My own throat tightened as I watched not all, but what I could bear, of George Floyd calling out for his mother and for breath under the knee Derek Chauvin. My body responded to his cries. It clenched and squirmed and cried. We’re wired to hear and help those in danger. I wanted to save him. And I didn’t understand what darkness gripped Chauvin that he did not.
The days that followed pierced me. I was equal parts scared and thankful for the rioting. This was a historical moment, I felt the power, and I couldn’t turn away. I followed my typical news threads and interviews, reading voraciously. But the national news didn’t jibe with friends’ posts about the streets of Minneapolis during the protests. There was so much I didn’t know or understand about police brutality and race. Something stunk.
I was gripped by the slow dawning that for decades I’d been complacent and complicit in racism. Wow. That was hard to admit.
I started following new sources, podcasts, and conversations by Black scholars, writers, and leaders. I was shaken to discover wide swaths of history and commentary I’d somehow never heard before. I think myself a life-long, sympathetic liberal committed to justice. How had not seen and felt the brutality? I was gripped by the slow dawning that for decades I’d been complacent and complicit in racism. I had the right attitudes but I stayed in well-defined comfort zones, even in conversation. I’d done nothing of any substance to end any kind of injustice ever.
Wow. That is hard to admit.
As I opened and learned, a question burned in me. Would I have confronted Chauvin or screamed out if I had been in the crowd in Minneapolis surrounding George Floyd as he lay pinned to the ground? What would I have done to help? Would I have stepped up or would I have gone helpless? I’d like to think I would have jumped to action. But It saddens me to admit, ‘I’m not sure.’
Before these events, I would have called myself a good ally. I’d volunteered a little, given a some money to BLM, carried signs, and read my books. I have many relationships with non-white folks that I treasure and value. Resmaa Menakem and Layla Saad and Ibram Kendi were all saying the same thing: THAT is not ally-ship. I was listening.
The more I listened and read outside my familiar sources, the more I realized I’d been educated, shaped, and duped by a narrative crafted by white voices. I was playing my part, as I’d been taught. But now, as I learned more, I felt betrayed by my history lessons and my news writers. I began seeing myself through the eyes of others; others with darker skin. And I felt foolish that I hadn’t seen myself through their eyes sooner. There was so much more to know.
I was standing in my kitchen in late May, just days after George Floyd’s murder, gazing at the sunlight and shadows as tiger butterflies danced on the spring breezes. I was integrating all the events of the past few days. My mind replayed the voices: George Floyd pleading, “I can’t breathe.” Killer Mike, trembling and teary, “I’m tired of seeing Black men die … It is the responsibility of us to make this better.” Ever fierce, Keisha Lance Bottoms, “I’m a mother and when I saw the murder of George Floyd, I hurt the way that a mother would hurt.” The overflowing streets, the fists, the flames, the young and the old faces all asking for reform.
I’m a mother too. I felt the urgency in my heart to do something. And I felt myself make a commitment – a commitment to live the rest of my life to uproot de-humanization, harm, and oppression. To actively, courageously commit to my values of equity and honesty and to do — not turn from — what is needed to move out of complicit comfort and help.
I’m just starting. I’m not an expert. I’ll be learning as I go. But I’m writing anyway. I want to share so details don’t fade. I want to share in case it might help others. The way I see it, my journey and these chronicles are part of the solution. At least I hope so.
Share this post
Jamie is a psychologist, mindfulness teacher, college professor & writer. She is dedicated to healing, truth, and creating a just and inclusive world.
Her blog, Uprooting Supremacy, chronicles her exploration of the roots of white supremacy culture and her journey with power, social inequity, & mindfulness.