George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died on Monday in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after police officer Derek Chauvin was filmed kneeling on the handcuffed man’s neck for at least eight minutes. Chauvin, who has had 17 complaints filed against him during his career (of which two resulted in formal reprimands), has since been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
A disturbing viral video of Floyd’s death has prompted protests across the USA, with many defying curfews amid rising anger and frustration at the repeated failure of America’s policing system. Their anger and frustration are understandable: the footage makes it abundantly clear that Floyd did not resist arrest. That he was both shirtless and unarmed when approached by officers. That he told them he was having trouble breathing. That he asked for help, repeatedly. That horrified onlookers, too, implored the cops to back down.
Officers, though, did not back down. And, as the video draws to a close, paramedics can be seen lifting the limp man on to a stretcher and into an ambulance.
Floyd was later pronounced dead in hospital.
It’s all too easy, as someone who benefits from white privilege, to express shock and dismay over Floyd’s death. To tweet our condolences, share a sorrowful post on Instagram, to pen a Facebook missive about police brutality, before moving on with our lives.
As writer and activist Rachel Elizabeth Cargle points out, though, this “passive empathy” is just not enough.
In a powerful post, which she has directed at white people everywhere, Cargle writes that she is sick of hearing us say “I’m shocked,” “I can’t believe this,” “I had no idea,” or “This can’t be real.”
“[It is] wildly offensive that our pain is so far off your radar that it shocks you,” she continues. “It’s actually hurtful to know that the news that’s been keeping me up at night hasn’t even been a topic of conversation in your world.”
Cargle goes on to explain that actions, not empty words, are what counts when it comes to anti-racism. And so, when she continues to keep us “informed on the blatant abuse, racism, and trauma happening to women of colour and their families”, she doesn’t want us to be shocked. Instead, she wants to hear one of the following phrases:
- “I’ve found an organisation that helps in these types of instances and I’ve donated money.”
- “I’ve brought this topic up to my co-workers and family so we can talk through what’s happened.”
- “I’ve researched more on this and I have learned more about the history of this particular race issue.”
Cargle adds: “Your shock isn’t enough. Your wow isn’t solidarity. Your actions are the only thing I can accept at this point. And if that is too much to ask of you, dear friend, feel free to let yourself out of this community because complacency is not welcome here.”
You can see the post in full, which has been shared here with Cargle’s permission, below:
Cargle is 100% correct, of course. If white people are still “shocked” by racist violence, then we haven’t been paying attention. Indeed, over the past few months alone, we have seen a number of stories woefully similar to Floyd’s case make headlines.
On 13 March, healthcare worker Breonna Taylor was fatally shot by police in her Louisville, Kentucky, apartment. The officers were investigating two people suspected of selling drugs, neither of whom was Taylor. They had been granted a no-knock warrant by a judge, which allowed them to enter Taylor’s apartment without announcing themselves, and they also weren’t wearing body cams. She was shot eight times and died at the scene.
On 23 February, a young man named Ahmaud Arbery out for a jog in the city of Brunswick early in the afternoon – something his father said he did often. He was pursued by two white men, Gregory McMichael and his son Travis, in a pick-up truck, and shot at point-blank range.
And, just a few days ago, footage of a confrontation between a black birdwatcher and a white dog walker in Central Park in New York went viral. In the video, which has been viewed well over 20 million times, Christian Cooper can be heard asking a woman to leash her exuberant dog, in accordance with the signs posted up and around the wooded area.
Her response? “I’m going to [call the police and] tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life,” she said.
Police officers attended the call but said no summonses or arrests were made over what the New York police department called “a verbal dispute”.
These are just a few of the acts of racism that have made headlines over the past few months. There are others, of course – some which have been reported widely, others which haven’t. The fact of the matter is clear: racial violence should not be cause for shock. Instead, it’s disturbingly prevalent. To claim otherwise is a form of gaslighting.
As Layla F Saad reminds us in her own Instagram post: “White supremacy is… our long-time white best friend who refuses to do their anti-racism homework. It’s the white people in our comments sections and DMs asking us to do the emotional labour work of explaining (proving?) white supremacy.
“And it’s the constant gaslighting – shock, white tears, spiritual bypassing, fragility, #AllLivesMatter, white centering, and trying to prove they’re ‘one of the good ones’”.
We, as white people, need to be better allies. That much is clear. So how can we do that?
How we can all be better allies in the fight against racism:
We can do this by following the right people on social media, sure, but we also need to read books which illuminate oppression and structures of white supremacy and white privilege.
Just a few examples of this include:
- Layla F Saad’s Me and White Supremacy: How to Recognise Your Privilege, Combat Racism and Change the World
- Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me
- Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race
- Crystal M. Fleming’s How To Be Less Stupid About Race
- Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want To Talk About Race
- Claudia Rankine’s Citizen
Talk to people
As previously mentioned, we need to talk to other white people about racism. We need to teach our children about it. We need to interrupt and shut down racist jokes or commentary. And we need to take a stand against injustice, and intervene in situations where racism is being passed on.
Acknowledge our white privilege
As Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu previously told Stylist, “all white people have white privilege”.
“That does not mean that you’re racist,” she explained. “It just means that you are given an advantage over a person of colour, irrespective of your social economic background, purely because of the colour of your skin.”
Stop saying “not all white people”
I know that it’s hard. I know that it makes you feel uncomfortable. But we all need to stop saying (or even thinking) the phrase “not all white people” when listening to someone talk about racism.
Why? Because doing so doesn’t add to the discussion or develop it in any way. All it does is derail and dismiss the lived experiences of people of colour, in a bid to absolve us of any guilt or blame we may be feeling.
Talk less, listen more
Yes, I know: I said we should all be talking to other white people about racism. And we should. But, when it comes to matters such as George Floyd’s death, listening to what someone like Saad or Cargle has to say on the matter is infinitely more helpful than flooding social media with (albeit unintentionally) gaslighting messages of shock and dismay. And, if you’re not wanting to post about Black Lives Matter without ‘seeming performative’, then follow Gina Martin’s good example, and use your platform to help amplify the words of others instead.
As she says: “It’s not hard. Repost other people’s writing, posts, information. Give your platform to their words.
“If you’re not doing the work don’t speak on it. Further others’ messages.
Support the right charities and causes
We need to support the right charities. Consider donating to one or all of the following:
- Color Of Change
- The Movement For Black Lives
- Stand Against Racism & Inequality (SARI)
- Stop Hate UK
- Show Racism The Red Card
- NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc (America’s premier legal organisation fighting for racial justice).
And support the Justice For George Floyd campaign, too
Not sure how? Here’s what to do:
- Donate to the official George Floyd memorial fund, a GoFundMe page set up by Floyd’s brother.
- Sign the petition urging Minnesota Mayor Jacob Frey and District Attorney Mike Freeman to charge the officers who killed George Floyd.Further charities and organisations to engage with:
- Support the Black Visions Collective, an organisation working specifically on racial justice within the state of Minnesota.
It might feel difficult and overwhelming to try and address racism as an individual who hasn’t experienced it, but engaging with the charities who do crucial work to fight racism, challenge inequalities and stop killings like George Floyd’s from happening is a really effective place to start.
This article was originally published on 28 May 2020 but has been updated throughout to include new information.