By: Derrick Fournier
Let me preface this by acknowledging I’m not American, though I have lived or worked in the USA for ten years. I’m also not a person of color. As a white person, I recognize that I will never be able to understand the intense pain and hardships brought forth by racism to people of color. I have lived a privileged life and I acknowledge my privilege. I care deeply about people.
The events surrounding the death of George Floyd have deeply upset me. And, so have the unnecessary deaths of countless other men and women of color at the hands of the police in this country. But what I feel is only a small privileged shred of what people of color are feeling, and have felt for so long.
The demonstrations, rioting and looting have been unsettling, especially living so close to some of it in Philadelphia. That’s the point. These things need to be unsettling and disturbing. For far too long, mostly white Americans have lived with the comforting thin veiled idealism that everything is okay. That hard work and perseverance can get you anywhere. That anyone has as much of a chance as anyone else in this country. That is the illusion of America. It is also a grand delusion. To quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “A riot is the language of the unheard.”
America was built on the back of slavery and racism. The ebbs and flows of racism have never disappeared over the country’s 243 years of existence. This racism may not be the same as it was when the nation was founded, but it nevertheless remains. It is a cancer that is deeply ingrained in the identity of this country, and to date, no remedy has been able to remove it.
America was also founded on revolution! Not a peaceful revolution of ideas; but a bloody hard-fought war against an oppressor who was stronger, who was cruel, and who did not care about its people.
Revolution continues to be a theme throughout much of American history. For instance, the Stonewall riots, for which I am so thankful for, ushered in a decades long revolution that helped certain LGBTQ communities emerge from the shadows, and obtain some rights (though this struggle isn’t over).
America didn’t end up here overnight. Some people didn’t just decide on a whim to cause riots, and wreak property damage. This has been a long time coming. The language of the unheard continues to be suppressed. Some have tried to bring light. Colin Kaepernick’s method of peaceful protest was ridiculed. Taking the knee was deemed to be unpatriotic. It was systematically villainized by either the conscious and unconscious bias across this country.
The Black Lives Matter movement set out to bring attention to the plight of Black people being killed every day by police. Yet these were also belittled and suppressed. People say “All lives matter!” or “Blue Lives Matter”. Yes they do, but that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about “Black Lives”. To quote a meme I saw on a friend’s Facebook page “Saying ‘All Lives Matter’ as a response to ‘Black Lives Matter’ is like saying the fire department should spray down all houses in a neighborhood even though only one house is on fire… because all houses matter. Yes your house matters too, BUT YOUR HOUSE IS NOT ON FIRE???”
So what should people do? When is enough, enough? It is time for people feel uncomfortable.
I do not advocate for violence. I do not condone looting. But I can certainly understand that when fundamental change does not come, after decades or even hundreds of years, human beings will not remain idle to continue being oppressed and killed. To quote a picture I saw on facebook (thank you Tracey) “A system cannot fail those it was never designed to protect.” And so revolution against a system that is failing its people is inevitable. That change does not need to be violent, but revolution nonetheless must still come.
Major reforms are needed in this country.
For the immediate moment, most change will need to come from the State and Local level. For starters, Police reform, retraining, demilitarization and the elimination of “qualified immunity” by government officials just to name a few. But it’s not just the police. The elimination of systematic racism needs to take place. This is in everything from inequality of services to education to city planning. We must vote for change at every level.
Revolution doesn’t happen overnight. It is painful, uncomfortable and requires sacrifice; just like when America was founded. For white people, we can do better! We can let go of a broken past, that wasn’t so great to begin with. We can be allies to communities of color. We can support the protests in all their forms. We must recognize that we are collectively better when everyone thrives. That’s the vision for America that we can actually believe in.
“The time is always right to do what is right” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
There are a number of resources available online for how white people can be allies with people of color, including this one from racialequalitytools.org.
A few dangling thoughts I want to highlight but didn’t know where to fit them in the post:
- There has been reporting of outside agitators coming into these protests and inciting violence and further agitating a volatile situation. That these agitators are white supremacists and detractors. They are taking advantage of a situation to detract from the true issue at hand. It is important not to paint all protesters and demonstrators and rioters with the same brush.
- Last month, gun carrying protesters were in Michigan’s Capitol building ‘protesting’ for their right to get haircuts and buy fertilizer amid the worst pandemic in the last 100 years. This was somehow celebrated by the President and some Republicans. Those were privileged white people who were inconvenienced by health measures meant to protect us all.
- To Canada and the rest of the world: You also have your own systematic racism issues with First Nations peoples and peoples of color. The tensions may be more apparent here in the US at this time, but you also need to address these long, deep and painful issues.