I am tired of the race problems in the United States. I am tired of getting worked up, so excuse me if all of the white people huffing and puffing about the tragedy of George Floyd’s killing neither moves nor impresses me. And I am not going to look at the video and let that keep me up at night because some white people are outraged and say we should keep that memory alive to serve as motivation to fight on. I am not handing over even more of my mental health to racial inequality in the United States.
I lived in Los Angeles in 1992 and saw my white neighbors run back to our apartment building with their looted clothes, but don’t recall seeing them on TV. I am tired. And numb. Where were these folks who are hopping up and down now when other blacks and browns were murdered with impunity? What are they doing other than offering “words of solidarity”— when they have the power to do something? I see “strong” statements from people who can implement changes that would help address racism—power players in universities, mass media and criminal justice. Still, they are not using their clout to create actual change. They are simply using Mr. Floyd’s death to sound “down” and “woke” while doing nothing to stem institutional racism.
Newly arrived from Antigua after living in Guyana and Canada, one of my earliest introductions to race in the United States was The Phil Donahue Show. Race, as it was conceptualized in America—had always puzzled me. Why were there black magazines as opposed to just magazines? Why were black Americans “always” talking about race? I was young enough not to presume that I knew the answers to those questions, and instead to mean them honestly—in other words, to be willing to seek answers and be willing to accept them, regardless of what they were. Ah, the innocence of youth!
On that April 1993 show, Blair Underwood was promoting The Second Coming, a short film in which he played Jesus. Okay, I thought. I’m no biblical scholar, but I reasoned that without any pictures to document it, Jesus could be any color. At the time, I was shocked at how apoplectic so many audience members were at the idea that a black man would portray the earthly son of God. The whole perplexing interlude was clarified for me when the very last commenter, a white audience member, stood up and said: “This issue is complex enough and if God is the end all and be all of salvation -- what difference is his color”? Exactly! So why can’t he be black, I thought. That comment exemplifies and illustrates much about what I have learned regarding race in America:
- Race does not matter—unless you are ‘marked’ by it as an ‘other’ by your skin. In effect, if you are anything but white, your race may be held against you.
- Whiteness is the default for acting parts, high-level jobs, symbols of goodness and power—including in stock photos, and emoticons.
- We’ve come a long way, so be quiet about all that “race matters” talk! Everything is okay (wink, wink) until some of us talk about the continuing significance of race and try to challenge aspects of racism.
All of these lessons help me understand George Floyd’s death.
Today, I count myself lucky that some private concerns consume and keep me selfishly focused inward. I appreciate my numbness and focus on self-preservation in the face of this killing. So leave me be.
If we are lucky, life is a marathon, so I have to keep my wits about me for the next 40 or so years, during which I expect there will be more of the same: blatant and covert racism and more empty words of solidarity. Therefore, I am not interested in discussing this “situation” or helping you process your outrage over Mr. Floyd’s murder.
I am the gender and race seemingly gifted with the superpower to address your needs ahead of mine. But even a mammy needs rest after living and studying these issues for more than 30 years. This time, alert me when you choose to use your anger and privilege to attack the virus that is racism.
Janis Prince is an associate professor of sociology at Saint Leo University and chair of its Department of Social Sciences.