A DARK MOMENT IN HISTORY
May 25, 2020… a day that will live in infamy.
Of course, we all remember where we were when we first saw the excruciatingly painful video of the white Minneapolis police officer’s knee on the neck of a handcuffed George Floyd.
We all watched in horror and disbelief as the seemingly unconcerned Derek Chauvin nonchalantly kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for about nine and a half minutes, repeatedly ignoring the helpless man plea that he couldn’t breathe, as well as cries to his dead mother to somehow come to his rescue. All this while the sordid affair was being captured on video by horrified onlookers on their cell phones.
Anger and disbelief spread through the crowd as they pleaded for Chauvin to take his knee off Floyd’s neck. Were they witnessing a murder in real time? Or were they in some unscripted episode of the Twilight Zone?
Eventually Chauvin did remove his knee from Floyd’s neck. But only after arriving medics told him to. And, only after the poor man had apparently stopped begging for his life… and breathing.
Equally appalling was the fact that three other boys in blue were on the scene, all three either helping to restrain Floyd or helping to keep the rapidly growing crowd at bay.
As a black man, I, too, felt a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I knew full well, as millions of other black males knew, that the lifeless man on the pavement could just as easily been me.
Even after having witnessed numerous incidents of police brutality over my lifetime, I was still shocked by the open disregard for black life.
After 400 years in America this was our worth?
A CRY HEARD AROUND THE WORLD
Always looking for a silver lining in a sea of black despair, I was heartened by two developments from the public murder. 1. Not only were Black people outraged by such a wanton disregard for black life, but so were so many others, including many Whites. 2. All four police officers were not only fired for their egregious actions but later charged with serious crimes.
The incident became a worldwide sensation, echoing around the world as unassailable proof that black folks had not been crying wolf when they complained about systemic police brutality. Brutality not only in modern day America but official murder going all the way back to Jim Crow days and beyond.
Floyd’s death triggered worldwide protests and gave Blacks and Whites a new found hope that maybe finally the issue of police brutality and racism would finally be taken seriously.
Within a couple of weeks, the Minneapolis City Council voted an intent to restructure the police department as a “new community-based system of public safety”.
Was the Black Lives Matter movement finally gaining traction?
Would something finally be done about the corrosive effect on black lives by racist police departments and their all-powerful unions that shielded and protected them from the consequences of their actions?
A CHANGE IS GONNA COME… MAYBE
Well, a funny thing happened on the way to non-racist policing in America. It hasn’t happened.
Mainly, because America is still one of the most racist countries in the world, and the the divide between its black and white citizens is still a chasm too wide to breach. Law enforcement… legal or illegal… from paddy rollers to the KKK… from chain gangs to the po- pos… have always been about keeping Black people under control. Especially black males.
This is something that’s not going to change anytime soon. Not as long as we are considered a social, political, and and economic threat to Whites.
Still, I believe a new awareness of the righteousness of the Black Lives Matter movement began after video of Floyd’s killing circled the world. This palpable outrage, simmering and hot, may have led to some major changes in policing in America if not for the bigot in the White House at that time. If not for his demonization of the BLM movement and his clarion call to his racist followers to do the same, America may have changed for the better.
But alas, that didn’t happen. We missed a true moment in history to not only hold America accountable for its malignant treatment of her long suffering black citizens, but the opportunity to bring about a reckoning for the world wide racism practiced against Africa-descended peoples the world over.
MORE INCONVENIENT TRUTHS ABOUT RACE IN AMERICA
Before we completely lose hope for racial progress in America, let me say a few things you may or may not want to hear.
One is that I’ve always said the prevalent of racism in America is both systemic and enduring. The ethnological term for it is Internal Colonization (see my post “Blacks Still Colonized in America”)
Racism in America will never end for a myriad of reasons outlined in my book “The Clan of Southern Man” and in many of my posts (see my post “Some Inconvenient Truths About Race in America”).
As I’ve said, Blacks and Whites, are from two different, contrasting, and diametrically opposed cultures. There is no record of any place on earth where these two cultures have existed in peace and equality. Just by the nature of things one must dominate the other.
