How did we get here? How did a mere visual observation cause years of injustice, years of hatred, years of less opportunity, years of division, years of slavery, years of being deemed inferior, years of one's worth being lessened due to an irreversible, permanent, beautiful pigmentation? Seeing color is an observation. Color is the characteristic of visual perception, a quality seen when we use our sight. Race, a socially constructed ideal, has divided mankind, granting those of lighter complexions to walk with and in their privilege, leaving many that differ in appearance to exist as oppressed people.
We can't breathe
"I can't breathe." Those were the last three words uttered by George Floyd, the 46-year-old African American man murdered on what was a normal late afternoon, Monday, May 25, 2020. George Floyd died pleading for one last breath as police officer Derek Chauvin, a white American male, buried his knee into Floyd's neck, suffocating him to death by defiantly refusing to grant him one final breath. For eight minutes and forty-six seconds Derek Chauvin had George Floyd pinned to the ground, his knee on Floyd's neck, while bystanders watched in horror, and three of Derek's coworkers did absolutely nothing to de-escalate the situation. George Floyd died at the scene.
This is a Black and White Issue
"How does it feel to be a problem?" (Okantah 411). In the journal article titled, "In Search of the Real Brother Man: An African Centered Approach to Black Cultural Identity," American poet, essayist, professor and vocalist Mwatabu Okantah depicts the reality of being a black person in America. The color of a man's skin, a factor that cannot be changed nor chosen, is often the cause of the many injustices experienced by people of color in the United States. The brutal murder of George Floyd, an unarmed black male, by police officer Derek Chauvin, a white American male, is just one example of the racial injustices that continually take place in America. One's skin complexion should not pose a threat to others, yet in America a number of injustices and racial biases are rooted in the underlying fact that white is preferred, white is less intimidating, white is superior, and white equals privilege. Okantah argued that black people in America are presented with two options, be black or be an American, hinting that these two ideas cannot coexist. Systemic racism and the notation that white is superior is evident in the vast wage gaps between people of color and their white counterparts, the lack of job opportunities for the black community, the lack of access to bank loans and quality education for black individuals, the differing house sizes and location of predominantly black and predominantly white communities, and the disproportionate number of police brutality cases impacting black communities. Racism is embedded in America's foundation and efforts must be made to eradicate feelings of superiority or inferiority based on one's race. Black people should not be tasked to choose between their blackness or Americanness; these two ideas must simply coexist.
Yes, this is a race conversation
Conversations about race are uncomfortable and often the most difficult to have, but they are necessary because the injustices that continually happen because of one's race have to be addressed. The injustice that took place on May 25, 2020 simply boils down to Floyd's melanin complexion. Whether a person has permission to continue living in freedom is tied to his or her race. After committing an armed robbery, Lamar Loyd, a black male, was sentenced to 26 years in prison. However, for the same crime, Chase Legleitner, a white male, was only sentenced to two years in county. Legleitner's complexion grants him privileges Loyd can and will never have access to; therefore, after committing the exact same crime, and after being convicted by the same judge, the two men walked away with completely different sentences.
Bias and injustices towards an uncontrollable factor
Everyday people are reduced and identified solely because of the color of their skin. The greatest amount of racial tension resides between blacks and whites, especially black and white people in America. The origin of this tension dates back to the 1600s, when racist ideas were brought to America and Europeans deemed it necessary to categorize humans beyond their ethnicity or country of origin. The word Caucasian was coined to further separate humanity into neat distinct groups. Henry the Navigator, uncle of the King of Portugal, was the first documented individual to articulate racist ideas, giving characteristics to those he enslaved and deeming those people as inferior. He defined blackness, and by doing so, justified his actions of enslavement.
Time for Change
The heaviness people feel over the tragic passing of George Floyd indicates it is time for a change. We want, need and, now more than ever, are willing to seek change. Black Americans want to be recognized as human beings. Humans that have freedom, equal rights, and equal opportunities as white Americans. We desire to be treated fairly by the police and do not want to fear being pulled over by the police or fear any and all other forms of police confrontation. We do not want to be seen as "less than" for the color of our skin. Black can be American and our breath, our ability to breathe on American soil, must be seen and deemed important. We protest in hope that maybe we will finally be seen, recognized, and treated as human beings by those with privilege and by those with the power to ensure that necessary legislative change happens. It is time for black, a mere skin complexion, to be seen as American and the treatment of black individuals must reflect and embody our acceptance as American.
So how did we get here? How are we having the biggest American civil rights movement since the 1960s in 2020? Because change, the change we should all want, the change this nation so desperately needs, is supposed to happen now.
Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.
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