George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officers. We all saw it on video. It triggered something in most of us. Maybe it was how long the torture lasted, 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Maybe it was the nonchalant attitude of former officer Derek Chauvin, as he kept his knee on Floyd’s neck, despite the crowd’s pleas that he let him go. Maybe it was George Floyd’s last words. “I can’t breathe.” Words we’ve heard before from Eric Garner, another black man whose death became a hashtag and a rallying cry.
Maybe it was Floyd calling out for his “mama,” who had died three years before. Maybe it was the sequence of hashtags as a result of racism that happened in such a short time: #AhmaudArbery, #BreonnaTaylor, #BirdingWhileBlack. Maybe it was the combination of all of those things and more.
Whatever it was, it led to a collective realization that spread around the country and around the globe that America has a systemic racism problem. We have been carrying it around since our country was born. It is killing us – some of us, literally.
What happens now? What comes beyond the hashtag? Some of my black friends have told me – sometimes with an eye roll and a chuckle – that they’ve been getting random calls and texts from white people they know, asking them how they’re doing, asking what they can do. It borders on the ridiculous for people to be asked how to fix a problem they didn’t create and are instead the victims of.
But still, it’s a question that deserves a serious answer. Even though I have a lot of close black friends, even though I don’t consider myself a racist, and even though I, too, am a minority in this country, it is a question I’ve been asking myself and thinking about.
There are actions that should be taken by government officials – things like outlawing chokeholds, making sure cops who abuse their power lose their jobs, prosecuting police brutality and many other steps. There are also things we can do as citizens and individuals. I’m not an expert on race. I’m just a normal person who wants to figure out how we can make things a little better. This is not meant to be pontificating or lecturing, or a complete list. Just some thoughts from an imperfect human who wants to live in a more perfect Union:
- Bigotry is grounded in ignorance. We must educate ourselves. Read something longer than a tweet about the history of slavery. It is so important to know how and when the systemic dehumanization of black people in America started. Look at the pictures of the backs of slaves, scarred from whipping. Look at the metal shackles and chains they were made to wear – even the little children – around their necks and wrists. Look up the names of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Nat Turner and Sojourner Truth.
- Take down the Confederate monuments. They belong in history books and museums and trash bins, not in public squares and the streets of America. They are a hurtful commemoration of a shameful time in America. Don’t kid yourself. It’s not about heritage. If you want to honor your great-grandfather who fought for the Confederacy, that’s great. Hang his picture on your wall. For most of us, especially those whose great-grandparents were bound in chains, Confederate monuments romanticize slavery.
- Read the story, look at the pictures of what happened to Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black boy brutally tortured and lynched for allegedly flirting with a white woman, who years later admitted she had fabricated parts of the story. That’s why people are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Because for decades, we have been confronted with visual evidence of black men and women getting framed and getting killed for minor offenses or trumped-up charges, and it keeps happening.
- Read black literature, watch movies and documentaries about black America – titles like “12 Years a Slave,” “Roots,” “Malcolm X,” “Selma,” “The Butler,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and “The Loving Story.”
- Have real human interactions with people of color. Speak to people and learn from people, who may be different from you. Ask them to share their stories, and then listen with an open heart.
- Demand that companies you do business with have people of color on their corporate boards and C-suites.
- Support black-owned businesses.
- If you work at a company that has internship programs, make sure those interns look like America. People of color need opportunities.
- Donate to scholarship funds for people of color.
- Amplify black and brown voices. Make sure they are represented in the media. Follow some leading voices on Twitter. Support movies and shows produced by people of color.
- Don’t stay silent in the face of racism. When somebody makes a racial joke or says a racial slur, stop them, even if it’s your blood relative.
- When somebody does something racist at work, call them out. Report them to Human Resources. Even if it is a colleague you like. Whatever you do, don’t just look the other way.
- Don’t use racial slurs.
- Make meaningful connections and friendships with black people – and not just to say “I have black friends.” I know in some less diverse places in America, that doesn’t sound easy. But really, with social media and all the rest, it’s not that hard.
- Check your own privilege. Look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself whether you engage in deliberate or unconscious racism.
- Don’t support racists. Weaponize your pocketbook. When somebody says something racist on TV, shut it off. Find out who their advertisers are and tell them you won’t spend money with them if they keep spending their money on shows that fan the flames of racism. (Yes, I’m talking about Tucker Carlson).
- Solidarity matters. Words matter. Allies can make a difference. Nobody is saying black lives matter more. Nobody is saying all lives don’t matter. People are just saying Black Lives Matter. Say those three little words. It should not be controversial, really.
- Don’t vote for a racist for any elected position – local, state or federal – including for the US presidency. In case you need an explainer: someone who was sued for housing discrimination, called for the death penalty for the Central Park Five (and refuses to apologize even after they were exonerated), promoted the birther conspiracy against the first black President and called athletes (many of them black) taking a knee “sons of bitches,” is a racist. And in case you still don’t get it, let me be more specific: Don’t vote for Donald Trump in November.