By Austin Seck
On the 17th of July 2014, a 34-year old African American male was held in a choke-hold by a police officer in New York. To have George Floyd utter the same three words – ‘I can’t breathe’ – over half a decade later, is simply unacceptable as we witness yet another pointless loss of a young man’s life. How many more of such cold-blooded murders must take place for society to wake up to the realities of racism? Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, and now George Floyd, how much more proof does the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement need? Remember that these are only the publicised ones, and then reflect: how common is it for people of colour to experience racism, both covertly and overtly, only to have their experiences invalidated and gaslighted by people from a place of privilege?
When I arrived in the UK two years ago, I came from a bubble of privilege in which I had never experienced racism myself, nor, frankly, did I see the importance of basic civil liberties. My parents were shocked at my lecturers going out to protest, and I remember being astonished at my friends standing outside the DSU with placards. Being an ex-cop myself, I was rather surprised with the social attitudes my peers at university had towards police officers, especially people of colour and those from the United States. Looking back now, I can clearly see why the establishment is held in such disdain by the community. Imagine when the very own officers of the state sworn to protect the public is committing vicious killings, over and over again, and then being acquitted by what I can only label an unjust system. Parallels can be drawn with pre-Martin Luther King Jr America, when POC were lynched and no justice was sought for them whatsoever.
Unfortunately, this is about more than police brutality. It is about the covert racism that many of us today still possess and are unwilling to outright admit. It should not take incidents of overt racism for us to finally be willing to engage with others who experience racism and validate them. It should not take the loss of an innocent life for people to pour out their grief and outrage at such injustice in this world. As an Asian, many of us has experienced one form of racism or another since the outbreak of COVID-19, and for most of us, this would have been the first instance of overt racism we’ve encountered. Can you now put yourselves in the shoes of other POC, with many of our black brothers and sisters having experienced this practically from the day that they were born?
The concept of ‘White Fragility’ explores the resistance and reluctance for white people to talk about race, but I believe it exists beyond that and it is just a stigmatised topic; an elephant in the room that people in our community are often unwilling and uncomfortable to talk about. Instead, as a society we continue to brush such incidents under the rug, discounting the experiences of people who encounter racism, one by one, until all these voices are drowned and racist police officers such as Derek Chauvin and Daniel Panteleo are allowed to live out their hatred and bigotry. What’s worse in this instance is that one of the officers present during George Floyd’s murder was Asian. Officer Tou Thao, who was already involved in previous incidents of police brutality just watched on as his fellow POC was helplessly murdered by one of his colleagues in blue. If this sickens and upsets you as much as it has for me, I strongly urge you to make a change, and start a conversation about race today.
I’d recommend two books to read if you’re genuinely interested in learning more about this topic, and willing to begin this social discourse about race with others. The first book would be ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge and the second ‘White Fragility’ by Robin DiAngelo. Despite what the titles may sound like, this book is useful for learning about your own inherent bias that has been ingrained within society from day one of us growing up, even if you may not be white. Furthermore, this by no means is an attack on white people, but rather, an exhortation to recognise your privilege, and what you can do in order to be an ally.
You may think that covert racism is nowhere near as bad as overt racism, but it is beliefs such as these that perpetuate racism within society and cause incidents of overt racism to happen. Not willing to admit that racism exists is the new form of racism today. Until we accept that it is the reality, and that covert racism can easily boil over into overt racism, society will continue to be fractured by violence and plagued with pointless bloodshed.
Image: Prachatai via Flickr