Updated: Jan 23
My friend has recently lost her father to a sudden and unexpected heart attack. Met with immense grief, and in reconciling with current events, she shared with me these words:
“I just can’t help but think of George Floyd and the fact that he has two kids. Despite my grief, I still have immense privilege that I never had to fear that my dad would die because of his race. I can’t even begin to imagine how different it feels for his kids to have lost their father that way. And I’m so angry that people with more/varying privilege from me, can’t see it.”
In a time of a worldwide pandemic, when many of us are out of work and at home, we have an opportunity for reflection. We are worrying, more than ever, about our health and bills— without jobs will we be able to eat? We may feel stuck at home— lost and in desperate need to go back to work.
But, especially in light of recent protest, we must consider the fact that people of color are dying from COVID-19 at higher rates than whites. In an article by Johns Hopkins Medicine, it is noted that in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin 26% of the population is African American; yet, despite low representation, 70% of the deaths by COVID-19 are of African Americans. The CDC confirmed that in New York City, there are 92.3 African American deaths out of the total population of 100,000. This is in comparison to the number of white deaths, 45.2/100,00.
This disparity is unavoidable. No matter one’s political stance, these numbers cannot be argued as false.
We must be asking ourselves why people of color are being hit harder than the rest of the population. The truth is, the answer to that question has everything to do with current protests. How? For one, POC have inconsistent access to healthcare. Mainly due to low socio-economic status, they face underinsurance or even a lack of insurance. This is unarguably due to centuries of racism and oppression.
There are systems like redlining, which is a practice developed by banks and insurance companies to geographically segregate ethnicities. Placed in various neighborhoods, instilling segregation, those in power and those that created the map, chose how to label the sections as either worthy of loans, mortgages, insurance, etc., or not. It is based on their own discriminatory judgments as to whether POC can pay them back or not. This system is plagued by racism; it was created in order to justify their racist views. We, as a society, have set them up to fail, and we continue to perpetuate the many forms of oppression that began in 1619 when the first slave was brought to this land.
As my friend was referencing earlier, we have an obligation to recognize our own white privilege. Have we ever worried of being denied treatment in a hospital because of our skin color? Have white women ever feared sterilization when having a caesarean section?
White privilege is simply the societal benefits we as white people receive over people of color strictly because of our race. This is particularly true in settings of the same political, economic, and social circumstances.
But having white privilege does not mean we personally are racist. It just means that we were raised, and continue to live, in a society in which white privilege is taught and carried on. Just because we were raised with certain ideals, does not mean we are at fault. What we are at fault for is not recognizing the racism in the views that we were taught. In the land of the free we should all be free to think for ourselves. Admitting our privilege is real and that it can be a tool for change, rather than a reason to resist it, is a human obligation. Having the choice whether or not to see the white privilege we have, is a display of our privilege. The Black community cannot avoid it because they are living it every day— the fear that at any moment they, or someone close to them, could be killed by those sworn to protect them simply because they were out at night or wearing a “wifebeater” shirt.
Before we jump to, “Well, I’ve never seen that,” or “I’m not like that, I have a black friend,” consider the level of diversity in this town. We are a white town. A fish in water does not notice the water.
At the end of the day, human lives are more important than property. One post on social media gets at this as it reads, “You keep saying ‘It’s horrible that an innocent black man was killed, but destroying property has to stop.’ Try saying, ‘It’s horrible that property is being destroyed, but killing innocent black men has to stop.’”
We are emphasizing the wrong part. We never want violence, but when peaceful protest without violence appeared, like taking a knee, that was met with ridicule. So, what do we want? What do we expect? When people were peaceful, no justice was served. A President should be expected to view George Floyd’s 9 minute plead for air as murder. It is not something to praise as it is expected for a human being to react that way. A people oppressed for centuries have a right to be angry!
JFK once said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
The truth is, we do not want to admit that we have a part to play in this— that we should be taking the side of humanity. All lives cannot matter until black lives matter just as much as white lives. If equality was already established, we wouldn’t be seeing the protests that we do. We are afraid to give up our power because we are scared. We do not know what it is like to be racially oppressed.
Trevor Noah from the Daily Show stated, “There is no right way to protest because that’s what protest is. It can’t be considered “right” by the system that it’s protesting.”
Before we are quick to call riots “destructive” and “against their movement,” we must recognize the lens that we bring to the situation. In Brooklyn, a group of protestors blocked the entrance to a Target to prevent looting. When did the media show this?
The news only shows the bad, and more specifically the bad of the protestors, but, unfortunately, the bad of the cops is being left untouched. It is only through social media that we can see the violence being shown by the police.
Instigations of tear gas, rubber bullets, and speeding cars, in efforts to hit peaceful protestors, are real. After taking a knee, officers quickly turned against the people they are sworn to protect and continued with tear gas and rubber bullets.
The foundation of the police force originates from the Runaway Slave Patrol. This was a group of armed white men who were responsible for capturing runaway slaves and returning them to their owners. It was a tactic to instill fear and to prevent rebellion and revolt. The police force today continues to use fear as their main tactic.
The Black Lives Matter movement, through these protests is showing that they are not afraid anymore. They will not be carrying this weight of oppression anymore. While they fight for their lives, and for the right to not worry about losing their loved ones, and we sit in our homes comfortably, let us ask ourselves what matters more— the price of materialistic goods or the price of a human life?