I have watched and listened to conversations over the last several months and wondered what has changed for you? George Floyd was a Black man. He was a regular person with flaws — like all of us. He was a neighbor, family member and friend, just like Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Botham Jean and so many others before them. Until May 25, 2020, we have had a history in this country of believing that racism was dead and gone. If Black (and Brown) people worked hard enough, just “behaved,” and didn’t wear hoodies, we’d all be fine.
Yet, that has not been our reality. Even after saying their names, and the names of all those before them, you did not hear us. You did not see us. You told us that grown men feared a 12-year-old child named Tamir Rice so badly, they shot and killed him as he played with a toy gun in a park.
Even Utah, the place I call home and always come back to, isn’t immune to not seeing people like me. For example, Jerri “D.J.” Hrubes, a 10-year-old child, was held by officers, at gunpoint, during the pursuit of an individual who had evaded police custody. The child was Black. The person they were pursuing was also Black. Something here does not add up. They saw the color. Not the child.
We have taken steps to educate you, to remove the scales from your eyes and to help you recognize our humanity and to be seen. We hosted kitchen conversations, town hall conversations and tried to raise awareness that Black people are people. You have to see us, literally see us as distinctly different and unique individuals, to see us. The same way you expect us to see you. We held vigils, marched in protests and took bended knee, yet you did not see us.
That you could not do this speaks to the depths of your privilege not to have to see us. It speaks to your willingness to rationalize away our humanity for your convenience. It also tells me you were comfortable with the status quo.
That is why I need to know what changed and why. Did it change for a moment, a month or for a movement? What bell was rung so we can make sure to ring it when we are not socially isolating because of COVID-19?
A new friend shared with me that she believes the change was that people had to sit with it. We had to be home. Our options, while plentiful, were limited due to the pandemic. In the quiet of home, we could not drown out the noise or put our blinders on. Suddenly, we couldn’t unsee all that we have been avoiding or ignoring. We couldn’t blame the individual. He shared that he could not breathe. And now he is dead.
Not only did we see and hear news coverage of George Floyd’s death. We watched it. We literally watched the breath leave his body and the light dim in his eyes. We watched it and wanted to stop it when nobody else did. The people we trust to protect us most failed to do so. And we saw it over and over in video footage and in the horrifying reenactments of people laughing and joking and pretending to kill George Floyd all over again.
Was it the repetition of viewing that changed your understanding of racism? Was it the sudden deluge of all those comments that you’ve heard over the years about racial profiling, unequal justice, oppression and outright racism, prejudice and bigotry that came home to roost, and you couldn’t push it away? Was it the desperation in George’s cry to his dead mother for help, when there was no one alive who was willing to help him, that opened your eyes?
We need to know what changed so we can move toward action. We need to know so whatever it is you need to see in order to see us, we can hold that up to you when you forget. Now you know better, it is time to do better.
That means not covering yourself in the cloak of “not realizing it was that bad.” That statement lets us know that as bad as you thought it was at the time, you were OK with maintaining that status quo. It wasn’t bad enough you felt you had to do something to change it. When we own those realities, then real change can happen.
I feel change is here. I am hopeful for change. What will you do to make the change you want to see in the world? Share your insights with me at @AdieAndrewsCDO. Let’s amplify the action.