The White Shadow
The more I’ve seen, listened and read about the trial of the fired police officer who killed George Floyd, the more angered, saddened and sickened I’ve become.
I know I’m not alone in this and, in all honesty, I figured it was getting enough coverage out there in news-world that no one really needed me to add my two cents.
I began writing another article days ago, but as I listened to Writer Charles Blow and NPR reporter Michele Norris in an interview with Lulu Garcia-Navarro (also NPR) this morning, I realized it was more important to take a breath, retool and head in another direction.
We live in a beautiful area of Upstate New York. We’re in a bedroom community development about 10 minutes from downtown Saratoga Springs in the town of Wilton.
While we have a smattering of Asian families as well as a few Black families, our area is just about as White as could be.
I mention this because this is the current local ground (and background) of my life right now.
And if you were to walk or bike around our neighborhood, you’d see several flags flying in support of last year’s losing presidential candidate as well as a few more “thin blue line” flags.
At the other end of the polarized spectrum, there are indeed a few “All Are Welcome” lawn signs, though most of them seem to have gone indoors post-election.
While none of this may be terribly unusual, there are other signs and flags, some in the neighborhood, some farther out in more rural locales, that I can’t help but think are flown for the soul purpose of offending.
For instance, there are variations on MAGA themes with added editorializing, usually containing a four-letter reference to fornication aimed at either Joe Biden or those, like me, who voted for him.
And just in case you’re wondering, raunchy doesn’t bother me and I have no trouble with swearing in friendly conversation.
Being sore losers is one thing, but there’s something about the manner in which these symbols are displayed, facing the road in ways that make them just about impossible to miss, that elevates their impact and, to me at least, speak of an intention to offend.
And, I would add, they also seem intended to intimidate and do psychic (at least) violence.
Here’s the thing: While they may have been merely needling before, since January 6, 2021 the messages these symbols convey could not be clearer.
At this point there’s simply too much violent baggage attached to them.
For me they land like angry gut-punches.
Which brings us back to the murder trial underway in Minnesota and, of course, to the crime itself.
The part of our collective racist legacy that I fear many of my fellow White Americans simply don’t get is the ongoing visceral, physical impact on those among us who live in Black and Brown skin…
There are undeniable physical traumas that come with hundreds of years of bodies being commodified, bodies bought and sold, bodies twisted and tortured, bodies beaten, bodies dragged, bodies placed in choke-holds, bodies hung from trees, bodies shot through with one or seven – or fifty-seven – bullets…
The body of a man whose neck was knelt upon for nine minutes in broad daylight, filmed from multiple angles, witnessed by millions.
If the defense follows through with what they have hinted at so far, they’ll likely go after the character, history and body of George Floyd.
They will draw on old racist tropes to paint a portrait as ugly as it is dated, of an angry, drug-addled, dangerously uncontrollable Black man, his dark body posing a dangerous threat.
There’s a good chance that, because of a history of drug use, the defense will be selling the notion that it was the drugs – rather than the crushing knee – that caused the Black man’s dangerous body to fail.
They are also likely to try and up-level the game they’ve already floated – that of a threatening mob of Black and Brown bodies legitimizing the action of the officers.
All of it designed, like my neighborhood’s flags and signs posted in ways that are impossible to miss, to reestablish yet another cycle of domination, subjugation and, were that not enough, retraumatization.
But here’s the thing: Our bodies – all of our bodies – are integral parts of a larger whole from which we cannot separate.
We can convince ourselves that we are not George Floyd because we do not look like him. We can trick ourselves into thinking we are different or better than the former officer with the deadly, weaponized knee because we were hundreds or thousands of miles away.
But that knee is part of our collective White shadow and the neck beneath it is part of the collective trauma we have inflicted over and over again…
And the time is upon us to do the difficult work of breaking down the walls that maintain the lie of separation.
Because unless we do that important inner and outer work, individually and collectively, that shadow is certain to continue to hang its signs and drop its knee on the necks of future generations.