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On being Black and another senseless death

On being Black and another senseless death

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Joe Grogan, OPSEU retiree

Introductory comments

As I write these comments, America is once again in turmoil. George Floyd, a middle-aged Black American, was killed while being put under arrest by four police officers.

As people became aware of this senseless death, America exploded. George could be heard pleading for his life and the words being uttered, “Please, I can’t breathe.” This is a chapter in a book with many stories. Eric Garner also uttered these words in New York in 2014 as he was dying at the hands of the police in New York: “I can’t breathe. Please.”

Why would we be shocked by events that continuously occur? These actions by those who are meant to serve and protect were seen by millions of people across the world. This time it was enough. Maybe the effects of the COVID pandemic or maybe the silent protest of one man kneeling just wasn’t enough. People took to the streets. They can no longer breathe in a climate where racism is tolerated and allowed.

I was also sickened by the circumstances, because it brought back too many other cases where Black people or other minorities suffered at the hands of police. It revealed once again racism’s ugly reality. Where does that racism come from? It comes from a history and culture in a society that is based on slavery, an economic and political institution that existed in the United States for over 100 years until it was “ended” by the American Civil War, 1861 to 1865.

Racism is a psychological approach based on power

When some people see others as less important than themselves or as unequal, this produces all kinds of assumptions about other human beings. To produce conclusions about others that they consider to be less human, less honest, prone to violence, less responsible, less trustworthy, lazy, less worthy, is to prejudge. Those who have power then bring those assumptions into action when they encounter these other human beings.

Furthermore, the personal conclusions which some in power have on others is backed up by factors that exist in a society’s culture and by the political leadership that may exist in an organization or in the leadership of our political and economic institutions. Those in high positions of power, by their actions and rhetoric, establish an institutional culture from the top that makes racism work.

For example, since becoming President of the United States, Donald Trump, by his actions and rhetoric, in my opinion, has established a framework that reflects dishonesty, domination, elitism, sexism, general disrespect for women and, yes, racism. This sends a message to others in society that this kind of approach is okay in social relations. After all, if the President acts in this manner, it must be acceptable in exercising one’s public opinions.

While slavery was abolished in the 19th century in the United States, that old boy approach of seeing members of the Black community as less equal remains a reality. As a Caucasian Canadian of 81 years, I have seen this movie too many times. I and others demand the economic and political change to eliminate racism in Canada and to encourage Americans to take actions to end it there. This may explain the fury we see today in America and across the world.