“Who do we go to when the people who are murdering us are the police?”
The death of forty-six-year-old George Floyd has ignited a well needed conversation about white supremacy on social media. Floyd died on Monday May 25 and a video taken by a bystander circulated the media of a policeman, now identified as Derek Chauvin, holding Floyd down to the ground by pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck.
What does Floyd’s death have to do with white supremacy? The answer is: everything. Sadly, Floyd is just one of many black men who have been injured or who have died due to police brutality. His death echoes of that of Eric Garner, who uttered the same plea “I can’t breathe” as he too was held in a chokehold during an arrest which took place in 2014. These are just two of the many victims of white supremacy that could be used as examples in this article. The point is, situations like this just aren’t happening to white people. I can’t remember the last time that I heard of a white man dying from or suffering injuries after an arrest or detention with the police. But I can list to you multiple names of black men and women who have: Brian Douglas, Ricky Bishop, Cherry Groce, Cynthia Jarrett, Habib Ullah…
We are, as a society, now past the point of just ‘accepting’ that racism exists. We should, and by ‘we’ I am speaking of white people, be actively denouncing this type of treatment. We should be acknowledging the deaths and the suffering of the black community. If brutality against black people is being caused by white people, then the responsibility rests on white people to raise awareness for the hurt that black people are experiencing because of white people.
What really pushed me to write this article were the words of @sidemanallday on Instagram in a live video that he shared referring to the death of George Floyd. I think it perfectly sums up the need for more white people to step into the conversation about white privilege and white supremacy. It is necessary to the understanding of his words that I mention that @sidemanallday is black. He says: “me and my brother used to have a rule when we was younger – if I hit him first, he would have to hit me back or we couldn’t be cool before that happened. When you talk to SOME white people about race, they want you to have a level of calmness when you’re talking to them. Well, I find it difficult to do that because they don’t understand that I have been hit and I don’t feel like I can hit back. When I see that a man has put his knee on a black man’s neck it feels like I have been hit and I can’t hit the justice system back, I can’t hit institutional racism back, I can’t hit white supremacy back.”
The final part of this dialogue really emphasises why white people do need to acknowledge white supremacy and white privilege. The point being that, if there are inequalities in the justice system, if there is institutional racism, then it is up to the race that is not targeted by these prejudices to speak up about the injustices and aid the race that is being repeatedly ‘hit’ by them. If the colour of a person’s skin makes them feel as though they cannot ‘hit’ back, white people must ‘hit’ back for them.
There is racial privilege in our society. I know some white people will read that and respond by thinking, “well, that isn’t my fault” and “well, I’m not racist, I wouldn’t judge someone by their skin colour, so how can white supremacy apply to me?” This type of response misses the point entirely. It does not matter, now, whose fault it is. What matters and what needs to happen is that more white people acknowledge their privilege compared to other races and use the advantage that their race has given them to draw attention to injustices that we see black people experiencing everyday. We can use our white privilege to educate others on the subject of institutional racism, to make sure that the names of victims such as George Floyd, Eric Garner, Ahmaud Arbery, Terrell Decosta Jones-Burton and so many more victims of white supremacy are heard.
Sadly, the UK is not exempt from cases of police brutality. Kingsley Burrell called 999 for help and was detained under the Mental Health Act despite having no previous history of mental health. He was then beaten with batons, his legs and arms restrained, whilst a blanket covered his face. No arrests were made in connection to this. Olaseni Lewis died due to heart failure after being restrained and beaten for 30 minutes by 11 police officers. Sean Rigg was arrested for the theft of his own passport and died in Brixton Police Station. He was said to be asleep and faking it. Rodger Sylvester. Rocky Bennett. Leon Patterson. Joy Gardner. Christopher Alder. Jason Mcpherson. Azelle Rodney. Sarah Reed. Mark Duggan. Sheku Bayoh. Jimmy Mubenga. Michael Powell. Alton Manning. What is devastating is that I could list far more names. The British police are not exempt. black people are twice as likely to die in police custody in this country than their white counterparts. In an interview with the BBC, @thepoetgeorge was asked: “But you’re not putting America and Britain on the same footing? Our police aren’t armed, they don’t have guns. The legacy of slavery is not the same. It’s not the same is it?”
In response, @thepoetgeorge replied: “When you talk about the issue of race relations, you have to consider the role of the British Empire on the African Continent, and the political and economic consequences of that interaction. This is very contemporary. I hope this is a learning point for many people who think along the lines of what you just expressed: that this is an American and not a British issue.”
As white people, we are wrongly assigned privileges based on our skin colour, which mean that we do not have to deal with the suffering that other races do. It is our responsibility, as white people, to know the names of victims of racially charged police brutality. It is our responsibility to know and raise awareness for all of the other privileges we have because we are a not a POC. Scott Woods said: “racism is a complex system of levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on the behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites know/like it or not.” We have to dismantle these pulleys and levers. We have to call them out. We have to support those who are damaged by them. We have to make sure that we do not accept these levers and pulleys in our society, just because they work in our favour. As Woods says: “I know it’s hard work, but it’s the price you pay for owning everything.”
White people: continue to educate yourself. Continue to speak up. Continue to support black musicians, writers, artists and business owners. Have those awkward conversations with your family members at the dinner table. Be anti-racist. Don’t forget about this issue until another innocent black person is murdered. This is more than a social media movement now. This is a chance for white people to really educate themselves and help make changes to a society that has and will continue to suppress others for the benefit of white people. We must take this chance.
*image taken from Pixabay, credited to Manuel Velasco