Much has happened since the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. The ubiquitous video showing the last moments of his life has emotionally affected people around the world. As awful as it was, he wasn’t the first Black person murdered by someone sworn to protect and serve. While you have likely heard of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Trayvon Martin, you probably never heard of Wayne Jones who, according to court documents was “armed only with a knife tucked into his sleeve, he was tased four times, hit in the brachial plexus, kicked, and placed in a choke hold. In his final moments, he lay on the ground between a stone wall and a wall of five police officers, who collectively fired 22 bullets” into his motionless body; it all started with jaywalking. There are countless others just like Wayne, whose names we don’t know. So, what has made the Floyd event so pivotal for so many? Given the long history of Black oppression and police brutality, why is it now that so many from non-Black communities are rallying against racial injustice?
Ironically, it may have been the global lockdown resulting from the coronavirus that allowed people to really see and feel what our community has lived for generations. Watching the video and hearing Floyd say 16 times “I can’t breathe”, having the officer taunt Floyd by telling him to “Get up and get in the car,” and him saying that he would do so – over and over again – with no chance for him to do so; keeping his lifeless body handcuffed as they rolled him on the stretcher; and hearing citizens telling the cops to check his pulse, let him up, and so on. To see and hear that was to realize that George Floyd died under the knee of an officer intent on killing him, not just restraining and subduing him. NBA coach Gregg Popovich said it was “actually watching a lynching.” What’s even more remarkable is that this incident was knowingly captured on video and the bad actors didn’t care.
This, I believe, is what soaked into the soul of those from all backgrounds, ethnicities, and socioeconomic levels. Coach Popovich went on to say, “Black people have been shouldering this burden for 400 years” and need white people to join them in the fight. He is right.
As white people look for ways to engage and make a difference, I think it helps to understand the perspective of those you seek to support. It is so easy to say we all have the same opportunity, but it isn’t the same when systems and institutions are designed with the odds against you. I’ll remind readers that our forefathers also said “All men are created equal with certain inalienable rights….” Words are powerful, but a war had to be fought for those words to begin to have meaning.
While there are seemingly endless examples of the way race impacts the daily lives of Black families, one of the most salient and basic is “the conversation.” When Black people talk about having “the conversation” with their children, it generally means teaching their kids at very young ages things like:
- When you buy something, make sure to always receive it in a bag and get the receipt. Not so you can return the item, but so that you can prove you bought it if accused of stealing;
- How to respond when white people ask if they can touch your hair; I’ve always wondered how they would react if black people asked to touch their hair;
- And, of course, what to do if stopped by the police; not to hopefully avoid a ticket but to avoid getting unnecessarily arrested or, worse, killed on camera.
Making a Difference
What is encouraging are the growing number of non-Black allies who also recognize the evils of hate and indifference to equality. Here are a few things you can do to make a difference:
- Challenge racially insensitive jokes and comments from friends, family, and coworkers.
- If in the position to do so, actively and intentionally recruit black talent.
- Ensure the composition of your board and executive leadership team reflect what you really believe about diversity. Commit to making changes in the next 6-12 months.
The work to move forward will not be easy but change cannot happen without it. So, it is with hope and faith that through education, understanding, compassion, and humanity we can truly be a fair and just society committed to lifting up one another equally. Only then, truly, will all lives matter.
-Bradley Knox, Senior Vice President and Counsel, Aflac Federal Relations
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s individual views and do not represent the views of Aflac.