I recently attended a candlelight vigil in memory of George Floyd. It got me thinking about how all of us were raised in a racist society. As a result, white people engage in racist behavior without understanding that our thoughts or actions are harmful. That doesn’t mean we can’t educate ourselves and change.
One of the most important things I learned was that I have white privilege. I have it by virtue of being born white, and I wasn’t aware of it for many years. I finally came to understand it at a workshop on racism. A Native American woman talked about how when she went to a store, she was followed to make sure she didn’t steal anything. As a white woman that has never happened to me.
George Floyd was on the ground, handcuffed because he was “suspected” of passing a counterfeit $20 dollar bill. It is doubtful that a white man would have been treated the same way. He most likely would have been asked to explain how he acquired the bill; perhaps he received it as change from another store. Would a white man have had a white cop put a knee on his neck and keep it there as he repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe”? Would three other cops have stood by and done nothing?
The work doesn’t end when these officers are held accountable. As white people, we have our work cut out for us. White people are responsible for racism, and it is up to us to end it. When we do, we will all be able to breath. As Paul Wellstone put it, “We all do better when we all do better.”
A. Louise Seliski