First of all, hello! It’s been quite a while since I last posted here, and I wish I could be returning under better circumstances. The combination of other priorities and a general feeling that nobody particularly cares what a 20-something-year-old grad student has to say on politics has led me to become less involved with the blog. As an update, I just finished year one of Duke’s Master of Public Policy program (apologies to noted Tarheel fan Sam), and I’m doing a remote internship this summer at home in Georgia.
Obviously, these are unprecedented—and, quite frankly, scary—times. You don’t need me to tell you that. There isn’t really anything novel I can contribute to the conversation about current events, be it COVID-19, protests, the economy, China, or any other issue du jour. That being said, I didn’t want this moment in history to pass without having at least spoken up about the ongoing racial unrest in the wake of George Floyd’s
death murder at the hands of Minneapolis police.
What happened to George Floyd is sickening, heartbreaking, and utterly abhorrent. There is no conceivable universe in which a police officer should push his knee into the neck of an unarmed individual. Period. All of this should go without saying. Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated incident. Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin (update: David McAtee too)…I could go on and on. The list of people of color killed and/or brutalized at the hands of police is far too long. Police brutality disproportionately affects people of color and is a symptom of the much broader structural issue of systemic racism. And it’s not just the police; Ahmaud Arbery was murdered at the hands of two racists for simply jogging. Until we as a society confront the institutions that uphold systemic racism, nothing will change.
The reality is that the world I experience is far different than the world that people of color experience, particularly black people. I don’t fear for my life while interacting with the police (Floyd), being out at night (Trayvon Martin), or being in a different neighborhood (Arbery). That privilege is a product of my skin color, and because of it, I can’t ever truly fathom what the black community goes through on a routine basis. Of course, I’m furious about what happened to Floyd, Taylor, and every unarmed person of color whose life has been taken by police. I’m furious that racists took Arbery’s life and no one heard about it for 2 months. But this isn’t about my feelings, which pale in comparison to those of the black community.
That’s why these protests are happening. People are rightfully angry and fed up. For decades, white people have ignored, dismissed, complained about, and suppressed peaceful protests. MLK was assassinated for promoting equality and civil rights. Colin Kaepernick has been blackballed by the NFL ever since he decided to kneel during the national anthem. Now, as frustration has boiled over, the tone and nature of these protests is changing. I’ll admit my initial feelings of discomfort with the looting and destruction of property, especially (and literally) so close to home. I suppose that’s a product of my privilege. But at this point, how else can the attention of White America be captured? Property damage can be fixed, but the lives taken are gone forever.
(A side note on the protests: while I’m sure there are a few bad actors mixed in with the protestors who are either taking advantage of the chaos to steal property or are purposefully agitating the situation for nefarious political purposes, the behavior of the police and National Guard—using tear gas and rolling in tanks—only makes things worse and plays into the very critiques of police brutality the protestors are trying to make.)
The most important thing we can do as a country is listen and support those most affected by systemic racism. Black lives matter. Black people don’t need white people to tell them how to protest; they need us to hear them and use our structural power to push for change. That’s the only way this country will heal. We need to hold elected officials and community leaders accountable at the ballot box. We need to confront racism in our daily lives and our own social circles. We should be mindful of our own implicit biases and work to correct them. And, most of all, we need to treat each other with compassion and respect.