For the past few weeks, I've been thinking about why large numbers of white people have finally started protesting police violence against black people. It's been obvious for years now with hundreds of videos as evidence. So why now? What about George Floyd's death was so different?
A few weeks ago, I saw a suggestion from a black man on Twitter that it was because of coronavirus; white people just have more time on their hands. That struck me as very true, but it was also disheartening as it implied “white people didn’t have anything better to do”.
Then I heard a sociologist point out they had written before the US lockdowns in March that the pandemic would cause widespread social unrest and protests; she said that pandemics always cause this because the feel like they are completely out of any individual’s control and people have a psychological need to regain some of that control. In the 1918-1919 pandemic we saw anti-mask and anti-lockdown protests. And we see a little bit of those same anti-mask protests now.
However… and this is what makes me feel uplifted by recent events, Black Lives Matter had been active and organizing for years now and were ready to lead a large sustained peaceful protest when a confluence of factors happened all at once:
- People weren’t hustling 40-80 hours a week because of massive US unemployment. France has a lot of things wrong with it, but their 35 hour work week allows people the mental space to be civically engaged and protest when they want to.
- In late May, many US states had just re-opened and allowed some types of public gatherings.
- As sociologists forecasted, there was an untapped civil unrest stemming from feelings of loss of control during the pandemic.
- There’s no strong US leadership to combat the pandemic. Trump keeps blaming others and/or denying a problem. And, let’s face it, Biden is a milquetoast leader.
- And lastly, while George Floyd’s death was so very, very similar to many other deaths of Black people at the hands of police and it looked to be a repeat of past news events (video of police killing black men for an alleged petty crime), it was also outrageous in a new way: 8 minutes and 46 seconds is a really long time.
And so with all these factors, it was BLM’s ability to lead protests that let people think “This! This is something we can change.”
So while our individual stories of why many white people are protesting vary, I am so very grateful to BLM who were ready to give us focus towards a positive goal when the moment arrived.