As African Americans express outrage at the killing of George Floyd by a white cop, their sentiments carry a certain street cred us white folks can’t muster. But still.
Like, if you’re black, you automatically “get” what Floyd was up against as he lay pinned to the ground, his wrists cuffed behind him, while a white Minneapolis cop kneed him in the neck.
It’s called white power.
As a white guy, we may not have “skin in the game,” but that doesn’t mean we’re without a conscience. Anybody who watched a video of Floyd’s final minutes of life must be sickened by images that have brought our nation to its own knees.
America has lost its soul. How else to explain the repeated killing of blacks, especially men, by cops throughout our country–and the unwillingness of us non-blacks to stamp out racism once and for all.
By soul, we mean our collective humanity. Our desire to treat each other with love and respect has all but evaporated. What some call racism, others call income inequality, or lack of opportunity. Call it what you will, black people are dying in ways more insidious than covid-19. While researchers develop a vaccine for the latter virus, thousands protest in dozens of cities for a cure to the former. We must find it now.
Today, Americans of all races may be considered as remote accomplices to that Minneapolis cop charged with murdering Floyd. If that seems absurd, we must ask ourselves — white privileged Americans: what have we done to combat racism in our country?
Sadly, the obvious answer is not enough.
Whenever things begin to feel sadder than a lost shoe in the road, we try to skip self-pity and consider how lucky we are. We live in a democracy where life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are treasured principles articulated by a bunch of white guys like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.
When they wrote the Declaration of Independence’s second paragraph, they meant it: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
But two and a half centuries later, imagine how those words resonate with the family of George Floyd. Are they just meaningless words? Public relations puffery? No. But still.
Recently, there were other words that grabbed our attention in the sports world.
“It feels like a broken record…”
A professional athlete named Jason Heyward uttered these words during an interview with ESPN.
Heyward happens to be a man of privilege. His parents graduated from Dartmouth. When he was only 17, Heyward was offered a scholarship to UCLA; he turned it down to play professional baseball instead.
In other words, you’d be hard-pressed to find two men with less in common than Jason Heyward and George Floyd. In 2009, Floyd began a 5-year sentence for armed robbery. At the time of his death, he was a 46-year-old truck driver and security guard.
Today, Heyward, 30, plays right field for the Chicago Cubs. His net worth, listed at $50 million, doesn’t insulate him from racism, however. He’s heard baseball fans yell the N-word throughout his career.
The common denominator: their heritage as African Americans.
So when Heyward described the George Floyd tragedy as something which “feels like a broken record,” he wasn’t referring to any records he’s broken playing baseball.
Rather, Floyd’s killing reminded him of a history of bloody episodes–police brutality against African Americans–that began generations ago and continue today with no end in sight.
He told ESPN, “When you have hatred, when you have anger, when you have people that dealt with this 40 years ago, when you have people that dealt with this 20 years ago, people that dealt with it 10 years ago, people for the first time dealing with it now, you got people at all different walks of life who have different emotions about it and different thoughts on how to handle it.”
As for finding our American soul, no easy clues come to mind. Violence certainly is not an answer. Neither is threatening peaceful demonstrators by the world’s most powerful leader, he with the orange hair and white skin.
As for those thousands of mostly-peaceful protestors on the streets of our cities, they won’t bring back George Floyd or, for that matter, make America safe again. But still.