Political Education

George Floyd, Systemic Racism, and being a White Woman

George Floyd Memorials

George Floyd was an unarmed black man who was murdered by four officers of the Minneapolis Police Department on May 25th. His murder was graphically filmed and became viral within minutes. Floyd was restrained by one officer with his knee on his neck, and the listener can hear Floyd telling the officer, “I can’t breathe” before he passed away. The officer had his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, 3 of those minutes were after he stopped moving and talking.

All four officers were fired from the Minneapolis Police Department on the 25th. Yesterday Derek Chauvin, the 44-year-old white officer seen prominently with his knee in George Floyd’s neck, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. These charges come with a maximum twelve-year prison sentence. The other three officers are still free at the time this article is being written. The county prosecutor, Mike Freeman, said charges against the other officers were possible but those in charge, “felt it appropriate to focus on the most dangerous perpetrator.”

In most major cities in the United States protests have been constant. Some of these protests have turned violent, with looting and destruction of property. The National Guard has been mobilized in Minneapolis to enforce a curfew. Atlanta is in a state of emergency. A man has died in Detroit.

These are facts as I understand them. But the truth is the protests that are going on now are not just about George Floyd. These protests are about hundreds of black men and women who are killed by the police. Many of these men and women were unarmed, many of these men and women did nothing wrong, none of these men and women should have died. The police are meant to protect and serve, and the criminal justice system is meant to punish those who have committed a crime. These black men and women never had their day in court.

White people need to stop making excuses. For the last five days, I have been trying to process what has been going on. I have been trying to figure out how it could take four days for an obvious murder to be arrested and why the officers who helped him have yet to be arrested. I have been trying to figure out how in the hell the United States could have a president who has such racist preconceived notions about black people in this country. I have been trying to understand the rage and hurt that black Americans feel right now. And while writing this I have realized I can never understand the rage and fearfully.

I am a white mother who married an ethnically Chinese man and we have a mixed-race son. I will never have to fear for my son walking down the street alone when he is a teenager. My son will never have to fear the police in the same way a black man will. And it has nothing to do with the way that he is being raised or anything like that. Hell, in my experience at storytime in our local library the black children are well behaved, listen to their parents and do what they are told when they are told.

Racism and prejudice are two different things. And these are the conversations I have been having with people. Racism is the system in place that is against black Americans. Prejudice is how you feel about another person because of their race or nationality. Racism is about the system, prejudice is about your feelings. Racism is deeply rooted in American culture in so many ways that white Americans do not want to see. But the truth is that white men and women can get away with shit that a black man or woman could never get away with.

I know that as a white mother I have had the privilege to take five days to try to think about and try to wrap my head around what is happening right now. A black mother doesn’t have the privilege. She has to make sure her kids are safe and teach them to be safe from the police, while as a white woman I am told to run to the police if I feel unsafe.

I know I have a lot to learn, and it is not the responsibility of those in the black community to teach me. Especially when I have a library card.

I have seen a few different books recommended by different organizations to read and actually learn about systemic racism in this country, and here is where I am starting.

  • How to be an Antiracist by Ibram V Kendi
  • How to be Less Stupid About Race: On Racism, White Supremacy, and the Racial Divide by Crystal M Fleming
  • Waking up White: and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving
  • So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo
  • White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin J DiAngelo and Michael Eric Dyson

I’m starting with How to be Less Stupid about Race since it is currently available for online borrowing from my library. If anyone reading this would like to give any other book recommendations please do so in the comments.

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