Now comes the part where white people abandon us. Now comes the part where the white majority impatiently demands a return to normalcy. Now comes the part where white people say, “I believe that Black Lives Matter, but…” Now comes the part where white people start literally telling Black people to stop protesting because some “bad” people are also protesting.
In the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, white people seemingly joined Black people in their calls for justice and change. But that support was always soft. It was entirely predictable that most white people would abandon the movement long before justice was done or change achieved. It was so predictable that I, in fact, predicted it back in June. I knew a majority of white people would revert to form and regress to their mean, because a majority of white people were always going to value their own comfort over justice for Black people.
And I knew that white people would eventually find a way to blame Black people for making them not care about us. Because not every Black person brutalized by the cops can go out like Floyd. In many ways, Floyd was the perfect victim for white America. Floyd didn’t die quickly; he was subdued in a “nonthreatening” position for eight minutes and 46 seconds while he died. He died pleading for his life. He died calling out to his mother.
That’s how white people like us to die: face down, begging.
They don’t like us to die on our feet. They don’t like us to die trying to get away. They certainly don’t like us to die while trying to defend ourselves.
Jacob Blake was not the perfect victim for white people. He was trying to walk away. Sure, he was shot at seven times, from behind, right into the back, but quickly. He was not tortured on camera long enough for white people to consider other alternatives. If his three children (who were in the car and saw the whole thing) cried out for their father, their wails and screams were drowned out by the car horn blaring under the weight of Blake’s bullet-riddled body.
The police and white-wing forces have gone into overdrive smearing Blake’s character, and the mainstream media has lapped it up. Just a few months after Floyd was murdered, we’re back to shaming the victims of police brutality. The police have brought up past criminal allegations that have nothing to do with why they shot him in the back. Days after the shooting, they invented a knife they now claim he was brandishing. To complete the narrative that Blake was a “dangerous criminal,” the police chained Blake to his hospital bed by his legs—legs that no longer work because the cops paralyzed him from the waist down. He’ll never be able to walk away from the cops again.
The smearing of Blake is not being done solely to make the cops look justified for shooting an unarmed man in the back seven times. It’s being done to make the people who protest and call for justice on behalf of Blake and all Black people seem wrong. It’s being done to let white people off the hook for having to give a damn.
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This is usually the point where some white people start firing off “not all white people” tweets at me. Black people share the collective burden of being shot at or choked out or beaten up by armed agents of a white supremacist police state, but white people like for their complicity in that oppression to be meted out in individualized shares based on a case-by-case analysis of their personal wokeness. The white people who won’t abandon the calls for racial justice get bent out of shape at being lumped in with those who will, even though my point is that all white people can opt out of their concern for justice if they choose to.
I can’t. I have two Black kids. I don’t have the luxury of getting distracted or bored or exhausted by the conversation about whether they can ride their bikes past a cop without being shot to death. I don’t have the option of speculating about whether a white teenager’s decision to gun down defenders of Black lives in the street, with at least the tacit consent of the cops, helps or hurts Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. I have to stay laser-focused on keeping my family safe, and since all white people are seemingly authorized by the state to snatch my life from me if I piss them off too much, I don’t have a lot of time left over to break white folks up into their preferred groupings.
The mainstream media does have that kind of time. Instead of maintaining focus on the state-sponsored terrorism faced by Black people, or the calls to end it, the media can’t help itself from devolving into cynical horse-race coverage that centers on white voters and their reactions to the protests. The Atlantic ran a piece preemptively blaming protests for a Biden electoral defeat. The New York Times ran a piece warning that “chaos” was swaying white voters in Wisconsin. Andrew Sullivan wrote that the Democrats walked into a “trap” because a 17-year-old white boy shot people in the street, thus somehow proving that the Democrats do not respect “law and order.”
“Law and order” is the whitest possible way to describe shooting a Black man seven times in the back. “Chaos” is a weird euphemism for the uprising of a people who are sick of being brutalized at the hands of the state. Electoral politics is an interesting lens through which to view the effects of white terrorism on our nation. There are something like 70 BLM protests a week throughout America right now, but you don’t hear about them unless something burns or somebody gets shot. Most of those protests don’t fit the racist white media narrative that “chaos” is upending “law and order” to the “electoral detriment” of Joe Biden.
None of this is all that surprising, however. White people blaming Black people for the horrors white people inflict upon Black people is as American as apple pie. They blamed the slave who ran away for forcing the master to whip him. They blamed the Black people agitating for freedom for causing the Civil War. They blamed the Freedom Riders trying to register Black people to vote for getting themselves killed. Now, Black people are being blamed as being too violent to police our own communities, and too strident to build a coalition with “moderate” whites who would totally be on our side if we weren’t all arsonists who wanted to eat white people, or something.
It’s all working, after a fashion. Social media was aflutter this weekend about a Marquette University Law School poll of Wisconsin voters that showed white support for the Black Lives Matter movement declining to 49 percent, down from a high of 59 percent support a few months ago. Other polls show some slippage in white support, nationally. It’s worth noting that Black support for BLM remains where it’s always been. It’s also worth noting that the conflation of BLM and support for racial justice is an intellectually lazy way for a pollster to shape the question. Black Lives Matter is a movement, but it’s also a statement. Either you agree with it or you don’t. If your response to that statement is “it depends,” then you don’t agree with it, and never did. If you are like Nikki Haley and care only about the Black lives that die in the manner that seems best to you, then you were never on the side of racial justice and equality. Pollsters cannot account for slippage from white “supporters” who were lying in the first place.
Centering Black demands for an end to police brutality in white feelings is offensive and crazy-making. One does not consult the foxes for their opinions on the measures taken to stop them from murdering all the hens.
But, since we’re here, I would ask whites what they would have us do to secure their tepid and revocable support for the notion that we shouldn’t be gunned down by the police. Not get shot in the back by the cops? Yeah, we’ve tried that. Not get pissed off when we get shot in the back? When that happens, y’all just let our murderers go back to the work of murdering us. Protest, but don’t be civilly disobedient when we do? We do that, and those protests are never covered. The only time the media shows our daytime protests is when Bill Barr gasses them so the president can take a photo-op. Engage in civil disobedience, but don’t be violent? We try that, and we are met with tear gas, flash bangs, rubber bullets, and armed vigilantes who shoot at us with their AR-15s and then get a drink of water from the police.
There is no way to protest white supremacy in a way that will meet the approval of white supremacists. There is no way to protest institutional racism that will be accepted by racist institutions. White people have a lot of thoughts on the proper way for Black folks to die; where they come up short is imagining a society that allows Black people to live in peace without harassment and brutality from the police or any other white guy with a gun.
And so here we are, barely three months after George Floyd was choked to death, and already white allyship is waning. Derek Chauvin stared right into a camera phone and forced white America to look at itself in a mirror, and for a few minutes, white people were horrified with what they saw.
But that moment has passed now. White people could only look at themselves for so long before looking away. A majority of white folks could only contemplate the system of brutality and oppression they tacitly support for a brief time before concluding, as they always do, that Black people deserve it, that killing Black people is self-defense, that even a paralyzed Black man is still a threat who needs to be shackled.
Essentially, the months after Floyd’s murder have been a summer fling for a majority of white people. It’s like they went on safari in Ghana, saw some lions, had sex with a Black person who works there, and learned a lot about the transatlantic slave trade. But now playtime’s over, and the white majority has to get back to the serious work of enforcing white supremacy and privilege and reelecting a bigoted president.
If you thought Floyd’s murder was going to lead to structural change, then you don’t know white people as well as I do.