One of the terrible truths about racism in America is that the violent deaths of Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and so many others were not enough for most Americans to demand radical change. Now, as millions of white people have, at long last, woken up in the aftermath of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, we should ask ourselves why it took so long.
If we’re honest, we see that we are complicit. The governors, mayors, cops, and district attorneys work for us, and they have been carrying out the centuries-old agenda of our policing system, which is to protect white people and property and to intimidate and incarcerate Black people. And you need only to look at the Democratic presidential primary, which included several candidates who built their careers on being “tough on crime,” to see that both parties have participated in the oppression and mass incarceration of Black people.
What we see, if we have the courage to see it, is that we have been here for 400 years and white people have rarely ever demanded that our leaders dismantle systems of violence and oppression. Think about that. Black people have never been safe in this country, but most white people live their whole lives without ever demanding that the violence that’s being done in our names come to an end.
Until — perhaps — now.
We’re in an extraordinary moment. We’re being asked by the Movement for Black Lives to listen and learn — and to unlearn everything we have been taught about governance and policing. We’re being asked to see these systems with new eyes, and to recognize that good white people prop up bad systems that were built to serve white people, and that that is true no matter what’s in our individual hearts.
The small, liberal, predominantly white town in which I live prides itself on a police department so progressive that we have a lesbian chief and hybrid police cars. But none of that matters to my Black friends, regardless of how educated or affluent or well-dressed they are. When they see a cop car in the rear view mirror — hybrid or not — they feel fear. And as many of our residents have responded to the recent murders by taking a closer look, we are learning that our liberal mayor and chief have allowed an officer who was sued for making…