The sun is shining on Los Angeles as I sit down to write this column, but the SoCal weather does nothing to ease the tension that is tangible after the weekend’s events. Here in Long Beach, where this writer is specifically located, the LA County’s 6PM – 6AM curfew is in effect and, as in many other cities around the United States, the evening’s soundtrack was one of emergency vehicle sirens, helicopter blades, screeching wheels and (rather bizarrely) fireworks.
It felt tense but also inevitable. Because what happened to George Floyd is absolutely horrific. It was also not even a little bit surprising. On reflection, that’s what really hits hard — the fact that, on hearing of George Floyd’s murder, I didn’t think “No Way! Surely not! Not by the police in this country!” It felt inevitable that another black person in America would be murdered by those who are supposed to protect and serve Americans. And then, of course (call them protests, call them riots — both happened) the resulting tensions are equally inevitable.
It’s impossible to condone the burning and looting of businesses, particularly small businesses, but it’s not impossible to understand it. If people of color have it hammered into them that, in this capitalist society, their lives are worth less than products — if we as a society commodify everything — then the destruction of said products can be seen as a huge statement. Meanwhile, of course, there are always other elements getting involved with protests that are there more for nihilistic, senseless violence and destruction than to aid the cause. Don’t allow yourself to fall for the narrative that the majority of the people involved in these protests are “thugs” (a barely-veiled racial slur if ever I heard one).
But let’s remember, when Colin Kaepernick tried peacefully protesting by taking a knee, he was made a national pariah. His football career looks to be over as no team will take a chance on a talented player, for fear of alienating the less intelligent elements within their fanbases. But he didn’t waver. He held firm. And he has been made an outcast.
So what are people supposed to do? They peacefully kneel in public, and are shouted down for doing it. Eventually, they’ll start talking. And if they aren’t heard, those same people will start yelling. And if they still aren’t heard… like I said, the weekend’s events were inevitable.
Because Black Lives Do Matter. And this bullshit response of #alllivesmatter that you’ll sometimes receive in response has got to stop. I recently saw it illustrated perfectly online (I can’t find the original source to credit but it’s everywhere):
It’s like if your neighbor’s house is on fire but you call the fire trucks to your house, because your house matters too. Yes, your house matters. But your house isn’t the one on fire.
Musicians are understandably using their platform to speak out and, again inevitably, they’re being shouted down by the “shut up and sing for us” brigade. But it’s admirable that, like Kaepernick, they aren’t wavering.
Billie Eilish posted on Instagram: “I’ve been trying to take this week to figure out a way to address this delicately. I have an enormous platform and I try really hard to be respectful and take time to think through what I say and how I say it…… But holy fucking shit I’m just gonna start talking.
If I hear one more white person say ‘aLL liVeS maTtEr’ one more fucking time I’m gonna lose my fucking mind. Will you shut the fuck uuuuuuuuuuuuup???? No one is saying your life does not matter. No one is saying your life is not hard. No one is saying literally anything at all about you…. All you MFs do is find a way to make everything about yourself.”
Gaga tweeted her support too: “The voices of the black community have been silenced for too long, and that silence has proved deadly time and time again. And no matter what they do to protest, they are still met with no compassion by the leaders that are meant to protect them. Everyday people in America are racist, that’s a fact.”
Taylor Swift received a massive and mixed response when she took aim at Trump this week:
“After stoking the fires of white supremacy and racism your entire presidency, you have the nerve to feign moral superiority before threatening violence? ‘When the looting starts the shooting starts’??? We will vote you out in November.”
After stoking the fires of white supremacy and racism your entire presidency, you have the nerve to feign moral superiority before threatening violence? ‘When the looting starts the shooting starts’??? We will vote you out in November. @realdonaldtrump
There were many more, of course. But let’s give the last word to basketball GOAT and wonderful columnist Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who took first place when this very column took second in last year’s LA Press Club “Entertainment Columnist” category, so he must be good):
“I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands.”
At the end of the day, when the fires are put out, that’s the thing that we need to remember. Keep shining that light.