As I write this post, it’s been one year since George Floyd was killed, sparking all kinds of protests nationwide and bringing attention to racist police brutality, systemic racism, and the importance of recognizing how Black lives have been devalued. And those protests were on a scale we really hadn’t seen before. It was a wave of anger and demand for change that crossed into the white community at a level that was unprecedented.
But the question remains: Has anything changed? And the answer is: Not really.
This is not surprising to me and it probably isn’t surprising to most other Black Americans to be honest. The surge in support for Black Lives Matters was huge for a while, but it has since waned a lot. Some specific communities made significant moves to shift funding from policing to more proactive and community-helping programs but the vast majority have not and the current presidential administration seems eager to throw more money at police in the vain hope they’ll finally use it to better themselves. And with regard to the killer of George Floyd, former police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty—but that hasn’t really done much to stem police violence against Black people.
You might think this would make me angry. It doesn’t. It’s disappointing but it fits a pattern of white people waking up to the largely unchecked systemic abuses against Black people for a moment and then going back to their lives. It’s just that this moment lasted longer and had a more just-feeling “ending” with the conviction. The fact is that American society is still pretty much controlled by white people and white people are the ones that benefit the most from it and people don’t like change that is uncomfortable. So once the initial shock or “wokeness” wears off, they go back to business as usual, not noticing or caring much about systemic racism and white supremacy.
But it also hasn’t made me lose hope. There hasn’t been any real substantive change, but really, did anyone expect the entire system to show a noticeable change in one year? There is more than 400 years of violence and abuse and oppression of Black people in these here parts and that doesn’t get changed overnight. Or in a year for that matter.
I mentioned just a couple paragraphs ago how white people don’t like uncomfortable change. One thing that does give me some glimmer of hope is that they had uncomfortable talks and made uncomfortable realizations about whiteness at a level we haven’t seen before. More intense, more people doing it, and for a longer period of time.
The drop-off in intensity and the shift back toward business as usual—particularly now that we don’t have a blatant raving sociopath in the Oval Office—is unfortunate. Again, not unexpected, though. A sustained level of outrage and desire for true racial justice in this country would have been nice—followed by revolutionary levels of change. But the chances of that were never high.
But again, I have seen more eyes open wider this time. I have seen higher levels of white people seeking knowledge and trying to work with Black people on anti-racism education and activities.
The question now is whether white people will carry any of this momentum forward. Have seeds been planted that will stick, even if they aren’t blooming like they were maybe a few months ago? Will they be more willing to teach their children about race in ways they weren’t before and raise them in a manner that will mean less racial bias being baked into their brains? Will they be more willing to have difficult talks about race and to face difficult truths about their own part in white supremacy when confronted with such topics? Will they start to become more open to real change even if it hurts a bit?
In the end, will this just be a bigger-than-normal blip on the radar that fades away and lets racist systems regain ground and stay just as bad (or get worse?)…or will it be the snowball that slowly starts rolling down the hill until it later becomes something much larger and we see real change (probably no time soon but perhaps in a near-ish future)?
I don’t know. But one year later, I hope that white people who finally realized how real and pervasive racism throughout this country keep that awareness and that more of them do something with it.
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Image by Manasvita S via Unsplash