Sorry. You can’t go up and down at the same time.
I’ve also said that one of the biggest reasons for our continued subjugation is our ignorance of our own history, and our own divisions within ourselves.
I have also warned of our fervent desire, almost a death wish, to fore sake our own culture for the culture of others. This is not a winning strategy. A race or group that runs away from its own history and past will never muster the strength to stand on its own and chart its own fate and destiny.
I’ve also said we have no coherent strategy for our liberation beside protest and complaint.
Another complaint of mine is our short memory of America’s racist history and how far we’ve come from the days of slavery and Jim Crow. We must learn to embrace change, acknowledge progress, and keep moving forward, all the while understanding we will never live in utopia in a foreign land.
And while the George Floyd murder and the other controversial police killings before and after haven’t created a sea change in America, there has been some real progress from the BLM movement. It’s incumbent on us to note this progress and be appreciative of it.
Nor should we downplay the good intentions of many non-black people who want to see real progress in race relations. Just as we don’t fully appreciate the efforts of the many Whites who helped eliminate slavery and Jim Crow segregation, we are also failing to give credit where credit is due to those trying to aid our cause today.
As I’ve said, good and bad exist in all races and cultures. No group has a monopoly on righteousness. Or evilness. No group is without blame for the problems that plague our warring, disease ridden, and drug addicted world.
Since no one else seems to be doing it I have gathered just a fraction of the encouraging actions that have occurred since the death of George Floyd, the most visceral manifestation of white brutality since, arguably, the Emmet Till murder in 1955.
A BODY BLOW TO RACISTS
- On November 3rd, Donald Trump, one of the most racist white men to ever be elected to the nation’s highest office, was voted out of office. His dismissal was due mainly to the votes and activism of Black Americans. How’s that for payback for Trump’s four years of racial pandering and his demonization of the BLM movement?
- On June 5, 2020, right in the mug of Donald Trump, the section of 16th Street directly in front of the White House was officially renamed BLACK LIVES MATTER PLAZA by Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. The beleaguered organization had its name painted in 35 foot bright yellow capital letters on the street along with a flag of Washington, D.C. as a part of the George Floyd protests roiling the nation. Mayor Bowser also ordered city workers to paint a 50-foot-wide mural reading “BLACK LIVES MATTER” down the street. According to unconfirmed reports orange steam could be see emanating from the West Wing for days on end.
- Numerous racists and Confederate statues and symbols bit the dust in 2020, including many that had stood for decades. Those symbols advertised white supremacy and glorified the “lost cause” of keeping Black Americans as slaves and second class citizens. While some downplay the importance of the removal of such symbols, we must understand that symbolism is the most ancient and effective means of communicating broad messages to broad audiences. During 2020 more than 100 Confederate statues were removed, renamed, or relocated from public places. Only 142 had been removed in the previous five years. 2020 was also the year that saw statues, names and images of known racists removed from schools, universities, courthouses, streets, and public places. While many more racist symbols remain in America, and around the world, we can’t deny that the trend toward erecting and honoring racist symbols has been stifled.
THE CORPORATE WORLD STEPS UP
- JP Morgan Chase pledged $30 billion over the next 5 years to help close the racial wealth gap. JP Morgan Chase & Co., the nation’s biggest bank by assets, pledged the money to help close the gap between people of color and Whites in the U.S. It’s one of the largest corporate pledges related to the improvement of race relations in the history of the U.S.
- A coalition of 37 CEOs promised to hire 1 million Black Americans over 10 years. The group of CEOs formed an organization aimed at training, hiring and promoting 1 million Black Americans to jobs over the next ten years. Called the OneTen, the group features big companies such as Allstate, Bank of America, Comcast, Target, Walmart, and others. Some of the CEOs made it plain their pledge was made in response to the George Floyd killing and a new found interest in righting racial wrongs in the country.
