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The video of George Floyd’s death has had a profound affect on the American psyche similar to the masterful film 12 Years a Slave—the narrative of a black-freeman captured into slavery. After viewing the film, many moviegoers were left emotionally wrecked, causing many to leave the theater before the film ended because it was too painful to watch. There were reports of African Americans crying uncontrollably in their theater seats, irreconcilable. While exiting the theater, some white moviegoers felt compelled to apologize to random strangers of African descent for the enslavement of black people by their forefathers. It was as if the white Americans who watched the film finally understood the true horrors of slavery.

And so, it seems that the George Floyd video has had a similar effect on Americans, but on a much broader scale, as evidenced by the days of protesting and civil unrest in cities across America. The video has brought home the reality of racism. As George Floyd is slowly dying before our eyes, we see the real cost of racism—the destruction of a man’s dignity, the destruction of the dignity of an entire race of people. As George Floyd suffers an undignified death, begging for his life—“please, please, please, I can’t breathe,” calling out to his deceased mother—”mamma,” we witnessed how cruel, how horrible and deadly racism can be, and is.

Unlike other acts of police brutality captured on video in the past, the George Floyd recording unearthed the suppressed grief of 400 years of oppression, dating back to when Africans arrived in Jamestown, Virginia as so-called indentured servants in 1619. The eight minutes and 46 seconds of torture captured on video touched a nerve in African Americans, and apparently the nerves of many white Americans. The painful video has taken away all the usual excuses we tell ourselves. If Mr. Floyd would only have cooperated with the authorities. He must have done something to deserve what happened to him. We have to give the police the benefit of doubt. Those excuses and many others were dispensed with as George Floyd breathed his last breath.

The George Floyd video has conjured up the countless acts of less deadly forms of racism that African Americans face—structural and systematic racism in employment, education, housing, etc. There is the ugliness of blatant racism, e.g., teenage black boys detained by the police in violation of the constitution, patted down, forced to get on their knees while their names are run through the system—their only crime being “walking while black.”  There is the whiplash of drive by racism—racist incidents where a black person is left wondering what just happened and the perpetrator has moved on before there is an opportunity to respond. And there are the numerous acts of micro-racism that they endure on a daily basis, humiliating acts committed while going about their business—acts of discrimination at the whims of a salesperson, a security guard, a health care provider. Many black people endure the indignity of racism without complaint, because they simply do not want the trouble, the hassle. Sometimes they are gaslighted, made to believe that what just happened to them—did not happen, left thinking they are losing their minds. Most African Americans accept this reality because they do not want to be denied whatever they are trying to accomplish that day, in that moment.

The George Floyd video has inspired many white people to look in the mirror, to examine their behaviors, to take inventory of their attitudes toward black and brown people, to recognize the racist thinking embedded in European culture, as well as in Americanism. It has motivated them to come to grips with their sense of racial supremacy that has been indoctrinated in them from the day they were born. The video calls upon white people to understand that acts of racism serve to reaffirm their sense of racial supremacy even when they personally find the racist acts abhorrent. It has encouraged them to take note of how pervasive racism is in American society, to scrutinize the uncensored racist views of white people within their inner circle—coworkers, family members, friends, and to not dismiss their views as benign.  The video demands of them to take responsibility for the racism that is endemic in American society. It makes clear to them that they have a vital role to play in eradicating racism, and if that is not possible, then diminishing its destructive force.

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We all have a difficult job in front of us. The truth of the matter is that very few racist people—white, black, brown—see themselves as racists. They live in a world of denial. Much like a woman-beater who honestly does not see himself as misogynistic. The women who are his victims are to blame. He may even claim that he is kind to his victim, occasionally bringing her flowers and other gifts. In the same way, many hardened racist claim they have cordial relationships with individuals in the black and brown community. We must realize the two are not mutually exclusive—a racist can have black friends. Denial is often a symptom of the disease, one of many symptoms of racism. However, in some strange way, the George Floyd video has pulled back the curtain and forced us all to take a closer look at ourselves.

The George Floyd video has woken up African Americans from a long deep sleep—a sleep that some believe began an half-century ago at the end of the Civil Rights era, a point in history which many black people were convinced that racism was behind us. The slumber for some continued through the Obama presidency—the election of the first black man to the highest office in the land. It was said to be the dawn of the post-racial era. All the while, black men were being killed in cold blood at the hands of white police officers. All the while, African Americans were catching hell, suffering the unrelenting indignity of racism. But to the surprise of many, a great number of white people have also woken up. Americans of all stripes, racial and ethnic groups have gotten out of bed, put on their favorite blue jeans and tee-shirt, donned a face mask, and have taken to the streets in the hope that they can bring about real change.


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