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August 14, 2020

Racism, George Floyd, BLM, and Me

Jeffrey Oshinyemi


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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.

What's your experience of Black Lives Matter? What impact has BLM had in your workplace? Add your comments below.

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5 comments on “Racism, George Floyd, BLM, and Me”

  1. I keep hearing that George Floyd's nickname is "Gentle Giant". I feel terrible about his death and how it happened. I am miffed about the nickname "Gentle Giant". The reason for this is: He plead guilty to entering a woman’s home, pointing a gun at her stomach and searching the home for drugs and money, according to court records
    Floyd was sentenced to 10 months in jail for having less than one gram of cocaine in a December 2005 arrest
    He had previously been sentenced to eight months for the same offense, stemming from an October 2002 arrest
    Floyd was arrested in 2002 for criminal trespassing and served 30 days in jail
    He had another stint for a theft in August 1998
    I realize these crimes he committed were quite a while ago and he served his time. I know people can turn their lives around. If this was my history of crimes, I would not want to be known as a "Gentle Giant". I am wondering how many protestors and others know about his criminal history. Also, the day he was arrested, how could a "Gentle Giant" use a counterfeit bill, have cocaine, and appear to be on drugs or drinking. I feel I must bring this up, because "Gentle Giant" to me does not seem to be an appropriate nickname. Perhaps, no nickname. Maybe he came across as a "Gentle Giant" to people he knew and maybe he was. I am not commenting to cause trouble or doubt. I am stating facts. If I am wrong, please correct. I do not feel the color of a person is a difference. My parents were dark skinned and white skinned. Never bothered me. I never was bullied. I am sad the world has come to this. I do not feel much difference to people because of color. A person can be black or white and be a criminal. If a person, any color, committed the crimes as above, I cannot comprehend the term "Gentle Giant". I would call him "George Floyd".

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience of growing up in a mix raced family.
      Snopes and other fact-checking sites are a good place to start for exploring the truth and context of widely discussed stories like those you mention.
      Meanwhile the basic right of everyone to be free from the daily risk of lethal violence, and of racism in all its subtle and not so subtle forms, is absolute.
      You might like to read more of our blogs in this series, including those by Sai Cook and Esh Jugal.
      Charlie Swift, Mind Tools Editor

  2. I have another comment concerning the term "African Americans". I always wonder why the term "African American" is even used? There are many people in America, who are half African and (example) half Irish. Some Americans are full African, but still shouldn't be labeled as "African Americans", otherwise every American would have a saying for their Nationality and would be put in separate categories. Those who are half African and (for example) half Irish, and due to their genes, were born with a lighter skin color, are they "African American" or an "African-Irish American"? I also wonder if a person (example), who is half Mexican and half Swedish, would be labelled as "Mexican- Swedish America. Due to genes, some people may perceive another as only Mexican, if their skin were darker. Some people may perceive one as Swedish (due to their genes taking on a lighter skin color). I believe that some Americans use their own perceptions, and are prejudice (themselves), over what they think they see. I wonder how many Africans living in America are truly only African? It doesn't matter. Do they do they feel stronger about the saying "Black Lives Matter"? Other Americans may also feel strong about the saying "Black Lives Matter" (no matter their Nationality). My opinion is that there should not even be a saying "Black Lives Matter". It should be "American Lives Matters" or "All Lives Matter". There is no reason to separate any of these thoughts. Doing this is actually prejudice, by focusing on one Nationality. America is a "Melting Pot" of all Nationalities. We are all only "Americans". There should be no prejudice. Yes, some African people were treated badly as slaves; this is in the past. We all need to move on. All Nationalities have something in the past that was negative. For example, Germans who are Americans, may feel other Americans are prejudice towards them, because of Hitler and killing of the Jews; this is also in the past. New generations of German's should not feel less about themselves and want to shout out "German Lives Matter". You could go on and on...
    Like I said, America is a "Melting Pot" of all Nationalities. We are all "Americans" and of course, all lives matter, anywhere in the world. No one in America should use the saying, I am a "German American" or, I am an "Irish American", plus so many, many more... All Nationalities who are Americans should not put themselves in one category of their Nationality. Instead it would simply be I am a "Melting Pot American".

    1. Hello again GEM - as a white British person, my partial understanding of the terminology here is that African-American has a particular link to the heritage of people whose ancestors were forcibly brought to the Americas as slaves and/or who were born into that slavery. But I know for sure that, as with all labels and identities, it's best to ask the people concerned themselves how they wish to be referred to, since meanings and connotations, personal and political, evolve over time. As to the meaning of BLM, I have found this quote helpful (I saw it on a placard at a protest last year): "We said Black Lives Matter. We never said Only Black Lives Matter. We know All Lives Matter. We just need your help with #BlackLivesMatter for Black Lives are in Danger!" and I therefore do what I can to support my colleagues of color, including the author of this blog.

  3. just pause and think, would this case have been brought if the policeman had been black?

Managers and leaders have been using Mind Tools for over 25 years

Now, 24 million learners globally benefit from our extensive Content Library, development tools, and custom learning experiences. See how Mind Tools for Business can help develop your managers and leaders.
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