This article was written in June of 2020, shortly after the death of George Floyd on May 25th, 2020.
This seems another open casket moment – a time when we cannot look away. We grew up in the segregated south, and one of the acts of quiet courage that changed history was Emmett Till’s open casket. Emmett was 14 years old when he was killed for supposedly flirting with a white store owner while visiting relatives in Mississippi. His mother insisted that the casket remain open at his funeral in Chicago, and the world saw his mutilated body. And they could not look away.
The video of the murder of George Floyd is another open casket moment. We saw and we could not look away. It is impossible to watch that video without tears, and impossible to ignore the look of indifference and callousness on the face of Derek Chauvin.
We know we have personally looked the other way in the past. We have not always spoken up, and we have never spoken up with sufficient outrage. We have not done enough. It is so easy to excuse inaction – to not talk about race because the conversation is difficult, to not hire with equity because it takes too much time, to not create inclusive companies because culture is hard to change, and to spend our leisure time in comfortable settings with people just like us.
The fact that George Floyd’s murder came on the heels of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery made it all the more searing. There have been protests in every state and around the world. The intensity of the statements of business, civic, and nonprofit leaders has been unlike anything we have seen.
The multitude of voices – across racial and political divides – is heartening. Kevin Washington, CEO of the YMCA, wrote a powerful reflection. In the piece he said,
“I have noticed at least one very important, very encouraging difference as I’ve tried to make sense of what I’m witnessing and find the right words to express what I’m feeling: It’s not just black people marching for equity and justice, condemning police brutality, calling for an end to systemic racism and saying Black Lives Matter. They are joined by allies of all races and ethnicities—representative of the great diversity of our nation— and most of them are young people. So, while I am sad, frustrated, angry and scared, I am not hopeless.”
We are hopeful too. There are hopeful signs even in our overwhelmingly white suburban Atlanta neighborhood. A neighbor posted on NextDoor that she was ordering Black Lives Matter signs from a local black-owned sign firm, and asked in anyone would like one. She was clearly not ready for the response – she now has an order for over 400 signs.
A sign is just a sign, and it won’t change the world. But that would not have happened even a year ago.
How do we keep that going? The first step is dialogue, and we are starting by reading to understand. Some great sources are:
- White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
- Maintaining Professionalism in the Age of Black Death
- How to Talk About Race and Racism – A conversation with the CEO of Cisco
But we can’t stop with dialogue. So much needs to change. In our world that means voting, speaking out, and, in the organizations we work with, pushing for real inclusion, real equity, and real justice for all. We cannot turn away.
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20141207200539-1353244-seeing-what-you-re-looking-at/ This article was from late 2014, the year of Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner.
Quote from the Ernest Greer article below: “I have been committed to this cause my entire professional career — committed to creating harmony and understanding among the different individuals I call friends, colleagues, clients, mentors, and even family. I am now going to be more aggressive on this issue. I am committing to creating and executing a comprehensive plan that reaches out to the business and other community leaders, for the sake of Atlanta and beyond.” https://www.ajc.com/news/opinion/opinion-america-has-lost-its-heart-and-that-hurts-all/M1enZfmmF29ZpPNyCc0U2H/amp.html