When the pandemic hit, it was largely unexpected. While scientists had warned that it would happen eventually, there was no way of knowing when. There was no way of knowing whether it would even be something this generation had to confront.
With the local, national, and now global protests for racial justice going strong, I’m compelled to use this space to check in, just as I did at the start of the pandemic. But unlike the pandemic, there isn’t the same feeling of shock, the sense that life was normal before and is now upside-down. It’s more a feeling that we were all living in stagnated muck, but the floodgates have been opened, and those who would try to close them are going to have a hard time.
The protests, the demands for change, the peaceful demonstrations, and the violent rioting should not surprise anyone. They are long overdue.
What google search trends say about white people’s Willingness to Believe in the Criminality of Black People
The focus of my blog is children, and when I searched online for whether George Floyd had any, Google’s Autocomplete feature tried to predict what I was searching for before I’d finished typing. It showed: “Did George Floyd have criminal background,” and then, “Did George Floyd have prior convictions.” And then it went blank because, even as I typed the word “children,” it had no idea what I was searching for.
Those search trends are a digital distillation of why we have so far to go. People are more likely to search whether Floyd had a criminal record, most likely in search of justification for his murder by police, than they are to search humanizing details about his life like whether he was a father.
Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund said recently in an interview on 60-Minutes, “You see the effort to tear down the reputation—the character assassination that happens to black male victims and to black female victims; there’s always an attempt to suggest that the killing was somehow justified…to feed into the willingness of far too many white people to believe in the criminality of black people, to believe in the inhumanity of black people.”
George Floyd was a father. His youngest, Gianna, is six years old.
How whiteness AFFORDS freedom around when, whether, and how to talk to children about racism
As my blog suggests, I spend a lot of time thinking about children: why they say what they say, what’s going on in their little heads, how much to ask of them, and when to let them be. I have been thinking a lot about six-year-old Gianna Floyd and all that she’s being asked to comprehend: the loss of her father, the circumstances that took him from her. From there, it is an easy jump to thinking about all black children and how painful and scary it must be to know that people who look like them are, to put it lightly, treated unfairly.
While so many of us grapple with how to explain the unrest on the news to our children, how to delicately fold bits of reality in with the chunks of Paw Patrol and princess stories, Gianna Floyd’s mother does not have the option of choosing when, how, and how much to explain to her daughter. Many black parents don’t get to control the narrative or the unveiling of the racist dynamics baked into all levels of our country’s society. The treatment of black people was passed down to them with the weight of all the loss and personal pain wrapped up with the racism in our country’s institutions: our schools, justice system, our financial system, housing, the police…
what are you doing to support the movement?
What does it mean to check in right now? For everyone, especially white people, it means making sure we’re doing our part to keep the movement going. To convert the protests into real change. It cannot just be a moment, it has to be a movement.
If I may stick to looking at this through the lens of raising children (and we are all raising children whether we are parents, step-parents, grandparents, friends, teachers, pastors, aunts, and uncles), the Sesame Street/CNN town hall says to “Learn, talk about it, and take action.”
The internet has been flooded the last three weeks with curated books, films, interviews, and podcasts around anti-racism. It’s never been easier to find and listen to black voices talking about racism, from personal anecdotes, to deep dives into history, and proposals for sweeping policy change. Instead of recoiling at the sound of “abolish the police” or “defund the police,” white people can take the time to read about what it means and why that kind of action is being called for.
The more we talk about racism, the better we get at talking about it. White people will fumble, I know I do when I talk about it. But hearing from other people in close conversation and trying to form words around it helps me understand it better. And the more we talk, the more it stays in the public discourse where it needs to be.
It’s easy to feel like our hands are tied by this pandemic. How do we show up if that means gathering, risking getting sick and spreading Covid-19. Most importantly, look to local black-led associations organizing around racial justice. In my city, the Austin Justice Coalition is a leader in the field. Sign up for their newsletters to stay informed, add your name to their petitions, make monthly sustaining donations over one-time donations.
The surge of support behind the Austin Justice Coalition resulted in resolutions passed quickly by the Austin City Council. Last week they passed every resolution that AJC supported, resulting in the immediate transferring of funds away from the police department by dissolving unfilled positions, and immediate changes in how police are allowed to interact with citizens: restricting no-knock warrants, banning choke-holds, and barring use of tear gas and impact munitions on peaceful demonstrators.
We should all vote, but we don’t have to wait until November to affect real change at a local level right now.
Since starting to write this post, before I could even publish it, Rayshard Brooks was shot in the back by an Atlanta police officer. He leaves four children behind. As that city’s mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, said in response to reforms needed, “It is clear we do not have another day, another minute, another hour,”