- Johnson and Johnson, the world’s biggest health company, announced a $100 million initiative to invest in and promote health equity solutions for Black people and other communities of color in the U.S. over the next five years. The company’s commitment prioritizes three key areas: Healthier communities-investing in programs that help provide equitable healthcare for underserved communities: Enduring Alliances- forging partnerships and alliances that combat racial and social health determinants: and Diverse and Inclusive Corporate Culture- ensuring a diverse and inclusive workforce. While J & J should be commended for such an all-encompassing effort to right some of the inequities in our health care system, I think it’s the least they can do to try and right some of the wrongs for their perpetuation of the jheri curl and other indignities to the health and welfare of black hair.
- Billionaire Charles Koch, who spent decades and billions of dollars bankrolling causes and politicians that fueled hate and division announced he now wants to work across party lines to find solutions to poverty, addiction, gang violence, and homelessness. We all remember the infamous Koch brothers, founders of the hugely influential conservative organization Americans for Prosperity. The organization has funded numerous conservative causes, including the Tea Party Movement. If this desire is more than lip service then we have to believe that a racist can indeed change his stripes.
BLACKS CAN LEAD TOO
- A Black man was selected to lead the famous Virginia Military Institute for the first time in its 181-year history. Amid a racism investigation, Major General Cedric T. Wins, who graduated from the southern military institution in 1985, will serve as interim superintendent until the Board of Visitors appoint a permanent chief to oversee the nation’s oldest state funded military college. He took over from the school’s longtime superintendent , who resigned after Black cadets described alarming instances of bigotry in a Washington Post report. Major General Win’s selection was just one of a number of appointments of Black military men and women to head up long exclusionary military institutions in 2020. Some of those changes included the Naval Academy naming its first African American female brigade commander, as well as the first Black person selected to serve as secretary of defense. If confirmed by the Senate, Retired General Lloyd Austin will become the first Black to lead the Pentagon. As President-Elect Joe Biden once famously said to Barack Obama upon passage of the Affordable Care Act… “this is a big f…..ing deal”! Indeed. As we know Black men and women who’ve serve in the U.S. military from Civil War soldiers to the Tuskegee Airmen to Viet Nam veterans have never gotten their just due. Throughout America’s history countless black soldiers have never gotten their due for being willing to risk their lives and health to defend a country that didn’t respected or appreciate them.
DOWN GOES ROBERT E. LEE!
- A statue of good old boy Robert E. Lee, leader of the Confederate Army during the Civil War, was removed from the Capital to be replaced by Barbara Johns, a Black teenager who led a student walkout to protest the inferior conditions of her all-black school compared to a nearby all-white school. This occurred in 1951. Ms. Johns went on to become a pioneering leader in the Civil Rights movement. It’s also significant to note that Ms. Johns heroic action came three years before the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that declared “separate but equal” public schools unconstitutional.
BLACK ATHLETES REFUSED TO JUST SHUT UP AND DRIBBLE
- Sports, as we know, are an American institution valued above most other institutions. 2020 was the year we saw unprecedented racial activism by Black and White athletes on both the college and pro level. Who can forget the memorable Black Live Matter protests by NBA, NFL, WNBA, International, and college athletes in many sports. Stars such as Colin Kaepernick, Lebron James, Maya Moore, and many others, became powerful symbols advocating against systemic racism and police brutality. So powerful were these symbolic protests in 2020 that we even saw the banning of the confederate flag at NASCAR events, a happening as likely as KKK leader David Dukes joining the NAACP.
WE’RE MOVING ON UP
- Pope Francis appointed the first African-American Cardinal. In November of 2020, Pope Francis held a ceremony to appoint 72-year-old Archbishop of Washington, D.C., Wilton Gregory, as the Vatican’s first Black Cardinal. The red-robed cardinals are the most senior clergymen in the Roman Catholic Church after the Pope himself. Their role includes electing the Pope- who is chosen from among them at a secret gathering known as a conclave. No word yet whether the Christian church is ready to admit Jesus was a black man or that Santa is a brotha. I guess you can’t have everything.
