I don’t think I will ever forget the sadness I felt over the death of someone I was never supposed to know existed. But now the last nine minutes of George Floyd’s life may well have been imprinted on the rest of mine.
Since then, I can honestly say the whole experience has been an emotional rollercoaster for me. I have been forced to contemplate:
- How fragile life is.
- How easily people can disregard the significance of a life.
- My awareness of the law, justice, and my rights – and if I am being deprived of them.
- How law is a set of rules created to regulate behavior, to keep the peace and security.
- Whether justice is about being moral, doing what is right or simply a case of upholding the law.
- That rights are my legal and moral entitlement as a human being.
I know. It’s deep when you really think about it, right?!
Standing Up for Our Rights
The direct result I see following George Floyd’s death is that people from all walks of life are standing up for, and speaking up on, the injustices that people of color face daily.
Major global brands, celebrities and politicians have publicly stated their position on this divisive subject. They have made it clear where they stand on the issue of racism.
Fewer people are now “sitting on the fence” about these topics. And now that more people are speaking up against failures in society, it is shining a light on willfully ignorant people with prejudiced beliefs. Beliefs that have been hiding in plain sight.
The outcry for change by the black communities, through well-informed and well-organized demonstration, using the power of social media, has made it possible for the BLM movement to reach 50 countries.
I mean, think about it, 50 countries. People in Norway and Syria are standing up for a message just because they know it is the right thing to do. That is so powerful.
Everyday Racism… and New Hope
For me, and for a lot of other people of color, these events have raised lots of questions in our minds. I think back to that time I was stopped, and my car searched by the police, while driving in the West End of London on a date night. Or when I am followed around by a security guard while in a store.
Then there’s being refused entry into a club or a bar by security when I am in a group of all-black guys. Then witnessing an even larger group of white males let through without a second glance.
But this is not a new topic for us. We have been out here, so I just want to say, “Hey guys! Thank you for joining us, finally! We are so glad you could make it!”
The biggest change, I have to say, is the learning that is taking place. The willingness to learn, the transformative power of educating yourself. People are more empowered; they are exercising their right to speak out for justice, without breaking the law of the land.
When I Realized Racism Existed
Racism has been real for me from a very young age. I still remember seeing graphic scenes from South Africa during apartheid on TV. I also watched shows like Roots, watched films about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr and the work they did. So, there has always been an awareness.
But my first personal experience was as a teenager representing my school in sports events and visiting other schools around the U.K. And I had a very unpleasant interaction, where one of the boys from the opposing side made monkey noises as a means of communicating with me and used the N-word.
When I reported the incident to my teacher, he simply said, “A big lad like you should have tougher skin.” And I thought, “My teacher is right. Sticks and stones.” Right?
Now, if I am honest, I don’t know if my teacher, a man I respected, stood up for my rights without me knowing. But the young me took it on board as a lesson.
I was being taught to expect racism, and not respect, to simply be more resilient when faced with that type of behavior. That could be a positive spin on it. Consequently, it also normalized the behavior and led me to accept something that should be abhorred.
My fear is that my past experiences have taught me to tolerate overt racism. Now, when I am faced with micro-aggressions, targeted at the color of my skin, I am hardly fazed. Which is sad, upon reflection.
Systemic or Personal Racism?
To be honest, you will find systemic racism if you choose to look for it. I have mentioned a few instances already. It’s obviously harder to spot it now that there aren’t literal signs posted everywhere, saying, “No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish.”
Even so, I know people who, on the surface, believe in equality and social integration. But that only travels as far as their doorsteps. Families disowning family members because they chose to marry outside their race, for instance.
As for racism in the workplace… gladly, I can say no, I have not experienced it personally.
All Lives Matter
I would argue that some of the instances we have seen recently about people speaking out against BLM, coining the phrase “All lives matter” have very racist motivations.
To stand up against a group of people who are simply demanding the fair treatment they are entitled to, clearly indicates animosity toward that group.
Jeffrey Oshinyemi is a Client Success Manager with Mind Tools from Emerald Works.