Some seventy-two hours ago, I don’t think many of us were aware of the life of George Floyd. Even today, I don’t think many of us are, at least not what he was beyond yet another African-American man who has found himself brutally murdered by a police officer in a major American city.
It’s a harrowing reality for many reasons. First, because it shows that for all of our claims to be beyond bigotry, it proves what I, and many others, have been saying for years now, we’ve gone backward on bigotry in the last five years. We’ve said consistently that we’ve become an un-prejudiced society. That’s simply not true when we have a President who enforced a ban on a minority religion in the United States, ostensibly because of the threat of terrorism, but really as a dog whistle to the very worst, most cretinous base of his support.
It was pure bigotry, fear, and dog whistling that ensured that such an action was not only possible, but acceptable. Make no mistake, bigotry was the reason that non-American nationals from Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and Syria were barred from entering the United States in 2017. (Even though it should be noted that this position was temporarily stayed in 2017 and later the ban was upheld by the Roberts Court.)
Second, the murder of George Floyd shows us something else: for all of our claims to be a post-racial society, things have gotten irreparably worse the last few years in terms of race relations. What’s to be expected? After all, many people I know decided to elect, without the slightest pause, a man who said a Hispanic judge couldn’t fairly rule on a case involving him because of his race, who wants to build a wall on the border with Mexico, and who, to this day, keeps migrant families coming to the border with Mexico (many of whom are fleeing the very thing that he has said these people are associated with in Central American drug gangs!) in what can be politely deemed as security facilities, but are probably more aptly deemed concentration camps.
The senseless killing of George Floyd also proves a broader point about society that should honestly make us ashamed. For as much as we have prided ourselves on being a society with equality at its core, with the best interests of the citizenry at heart, and as a place where every citizen has a voice, this is simply not the case. Nor has it been for quite a long time. I would hesitate to say there’s been a time when we really didn’t have one set of rules for one part of the country and another, more strictly enforced, more narrowly focused one, for the other part. The older readers of mine might remember the Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, and Michael Brown murders-among numerous other murders of African-Americans and other minorities by police in America in the last 10 years-but this one truly feels different.
The murder of George Floyd comes at a time when the national discussion of white supremacy has come to a point of almost resignation. Resignation that somehow some of our fellow citizens believing that they’re racially superior to others is just a fact of life. (Of course, when a national news network actively has a three-hour block which subtly, or not-so-subtly in the case of Tucker Carlson, peddles racism, it shouldn’t be a surprise that it exists or even that it’s prominent.)
It was also our choice, and our resignation, which let white supremacy remain, even in the fringes After the Nazi rallies in Charlottesville to “Defend” a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee (which, yes, your Lost Cause is racist and the Confederacy was racist, defending the practice of chattel slavery which was exclusively perpetrated on a minority racial group is indeed monstrously criminal and racist!), we had at first a national revulsion to the actions of the Neo-Nazi groups there. Yet, after a comment saying there were “very fine people” on both sides and my, very misguided (and nowhere near as well covered), comments calling for civil discourse, we shrugged. We didn’t learn the lesson of needing to stamp the rising “alt-right”, fascist, and Nazi scourge out. We didn’t learn the lesson that white supremacy is about intimidation, it is about mistreatment, and it is a form of petty bullying. We learned nothing, we did as we have since time immemorial, we buried our heads in the sand like an ostrich and ignored this problem until it was too late.
And it goes beyond the revolting fringes too. The systemic racism and utterly deplorable behavior didn’t stop there! The truth of the matter is that birtherism was racist, the truth of the matter is that Blue Lives Matter has its roots in white supremacy, the truth of the matter is that the system as constituted hasn’t worked, isn’t working, and won’t work. What should be noted here though is that these positions were mainstream positions in the conservative movement and its fellow travelers from 2010 onwards. Maybe certain aspects of it were never overtly accepted, but they were never overtly condemned either.
What the murder of George Floyd proves is that, for as much as we’ve promised change, reform, and hope, we’ve never cleared the bar an inch off the ground. The overwhelming consensus, outside of the Fox bubble and outside of the nouveau racism or notes of bigotry offered by many thought leaders, overwhelmingly on the right, is that it is time for systemic change and a national clearing house.
So, of course, when “radicals” come to counter the reactionaries and the status-quoers, it would be only natural to expect resistance. However, resistance should not come in terms of looting from the radicals or the latter two groups deciding to fire rubber bullets and tear gas at protestors. And in reality, if we had genuinely become a post-bigotry society or a post-racial society, the kinds of reform which are necessary would be viewed as no brained and no resistance would be met.
Unsurprisingly though, resistance to changing the way things are done and working to end intolerance, bigotry, and racism has indeed met resistance.
Resistance should not come when at least once a year, there’s another prominent case of a dirty cop who murdered an unarmed minority at something so routine as a traffic stop. At that point, it ceases to be “resistance” to change, it becomes a stamp of approval for the current apparatus and its excesses. Resistance, when the cacophonous majority is clamoring for a change, is not a defense of “our way of life”, it is simply an excuse to continue to treat those “below” as though they are second-class or sub-human; support for “our way of life” at this point is simply unacceptable. We keep excusing the system because the bigotry still exists, the white supremacy still exists, and perhaps most notably, the system as currently constituted still exists.
One day, perhaps in the distant future, perhaps not so far off, we will be contemplating the end of the United States. After all, nothing is permanent. Continuing to let the thread unravel of overt bias in favor of whites when it comes to law enforcement (among a myriad other biases and other socio-economic ills), or as the Chicago Sun-Times reports tonight, yet another officer is found with an association with a fascist organization, will stretch that thread too thin and it will break. You’re seeing the consequences of a thread stretched too thin play out this evening in Minneapolis, and I’m sure in subsequent evenings there and across the country. Looting is unacceptable, but protesting is not; racialism of any kind is unacceptable, but working together as a community to overcome our systemic racial problems is not; allowing the senseless killing of minorities to continue is absolutely unacceptable, reforming the system and changing dramatically how we do things is not.
And in reality, we have two choices: we can either reform the system, work together as a community to overcome our systemic problems, and protest or we can let our worse demons continue to guide us. We can remain blithely insensitive to cosplay tough guys threatening state legislators and blithely insensitive to the tenor of debate around our issues being so bad that our leaders continue to get away with abdicating their responsibility or we can wisen up.
If we choose path 1, we will make appreciable progress.
If we continue to resist, our system will go up in flames as Minneapolis did tonight, and you can take that to the bank. If we resist, then yes, this is a republic, but we absolutely will not keep it.