PHILANTHROPHY ON THE RISE
- Writer and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott announced she has donated over $4.2 billion in the last four months to 384 organizations across all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington D.C. to help under-resourced and marginalized groups. The news comes after Scott donated more than $1.7 billion to diverse groups, including historically Black colleges and universities in July of last year. Scott, the former wife of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos posted a list of the hundreds of organizations that received the funds in her Medium blog post. The services provided by these groups include food banks, emergency relief funds, debt relief, employment training, credit and financial services for under-resourced communities, education for historically marginalized underserved people, civil rights advocacy, and legal defense funds that take on institutional discrimination.
MAYBE SLAVERY WAS WRONG AFTER ALL
- In September of 2020 the White House Historical Association announced a new Fellowship to explore the White House’s history of slavery in Washington, D.C. The fellowship is a partnership between the WHHA and American University’s Antiracist Research & Policy Center. “The creation of the fellowship is an important opportunity to deepen our understanding of slavery’s enduring legacy in our nation’s capital.” said Stewart McLaurin, President of the White House Historical Association. “The protests that erupted over the summer over issues of racial injustice are a stark reminder of how important this work is.” Well said.
WHO RUN THIS GAME?
- Despite the paucity of Black head coaches in both professional and college sports there were definitely some gains made on the sports front. Among some of the firsts was the first all-black officiating crew to work a Monday Night Football game and the first all-black refereeing crew to work a big 5 conference football game. The all-black MNF crew worked a game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Los Angeles Ram during the NFL’s 101st season. “This historic Week 11 crew is a testament to the countless and immeasurable contributions of Black officials to the game, their exemplary performance, and the power of inclusion” said NFL executive V.P. Troy Vincent. The first all-black officiating crew to work a Power 5 football game was between the Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Michigan Wolverines. The crew, composed of 11 men and one woman, called the game, a first in any major conference football game.
WE’RE BRINGING SEXY BACK… YEAH!
- Three Black men in a row have been named People’s Magazine “Sexiest Man Alive”. Yes, you heard me right. The most recent winner, Michael B. Jordan, joined 2019 winner John Legend, and 2018 winner Idris Elba, to take home the coveted prize. How I was not selected remains a mystery to me, but as Curtis Blow said that’s the breaks. If you add light-skinned brother Dewayne “The Rock” Johnson, who won the award in 2016, to the list that would be 4 out of the last 5 five winners. No wonder the Proud Boys and other racist groups are up in arms these days. I mean, white women read that magazine.
WHITES FINALLY SEE THE LIGHT
- In 2020 the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints added new language to the faith’s handbook imploring their members to root out prejudice and racism. Racism has long been one of the most sensitive topics in the church’s history. The faith’s past ban on Black men in the lay priesthood stood until as late as 1978, and was only disavowed by the Mormon Church in a 2013 essay. Also, everyone familiar with the church’s past history know of their decades long ban against race mixing. According to new language in the handbook the church “calls on all people to abandon attitudes and actions of prejudice toward any group or individuals.” Its top leaders, in a string of speeches last year reminded its 16 million members around the globe that a person’s standing with God depends on devotion to the commandments, not the color of their skin. If only Reverend Marin Luther King was still alive to hear this much needed confession.
- Many newspapers around the country have apologized for their decades long coverage of the African American community, including the Los Angeles Times, the Kansas City Star, the Montgomery, Alabama, Advertiser, and National Geographic Magazine. These publications, and others, are beginning to acknowledge how they provided hostile and stereotypical coverage of Black people and ignored the concerns and achievements of Black residents. Some have even admitted their complicity in helping to foster segregation. Now, if they’d only include my reparations check I’d be truly happy.
ORDER IN THE COURT
- And believe it or not, a Virginia judge said he wouldn’t try a Brother in his courtroom with portraits of only stern-faced white jurists lining the walls. Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge David Bernhard agreed not to try Terrance Shipp, on trial for on charges of eluding police, in his brotha-less court room in response to a motion filed by public Defenders who believed a Black man couldn’t get a fair trial in such a setting. “While to some the issue of portraits might be a trivial matter, to those subject to the justice system it is far from the case,” Bernhard wrote in his ruling.
These are only a few of the changes, big and small, that have come about since the death of George Floyd. In the year 1 A.G.F. we must learn to appreciate our progress and the people striving to improve race relations.