Commentary: The George Floyd Protests In The Pandemic
The death of George Floyd at the hands of four former Minneapolis police officers prompted massive protests throughout the United States and the world. Even today, two weeks later, the protests continue. But they do so as the Covid-19 pandemic surges again bringing undeniable evidence of a second wave. How can protesters continue to demand racial justice if the effects of the pandemic and its inevitable second wave hamper efforts to make their voices heard out in the streets?
Texas Public Radio guest contributor Arrie Porter offers these thoughts:
I am a black woman who has witnessed my share of protests, rallies, and riots. They are outward demonstrations that represent internal realities, struggles that have shaped our times. Currently, the energy is in the streets, where both interracial and intergenerational Americans are raising their voices against police brutality and systemic racism. If for some reason, you cannot be there, what can you do?
The hot Texas summer of 1954 presented an opportunity for black children in San Antonio to take a dip in the segregated Woodlawn swimming pool; the pool was closed shortly afterwards for cleaning. Most black homes featured three pictures prominently: Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr., and President John F. Kennedy, symbols of the hope these families had for better days. In the ‘60s, protests for Voting and Civil Rights held in the South garnered some success. However, violence erupted as our Civil Rights leaders were murdered, and the hope on which black families depended was shattered. The murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police has sparked an outcry of “Black Lives Matter,” “No Justice—No Peace,” and “I Am Not a Threat” across the nation and throughout the world. The quest for justice has been reignited.
That quest is complicated by COVID-19. Some are struggling to determine just how to be a contributory voice. How much risk is too much? What do you do? The energy need not be only in the streets. Our protest history has produced powerful works of music and literature during times such as this. Sam Cooke penned “A Change is Gonna Come” to raise awareness about the struggles of African Americans living in the Jim Crow South; the song became a Civil Rights anthem. Author James Baldwin wrote The Fire Next Time, which discussed the central role of race in American history; Sheldon Binn in his New York Times review at its publication called it “a warning and a hope.” Chancellor Williams’ The Destruction of Black Civilization: Great Issues of a Race from 4500 B.C. to 2000 A.D contains a voluminous history of African people and the resulting impact of slavery. Every book on the current New York Times Nonfiction Best Seller list is about race, titles like So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo Seal. These and other works can provide an intimate look at issues at the crux of current race relations.
There is a multi-cultural chorus of voices that have poured into the streets. But if you cannot be there, bring the streets inside. Be inspired. Educate yourself and others. Ensure our children know their history. Contact your respective congressperson and make your requests known. Encourage others to speak out! Write! Meet your neighbors! Support black artists! Do not be comfortable with the status quo! Vote at the local, state, and federal level; they all matter, no matter how long you must wait in line!
Arrie Porter is an MFA thesis candidate in the MA/MFA program in Literature, Creative Writing, and Social Justice at Our Lady of the Lake University. She is the creator and publisher of Nubian Notes, a local magazine maintained as a “Special Collection” at the John Peace Library at the Institute of Texas Cultures.