July 14, 2020 by Cláudia
This is a piece about how the heartbreak caused by George Floyd’s murder changed me and turned anti-racism into an integral part of my life. I internally debated a lot whether or not it was relevant for me to write this blog post. Whether or not I was entitled to take up this space. Eventually, it was so clear that this event irreversibly changed me as a person and as a citizen that it would be strange to not write about it. As an unequivocal pivotal moment, I hope that me sharing this will inspire my white followers to also join our Black fellows in their fight for racial equality and justice.
This is the tale of how I was changed forever. How I opened my eyes for the systemic racism not only in the USA but also in my country. In my loved ones. In me. Not all of what I’m going to write is going to make me look particularly good but I’ll write it nonetheless. Even if it’s very unsettling and disappointing for me. I have always prided myself in being knowledgeable and sensitive to social issues. Often in the last month and a half, I subconsciously tried to rewrite the situation to make myself feel better. Even writing this post I tried to do the same. But I have to be honest if I want to work towards allyship with the Black Lives Matter movement. So here it goes.
On May 25, I read the news title of the murder of yet another Black man by a white police officer in the USA. I did not open the news article because right below there was a trigger warning and I didn’t want to get upset that day.
I went about with my life. It was only the next day when the video was streamed on the news that I learned the name George Floyd and saw the unjust and infuriating way his life ended. Watching him being slowly murdered in broad daylight, by someone whose job is supposed to be keeping the community safe, while being filmed and surrounded by other officers who idly stood by… I don’t even know the word for what I felt. Something deep inside me completely broke.
The day before, I already knew about what happened but chose to look away. When I was confronted with the video, I could no longer try to look away. Every time I closed my eyes or softened my gaze, I could still see the disturbing images. Even now, I’ve still got that image imprinted in my brain. There were a lot of tears, anger and confusion. In a lot of ways, I think I experienced heartbreak: for all the lives lost to racism, for a lost image of a more just world.
I started to frenetically try to read all the articles, listen to all the podcasts, watch all the talks. And in the meantime, I had to face some hard questions for which the answers were not always easy. Why did it take a man being murdered in front of my eyes for me to start caring about racism? Why didn’t I recognize my own privilege before and act in allyship?
Was I so comfortable with it in my white people bubble that I didn’t want it to burst?
During my readings, I found out that this was not an isolated incident and that many others had been murdered by white policemen for the crime of being Black. Breonna Taylor, shot in her own house. Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old child shot at a playground for playing with a plastic gun. Elijah McClain, shot while walking home after buying tea at a local convenience store for wearing a ski mask to keep himself warm for being anaemic. I didn’t know any of their names…
I could excuse myself saying that I’m not from the USA and that’s why I didn’t know about these cases of police brutality, but a simple web search made me realized that there were also countless cases of police killing or excessive use of force on Black and Romani people in my own country, names that I was also mostly unaware of.
Much of what I read and heard was not easy to take. It was hard to understand that I too was comfortable sitting with my privilege and that I preferred to look away than to think about losing it. That I had internalized racism myself. That I was part of the problem. I had never felt my whiteness so deeply before. I’m very empathetic yet I cannot relate to experiencing racist violence. It’s completely foreign to my own life experience.
My impulse this moment is to start writing everything that I had already done, read and written about racial inequality before this reckoning moment as if saying “Look, I wasn’t completely indifferent to it!”. But it really is not relevant. Racism was a peripheral concern in my life because I am privileged enough that it could be that way. And it’s such a deep structural problem that I simply cannot be just casually concerned. It has to transpire in every moment of my personal and civic life.
This is the biggest thing that has changed: anti-racism will be a permanent and intrinsic part of my life. I will keep reading and listening and doing as much as I can online and offline to fight for racial justice.
It’s been an extremely humbling learning process. I’ve been faced with many legitimate questions about my own involvement (as a white person) in structural racism and I’ve had to come to grips with some sides of me that I’m not proud of. Some of the information that I’ve encountered has triggered some very prompt defensive responses. But ultimately, my feelings of grief, guilt or defensiveness are not useful for the cause. It’s not about me.
This was a moment of deep awakening. I’m sorry that it took so long. I’m sorry that it took an innocent man life’s being brutally taken right in front of my eyes. I’m sorry I didn’t hear before.
But I’m hearing now and I will keep hearing, learning and fighting until we get a society who leaves no one behind.