By Olivia A. Jackson
Associate Professor, Florida Memorial University
While in the midst of dealing with the Covid-19 virus, on May 25 we were reminded of another long standing pandemic—systemic racism. Watching the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer play out before my eyes, I was hurt and enraged not only over this horrendous act but the nature in which it was carried out—with the officer kneeling over Mr. Floyd with one knee planted deep into his neck, slowing and cavalierly killing him over a period of almost 9 minutes.
Indeed, police brutality is not a foreign phenomenon for the Black community. What is different this time is the tenor and dynamics of the ensuing protests, which is proving to be greater than any witnessed in this country since the 1960s. With vivid documentation of this extra-judicial killing spreading across social media platforms, even our “silent white” population seems to have entered into a proverbial state of “woke” as a record number of whites consistently protested alongside Black and brown people to address this disease of racism. Witnessing the diverse composition of these protest spreading exponentially in the first 6 days throughout America and abroad (starting with London, Toronto, and Berlin), I began to realize this outcry was different.
While relatively peaceful during the day, unfortunately the protests turned more violent as protesters unleashed their rage by burning and looting of properties. But here’s where the disease of systemic racism raises its head again, although in a subtle manner. For some of our lawmakers—particularly our president—maybe not wanting to believe that “good white boys and girls” could be involved in such activities, immediately chose to deflect from the catalyst behind the protests by, instead, searching for a label, i.e. terrorists, anarchists and provocateurs to affix to them. Finally, in one fell swoop our provocateur-in-chief chose to deem these protesters as “thugs” and members of Antifa (Anti-fascists) which is a multicultural loosely decentralized liberation movement, not a group. Nevertheless, by day seven Trump was calling for the Antifa movement to be officially deemed a “group of terror.” As a side note, this would be akin to declaring Socialism (which is a movement) a terrorist group. More importantly, I find the president’s declaration interesting given the number of contemporary active white supremacist/ nationalist groups, i.e. QAnon, the Boogaloo Bois, the Oath Keepers and others that exist, yet, at no time has Trump taken a stance to officially deem these as terrorist groups. This deflection simply confirms the entrenchment of a pandemic of racism, whereby one is so determined to believe that those who truly support the Black Lives Matter movement could not be that angry to resort to the level of violence that was being displayed.
Without a doubt, as with many protests, there are those who look to exploit the situation for nefarious means. However, with this particular movement comprised of the human rainbow, why is it so difficult for our leaders to acknowledge that more than Black folks are fed up with being “sick and tired?” Why is it difficult to acknowledge truth in the adage that warns “If you keep poking the bear, eventually it will attack?”
Nonetheless, the goal of these protests served an overriding purpose: To grab the world’s attention, and indeed, that goal was met. To immediately announce these protests as being hijacked by outsiders who could care less about eliminating systemic racism is a cop out [mind the pun]. And while I do not condone the violence and destruction of hard working folks’ personal properties, especially businesses that employ our own Black/brown relatives and friends, I do get it. These protesters are angry, whether it’s because of the extra-judicial killings carried out by the police, or because of the construct of institutionalized racism which continues to compound the socioeconomic conditions of disenfranchised communities, the same communities that, when faced with a national health crisis, is hit disproportionately harder than other sectors of society.
And finally, to my Brothers and Sisters who think we have arrived, please do not forget that many of us can trace our origins to a similar socioeconomic environmental construct, and as such, those folks who our president broadly paints as “thugs” could have been us and our love ones back in the 1960s and 1970s engaging in protests. As such, I implore you to not be fooled by the depiction of protesters as “thugs” or “terrorists,” because the use of such labels is merely another subtle attempt to minimize this long standing pandemic of racism, while deflecting focus away from the primary impetus behind these uprisings in the first place.