Reflections in the wake of the murder of George Floyd

I have to be honest.

I want to look away.

I don’t want to look at these images above.  I don’t want to read what they say.  I don’t want to watch the video of George Floyd’s death. I don’t want to see the horror of an innocent black man’s death, especially under the knee of a white man ‘of the law.’ I don’t want to know that our white supremacist system only charged white police officer Derek Chauvin with third degree murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd. It should have been first degree murder. I don’t want to witness white privilege and power at work.

If I face these things, I have to acknowledge a system that serves, privileges and benefits me and the skin I am in. This system will do whatever it can to keep me alive while it does so little to keep brown and black bodies alive.  I am one of “them” in this way. 

A part of me would rather connect with Amy Cooper as a woman who lives with the fear of rape by men, than to see the racialized nature of her fear of a black man, who happened to be peacefully bird watching in Central Park. I don’t want to associate myself with white people that would do such harm to brown and black people. I want to ‘hate them’ and ‘dis-associate’ myself from them. I want ‘them’ to be ‘those white people’. I want to make them not at all like me. I want to be one of the “good white people.”

Why?

I don’t want to have to face the reality that while these white people are ‘not my people,’ they are my people. They have white skin like me and have grown up with and benefited from the same systemic racist and white supremacist training I have here in the United States.  Facing them means I have to face myself and all the work I have to do to unlearn the training I received growing up. The racism and white supremacy that continues to surround me and all of us, like the water of the pool in which we are swimming. 

I have to look at them. I have to watch the video or read about what really happened to George Floyd, read about the police officers who will not be charged as they should be for their actions. It is my privilege, my desire for abdication that would have me use perfectly logical explanations to avoid facing hard truths.  I have to face what I am afraid of that the white people above represent.  

It has been somewhat easy in my process undoing racism to “other” white people; to want to be a ‘better white person’ than them. In this process, it is easy to ignore the ways I might try to become superior to other white people in order to forward my own goal of feeling less bad about the white skin I am in. If I don’t look at them, maybe I can avoid the difficult feelings I have about continuing to reap the benefits of being white while black and brown bodies are dying.  I can look at them as the perpetrators and ignore that I may be one too, through my avoidance. 

Asking Hard questions

  • In what ways do they represent parts of me I would rather deny or avoid? 
  • What actions might I take unconsciously? 
  • In what ways do I blame black and brown people for things I don’t want to take responsibility for? 
  • In what ways do I blame other white people for things I don’t want to take responsibility for?
  • In what ways do I sit idly by while another white person denigrates, makes a joke, or puts down BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People Of Color)?  
  • In what ways is my ignorance, my denial, my avoidance, my fear, my silence, contributing to the killing of brown and black bodies?   

As Sweet Honey in the Rock sings:

Are my hands clean?

Are yours?

Beth Wheeler

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Beth Wheeler is a Psychotherapist in Washington DC who specializes in working with trauma, sexuality and gender identity and integrating the mind and the body for healing. She is committed to being an advocate for racial justice and challenging herself to stretch beyond her own comfort zone.