Like virtually everyone, I was sickened by the sight of the videos last week of Minneapolis Police officers kneeling on George Floyd until he became unresponsive and died. The sound of his voice pleading for breath should be enough to shake anyone’s faith in humanity. The visceral response of the African American Community has been understandable – raw numbers be damned, there have far too many public incidents of cops using excessive and deadly force on black suspects even as we’ve supposedly been making our way toward a more just society.
The fact that this happened in Minneapolis adds a little more shock value to me. I was born there. I still have dozens of relatives who live in the Twin Cities and aside from their crummy football team, everything you hear about “Minnesota Nice” is true. People just don’t DO that kind of stuff up there, and when it does happen it’s even more painful.
I said the visceral reaction was understandable – but elements of it are not excusable. Nobody supports the violence that has come with the demonstrations across the nation. St. Paul said that ALL the arrests from the second night of demonstrations ended up being out-of-town people, many evidently brought in as “agitators” to whip a peaceful demonstration into a fury. That’s utterly despicable.
But the more civil parts of that visceral reaction from members of the black community have been an education to me and helped me understand where some of my friends have been coming from. And I think I’ve grown a little.
One thoughtful piece relayed by a friend hit home especially well; a young, African-American father wrote that he always goes out for a walk with his eight-year old daughter, because WITH her he was just a Dad talking a walk with his daughter. Walking ALONE, he was an athletically-build black man walking through a neighborhood where the cops and neighbors might wonder why he was there. As a guy who takes regular, long walks, that made me think – and realize that I really can’t appreciate some of what my black friends feel. And why they may be a tinch more sensitive to well-meaning statements of “being colorblind” and that “ALL Lives (including Black Lives) Matter.” The intent is well meaning, inclusive and in the right spirit, but strikes a nerve because of the undercurrent that young Dad referred to by the popular term, “White Privilege.”
I don’t like the term, “White Privilege.” It implies that I have something my POC friends do NOT have. In truth, THEY have something I don’t have, and it’s something nobody wants. It’s a presumption, spoken or unspoken, that on the street, in a traffic stop or other interaction, dealing with them is somehow less safe than with me. And that ain’t right.
It ain’t right. But it does give us something to work on. Hopefully, together.