He is the author of “Almost Hereditary, A White Southerner’s Journey Out of Racism, A Guide to Unlearning and Healing Prejudice.” His website is http://www.healracism.com.
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