In a recent opinion report, CNN journalist Chris Cuomo stated, “America is a tale of two cities: the majority and the minority.” He further explained why white people are in no position to criticize African Americans’ methods of protesting police brutality. He’s not wrong.
On May 31, OPRF’s class of 2020 gathered outside of village hall to sit in silent witness to the heinous murder of George Floyd and all other people of color who fall victim to police brutality. Several other community members came to show their support by surrounding the seniors in black attire.
That Sunday was supposed to be our graduation, but none of us were thinking of that. It’s hard to comprehend that some of our last moments together as a class are at protests like these. However, we understand that this is our world now. And so we sat there in our senior shirts with toilet paper on them (not funny by the way) to protest years of systemic oppression. We have been forced into this new adulthood where we are given the heavy responsibilities of surviving a pandemic while also working toward the change that we want to see. I’m not writing this to preach at anyone about right and wrong. That is not my place. I’m writing this because it wouldn’t be right for me not to use this platform that I have to advocate for the minorities in this country who are under scrutiny every day.
I have been pulled over by a cop once in my life. I was driving home late one summer night after hanging out with friends and forgot to turn on my headlights before leaving. The cop approached my car, and I didn’t recognize it for what it was then, but I noticed a sigh of relief that came across his face when he saw me. Looking back, I can’t help but think that he was relieved to see my youthful face and fair complexion. He took one look at my ID, handed it back to me and I was let off with a warning. Without a doubt, my skin color played a huge role in the officer’s decision to let me off so easily. This is just one example of my white privilege.
I think it’s interesting how Americans take pride over events like the Boston Tea Party and the Revolutionary War. Both were extreme acts of violence that changed the country “for the better.” Yet white America can’t seem to get behind this uprising that is happening right before our eyes. In fact, the U.S. police force originated not necessarily with the intentions of protecting and serving. In the north, they mainly worked as night watchmen. As for the south, the earliest documentation of police served as slave catchers for private plantation owners. Therefore, the American police system was built on the basis of oppressing blacks and other minorities from the very beginning.
Many may disagree with the looting and riots. In my opinion, African Americans have every right to destroy the country that they built for free. Broken buildings will still never amount to the pain and hardship that African Americans have faced since the start of this country. This rising is actually beautiful in one way or another. These aren’t “riots”; these are rebellions.
At the protest, I told my friends that the footage of cops and protestors fighting downtown made life feel like we were entering the end of the world. My black friend corrected me, saying that this was just the tip of the iceberg of the oppression that African Americans have faced in the U.S. In other words, we should not be surprised by this. She was completely right. Moreover, the current state of our country wasn’t caused by Floyd’s death alone. We have simply reached a boiling point that I don’t think we will ever recover from. At that moment, I realized I was part of the problem. No matter what I was going through that day, it would never amount to her situation or experiences, given her race. I was ignorant for saying that and I regret it.
Isn’t that what white people should be doing though? Taking accountability for their privilege? Now I only wish to do right by my peers by continuing to educate myself and try my best to be the positive change that the world needs.
To all of the people of African-American descent who may be reading this article: I hope you know that I hear you, and I see you. I will never understand the magnitude of what you have experienced or the prejudice you have faced, but I hope you know that I stand in solidarity with you.
This goes for all other white people. When you choose to remain silent in instances like this, you are choosing the side of the oppressor. It’s our duty to put an end to America’s tale of two cities — for ourselves and for the generations to come.