The year 2020 has been a tough year for a lot of people. This is due mostly to the effects of the deadly coronavirus, which have forced most governments to implement lockdowns and social distancing measures. Covid-19 has not only been a difficult health crisis, it has also been a hard-hitting economic problem. However, it has even been tougher for members of racial minorities, not because the virus is able to discriminate, but due to the fact that long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put them at greater risks. As if that was not enough, black people have also had to worry about the continuous unjustified killings at the hands of the police; that gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013.
The list of black people dying at the hands of the police due to their fear, hatred, and discrimination just keeps growing. We have not learned from life lesson stories of the past. It seems to be a continuous cycle of unjustified killings, followed by protests in the streets, and calls for policy change, until there is the next killing. However, there was something dissimilar about the protests following George Floyd’s final 8 minutes and 46 seconds. More white people participated in these protests. Prior to this murder, white people had always participated in the struggle for black freedom, but it was different this time: the protests encompassed hundreds of cities in the U.S.; after a month of unparalleled daily and nighty protests, it is still ongoing; it is estimated that about 15-26 million Americans participated; and the demonstrations spread to other regions of the globe.
White people did not just take part in these protests, they actually played a more active role when compared to previous protests. Some led protests with Black Lives Matter signs and T-shirts. There were white women who acted as human shields to protect black people from police violence. White superstar athletes signed petitions. Others threw objects at the police. US democrats wore scarves made from Ghanaian designs called Kente. What has made these protests more surprising is the fact that it happened at a time when most people were supposed to spend as much time as possible at home to curb the spread of the coronavirus. But, could this have been one of the reasons these protests were different? Why did more white people seem to care this time?
Floyd’s killing occurred during the coronavirus lockdown when most people were expected to be at home. This meant fewer distractions than before – no school, sporting activities, family outings, vacations or other activities that would otherwise divert people’s attention. More people had the time and ability to focus on this unfortunate event. There was also a lot of frustration and an immense amount of pent-up energy and anger from different sources that needed to be released.
Another factor that significantly affected the vigour of these protests was Trump’s response to racism since he got into the White House. From his “shithole countries” remarks to threatening to send the National Guard to restore control while calling protesters “thugs”. He also criticized NFL players who took a knee during the national anthem saying, “…You have to stand proudly for the national anthem, or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.” Trump also tweeted, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts” after a Minneapolis police station was set ablaze; a comment that was certainly not helpful in such a heated situation.
One could also argue that his government’s handling of the pandemic also contributed to the massive protests. As earlier mentioned, most people were already affected by the pandemic. Some people either got sick or they knew someone who got sick, and others were affected economically. This was already enough to cause anger and anxiety.
The protests themselves also opened the eyes of many white people. While “managing” the protests and the protesters; perhaps for the first time, many white people witnessed the brutality that some police officers used against protesters (many of them white people).
Whatever might be the factors that pushed more white people to join the Black Lives Matter movement, it feels refreshing to see such an important number of people fighting for a common cause. We need to start learning from past life lesson stories. Black people shouldn’t have to face this battle alone; black people were not the cause of racism, discrimination, or institutionalized inequities. More white people should support the movement in order to finally create a lasting change. We all hope this will be the beginning of the end of this long vicious cycle of racial injustice.