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I Can’t Breathe

It seems stupid and pointless and borderline trite right now to be writing about anything other than men with black and brown skin who are murdered, and there is absolutely no other word for it, in broad daylight, with exactly zero consequences. So, for today, I’m not going to. I’m going to write as best as I can about those men. I’m going to say their names and I’m going to say what happened to them. George Floyd was murdered. Eric Garner was murdered. Ahmaud Arbery was murdered. Trayvon Martin was murdered. That being said, they were also more than men who were murdered; they were so much more. They were people with families and people who love and care about them. In the case of Trayvon Martin, who President Obama said could have been his son, that was a boy who deserved the opportunity to grow into a man. Maybe even a man like President Obama. Instead, he went to a convenience store for a snack and never went home again. All of these people, had lives as rich and as full and as deserving as mine. And yours.

We are witnessing modern day lynchings. We are, on some level, deciding that these lynchings are okay. That it is okay for a police officer to compress a man’s neck while another officer stands guard. That it is okay for a non-violent man, who was not resisting, to plead for his literal life, and have bystanders plead for it too, only for it to fall on deaf ears. It is okay because when people get reduced to a skin colour, to the level of an animal; to rapists and murderers, and when a President normalizes those things because, there are very fine people on both sides, then caging, mass incarceration and murder become, to some, inevitable and logical next steps that then become accepted and normalized too. That’s partly why George Floyd’s life was not worthy of saving; because he was not seen as worthy of living in the first place. He died in the street while the men who murdered him remain free to walk the streets.

In terms of the men who stood by complicit as he was suffocated by a fellow officer, one of those men appeared to be Asian, a person who could be considered a minority. Yet, there he stood, a silent witness as another man was oppressed and killed. It is not the job of all minorities to band together and fight against the majority, but, that is the trick of institutionalized racism. It teaches us that we are separate, that we are rungs on a ladder with some higher up that ladder and closer to the sun than others. It is, of course, a lie but in many ways, many people have been trained to feel like it’s true.

I was in Florida pre-pandemic being driven to my hotel by a Cuban immigrant who noted the importance of the 2020 election. Given the current President’s draconian immigration policies, I assumed he wanted to see a new President elected. I was wrong. He supports the policies; believes the Mexicans and Middle Eastern immigrants can “go back to their own country.”. Why? He’s American now. He can almost pass as white. Those others: animals. Rapists. Murderers. The knee of institutionalized racism was off his neck and could move on to someone else’s.

The officers who killed George Floyd knew they were being filmed and they literally kept killing him believing in the very promise that their whiteness affords and knowing it would be that promise that keeps them safe. And they were right. Again. Those men may, eventually, be gently and quietly and peacefully arrested, and, may even be charged but it takes violence in the streets and more black and brown people putting their lives on the line to get done what should’ve been done, without question, in the first place. White, militia-men, armed with assault rifles were threatening and screaming at officers literally for having to wear a mask and not a hair on their heads were touched because they have inherent and inalienable rights that black men do not. Plain and simple. Colin Kaepernick can’t take a knee but a knee can be kept on a black man’s neck until he is dead and dragged away. Don Lemon said last night that it’s hard to live in a free country but, as a black man, be occupied because that’s what black men are: occupied.

Black men are also abstractions. There to entertain, to perform, to fulfill visions of blackness that whiteness holds. Hell, I wrote with rapturous enthusiasm about The Chicago Bulls just this week, and while I believe I can stand by my points and what I wrote, this point also remains. Of course, not all white people hold visions of black abstractions, but, enough do, and certainly enough with power do, and that’s why black lives are in daily jeopardy.

I’m not certain why but I can’t help but think of the Bible and the fall in the Garden of Eden. As a recovered Catholic, I don’t know about any of that, or, what seems to me to be nothing more than an abstraction. What I do know is that a mythical fall was actualized in the world when, approximately 400 hundred years ago, colonizers arrived on the shores of an unspoiled land and plundered it, robbed it blind and ripped free people from their home and brought them against their will to new lands where they would face enslavement and untold horrors that, clearly, continue to this day. It is that fall, others like it, and their subsequent consequences, that deserve our attention and our collective voices.

And Canadians need to not fool themselves that this is an exclusively American problem. Amy Cooper, who weaponized Christian Cooper’s blackness, is a Canadian. This problem is global, systemic and entrenched. To say one is non-racist, or to not engage directly in race-based violence, is no longer enough. It probably never was. We have to learn how to be better and more effective allies. I don’t know how to be. I may have more to say someday but, not today. I don’t have anything more to say about these issues right now because, as a white woman, I am too ill-informed to speak to them. While I may be ill informed, Dr. Katherine McKittrick is not. Mariame Kaba is not. Dianne Bondy is not. So, today, I will leave you to look at their words and return to my regularly scheduled blogging, and intended post for today, next week. Until then: say their names. I will. George Floyd. Eric Garner. Ahmaud Arbery. Trayvon Martin. Say all of their names.

Originally published at on May 29, 2020.

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I write about what affects our lives. Thoughts we have, questions we raise and ways in which we can grow and, hopefully, become better so we can do better.

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