It’s been months since George Floyd was killed. While many are still wrangling for systemic change, I am reflecting on what has changed in me. My community’s response to this tragedy revealed how I had grown numb to Black death.
When Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown were killed, I recognized each death was tragically unjust. Each death was a painful reminder of how my own complexion could leave me vulnerable. In each case, people marched, but I had too little faith in those methods to get involved. I sympathized with their goals, but I did not believe marchers could mount the strength to change the power structures they were up against.
Social media has shown so many Black people die after routine police stops — I think I distanced myself from the emotion of it in order to cope. I stopped myself from declaring my right to live because I didn’t think people in power cared to listen. I never had hope in these deaths prompting societal change.
The thing that surprised me about this most recent tragedy is how the world responded to it. Even white people, even corporations, even politicians who had previously advanced their careers on racist ideals veiled as policy now insisted that they cared about Black life. Many dismissed these public displays of concern as naive, trite, convenient or shallow.
Regardless of the reasons behind these tokens of compassion, their volume took me by surprise. Now, when I leave my house in Southwest Minneapolis, I quickly lose count of the Black Lives Matter signs.
I realize this can’t end with signs, so I support systemic change however I can, but I have to admit that it’s heartening to see how many people care about my safety, about everyone’s safety. And it exposed to me how my past responses to these killings, my cynicism, my defense mechanisms were all somewhat dehumanizing. After watching so many versions of myself die, how could this not affect me? I guess this is one way white supremacy works.
I think being forced to absorb so much death over the years had a dehumanizing effect on me. Thanks to all those who were compassionate enough to still get angry.