Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” With this recent uprising of protests surrounding the unnecessary killing of George Floyd, the topic of where one individually stands in terms of weighing in on the severity surrounding Floyd’s death has unleashed an intense but necessary dialogue about race in America.
Think about every moment in history. The Slave Rebellion, the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement, the Gay Liberation Movement, the Million Man March, etc. these moments are viewed through the lens of the past colored by the philosophies of the present. What happens when one realizes that nothing really has changed in the four hundred years of history? What happens when archive footage is placed side by side with current footage and the similarities are palpable? Enter the current movement- the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Where there is ocular evidence of no historical recourse, outrage and protesting become necessary.
Writer Lauren Aratani in her 2020 The Guardian article “George Floyd killing: what sparked the protests- and what has been the response?” that, “the US is undergoing a reckoning on race and police brutality after footage of a white police officer killing a black man by kneeling on his neck for more than eight minutes.” It should be noted that in this article George Floyd was not identified in this article until halfway through. Protests outraged surrounding George Floyd’s death because of the outright lack of respect for his life because the footage explicitly shows him saying he cannot breathe as the officer is kneeling on his neck.
Floyd is the latest case of innocent Black people who were viciously murdered without cause. Other examples are 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery who was innocently jogging one morning and was chased down and murdered by two White men. 26-year-old Breonna Taylor who was shot and killed in her own home by police officers in Louisville, Kentucky. Let’s not forget the others over the last almost few decades: Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Jordan Davis, Alton Sterling, Christian Cooper, Philando Castile, Amadou Diallo, Walter Scott, Oscar Grant, Aiyana Jones, Marquise Jones, and more.
What was the tip of the iceberg with these recent protests? Why has it spiraled out of control? Because it is enough. It is too many names to remember and reference. It has happened for too long and something must be done. The objective of why history is studied is to learn from past occurrences and not make the same mistake….in theory.
What has sparked so much outrage from Black and non-Black people? Because too many times before, history has become interconnected with hypocrisy. The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence both explicitly speak about equality and the Pledge of Allegiance states, “One Nation Under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”. Yet African American people have never been treated equal during any moment in history. This hypocrisy is reaffirmed by the incumbent President of the United States Donald Trump explicitly proclaims, “Make America Great Again!”, yet his actions and antics openly supporting racially charged violence of African American people.
Moving forward, what will historians say when they study this epic movement? What will the facts say? What will the interpretations say? What will the lenses be? There are all valid questions that prompt uncomfortable but necessary conversation that will then need to be enforced into action. Referencing King’s quote, the line in the sand encompasses the privileged and the disenfranchised.
Where does the story go from here?