When I saw the video of George Floyd being murdered by a cop with his knee placed on Floyd’s neck, I felt sick and helpless. I felt like I needed to do something to stop this from ever happening again. Over the summer, Wellness Group hosted a 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge where we read, watched, or listened to something having to do with race every day. I found that immensely helpful. I was led to join the Racial Equity Group here at St. Matt’s after spending more time reading and watching and realizing this is something I need to continue to focus on. The documentary “13th”, directed by Ava Duvernay, opened my eyes to a lot of injustices that black people have to deal with.
I want to throw out some statistics I learned. Statistics don’t normally have an impact on me because they seem so sterile, but these absolutely shocked me. The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s prison population. 1 in 17 white men will be incarcerated at some point in their lives; 1 in 3 black men will be incarcerated at some point in their lives. Let me repeat that. One in three black men will be incarcerated at some point in their lives. There is something very wrong here.
The movie showed me how black men have been seen as criminals for over a century. After the Civil War, black men were arrested en masse for crimes like loitering and vagrancy. Since there were no longer slaves to perform the necessary labor, the black men who had been arrested would provide free labor. The movie The Birth of a Nation portrayed black men as a threat to white women - in one scene, a white woman jumps off a cliff to her death to avoid being raped by a black man. Incidentally, this movie was almost directly responsible for bringing back the KKK. For many years after the Civil War, black people, men in particular, were lynched if the white people in the area thought that the black people weren’t “staying in their place”. Emmett Till, a 14 year old black boy, was murdered for whistling at a white woman. Even Civil Rights activists were seen as criminals by the government; they were being followed by the FBI and were often arrested.
I also learned that many states refuse to let former felons vote. In Alabama, 30% of black men are disenfranchised because they have been convicted of a felony. They’ve already done their time and yet they’re still being punished and many are being punished for a crime they didn’t commit! And yet when they go to apply for jobs, one of the first questions is “have you ever been convicted of a felony?” If someone answers yes to that question, they’re most likely not going to get the job because many companies refuse to hire people who have been convicted of a felony.
The movie also showed how police brutality is not new. We just have cell phones with cameras now that make it easier to document.These videos change people and they become the impetus for the protests. Seeing these videos makes it all too real for me and makes me aware that I can’t just live in my white world anymore.
What am I going to do now? I’m going to continue to read books and watch movies that deal with race and racism. I just watched the documentary LA 92 on Hulu, about the civil unrest after the Rodney King trial and I’m reading a book called “Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race” by Debby Irving. Educating myself about racism is where I begin. I will also continue to attend meetings of the Racial Equity Group here at church where we’re able to discuss important issues and take action. I’m also thinking of joining the local chapter of the NAACP where I will listen and act as necessary. But most importantly, it’s time to sit down, shut up, and listen to black voices.