After the conviction last week of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd, I imagine there may be some who believe that this is the end of a long struggle for justice.
But the struggle is far from over. This historical moment is part of a larger movement that calls each of us to take part.
Flashback and Fast-Forward
Last May, after the video went viral of officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes, ending in his death, protests erupted around the world, with people coming to the streets amidst a global viral pandemic to protest the social pandemic of racism. For days and weeks, protesters filled the streets across the country, in over 2,000 cities and in every state, and on every continent except Antarctica.
Fast-forward to last week, and millions of people focused their attention on a Tuesday afternoon in late April to hear the jury’s verdict in Chauvin’s case. 18 million viewers logged on or tuned in to watch the live-streaming or televised coverage of the verdict, the end of a trial that had lasted for three weeks. And the jury’s decision? Guilty.
Responses to the verdict of relief and gratitude came from across social media, featuring police chiefs expressing their support for peaceful demonstrations, and corporate leaders promising to continue to push for reform in all areas of society to address ongoing systemic racism. Finally! A moment of accountability!
It can be easy for us to imagine this as a moment to relax, to celebrate, and to breathe a sigh of relief that in this instance, it seems as though justice has prevailed.
But the verdict cannot bring George Floyd back to life. The verdict cannot undo the centuries of racism that provided the backdrop for Chauvin’s treatment of Floyd. And the verdict cannot be to us a sign that our conversations about widespread racism should end.
George Floyd’s death was a catalyst for conversations about racism, but the conversation is not over now that his murderer has been convicted.
We must continue having conversations about racism because people continue to receive different treatment based on skin color. But if your skin color does not expose you to regular reminders that other people interpret your race as a threat, as a scapegoat, or as a sign you are angry, then you may not feel that race is something that needs to be talked about.
Backlash to Conversations about Racism
In my local neighborhood, the all-white board of trustees of our local school district voted last summer to hire a consultant to help us address DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion). The two school board members who are now up for re-election have faced considerable backlash because of their support for DEI, facing two challengers who have out-raised the incumbents ten-to-one, and who have spent money in ads and direct mailings that critique DEI as a misguided emphasis or money mismanaged. Clearly, these prospective trustees feel that conversations about racism should be over.
But the conversation is far from over.
As you may recall, George Floyd’s murder was not the only death that protestors mourned last summer: that spring witnessed the murder of Breonna Taylor, as well as the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, just two of the many Black women and men shot for no other reason than the color of their skin. A project at Gonzaga University has compiled a list, under the heading #SayTheirNames.
I wish the conversation could be over–I wish the many ways we harm one another through our biases could cease. But until we treat one another with respect and dignity, until no one has to fear for their lives because of what they look like, then these conversations need to be happening in every community and in every work place and every school and every house of worship.
My first book Anxious to Talk About It : Helping White People Talk Faithfully about Racism has been revised as a second edition, coming out May 18th, and I have to say it was a challenge to write after last summer. All my words felt inadequate, and my identity as a white person kept me feeling like I was too much a part of the problem to be any kind of helpful part of the solution. But the truth is, my discomfort talking about racism helps me sympathize with other white people who share that discomfort, and so knowing how I feel and how they feel helps me speak about racism in ways that I hope they can hear, so they can begin to see a road forward that includes them having more conversations about racism and growing into how they can be a part of the solution.
This second edition also has a ton more resources at the back, as well as a new chapter. I hope it can be helpful for people who are uncomfortable having conversations about racism, but who feel that this conversation is still necessary. It may also give you ideas for how to talk about racism with friends or family who feel that this conversation should be over by now.
I wish that it could be the case, that conversations about racism were no longer necessary, but as long as people harbor prejudices and unexamined biases, we need to keep having conversations so together we can make a difference and work together to make this world better for all of us.
Thanks for keeping the conversation going.