Since George Floyd – A Measure of Our Progress
Introduction by Lorna Lightfoot-Ware ’88
Illustration by Kirubel Tesfaye ’21
Lorna Lightfoot-Ware began her career as a production assistant at PBS where she worked on the documentary Blacks in Science. After earning her J.D. at Howard University School of Law, she took a job at Court TV covering the O.J. Simpson trial before joining Spelling Entertainment. Next came positions as vice president of marketing and entertainment at Strickland & Ashe and in legal consulting at MTV. As director of operations at Garden City Group, she oversaw several major class action administrations, including the BP oil spill. Today, she owns and oversees Osmosis Entertainment, a production company she founded that focuses on sharing the experiences of people of color. She is also a special advisor to Jetdoc, a new telehealth company.
“ If the United States is indeed the great melting pot, then the Negro either didn’t get in the pot or he didn’t get melted down.’’
— U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall
I first read this quote in elementary school, and it continues to resonate with me to this day. I am remembering this quote now as I am forced to consider why African Americans have not fully melded into the fabric of America. For that to happen, it would require equal protection of our lives by our government. The killing of George Floyd stunned America and the world. 8 minutes and 46 seconds, that’s how long it took a white police officer in Minneapolis to drain the life out of him. Kneeling on Floyd’s neck, the officer’s face was resolute as his eyes stared down the camera, documenting his hatred. Black people have tried to explain this poison, time and time again, but we are often met with derision and disbelief. The unequal justice system was on full display for the world to witness. The decision by 17-year-old Darnella Frazier to keep filming, despite her trauma, changed the course of history and awoke a collective consciousness.
Yet on Election Day, more than 74 million Americans voted to keep Donald Trump in office, a president who at best turned a blind eye to white supremacist rhetoric and at worst marshalled its zeal in support of his own campaign. Simultaneously, he espoused a hypocritical mantra of “law and order.” In June, as a nation struggled with anger and pain over racial injustice and police brutality, Trump’s response was to exert more brutality on protestors gathered outside the White House. He staged a photo-op in front of a historic church, failing to grasp the irony of enshrining himself in religious symbolism.
In electing President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, more than 81 million Americans rejected white supremacy or at least did not reward its seeming chief spokesman. Yet nothing feels like a victory. After a devastating 2020 due to the pandemic and racial and political strife, the first week of 2021 brought even more destabilization. A mob of insurrectionists and Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, believing without evidence that the presidential election had been stolen as a result of rampant fraud in the majority Black precincts of Atlanta, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Milwaukee. This was the climax of the “big lie” Trump had promulgated about election fraud. Rioters erected a gallow with a noose outside the Capitol and, inside, carried a Confederate flag. They breached the citadel of democracy intent on overturning the election.
When these forces speak of the aftermath of Floyd, they rarely — if ever — speak of him as a human being killed by a government agent of “law and order.” They speak of Black criminality. When an overwhelmingly white mob of rioters and aspiring domestic terrorists storms the halls of Congress, breaking, desecrating, pillaging, and rioting as they chant, “Hang Mike Pence.” How are they patriots? One beat an officer with an American flag as “thin blue line” and Trump flags flew on Capitol grounds. We saw no knees on necks, no chokeholds, no barrage of bullets. And we know why. As the NAACP tweeted on the day of the insurrection, “They’ve killed us for less.” To be clear, I am not endorsing violence, but rather demanding the same humanity when it comes to Black Americans.
“ I feel George Floyd’s death deep in my bones, as if he were someone I knew personally.
My thoughts on how much progress we have made as a country in the past year has changed many times as unfolding events continue to magnify how far we still have to go. I feel George Floyd’s death deep in my bones, as if he were someone I knew personally. In a way, I did know him, the way Black people know each other because of our many collective experiences, our collective pain from racial injustice. It could have been one of my loved ones smothered to death — male or female — just because of the color of our skin. When I think of Floyd, I think of my husband, my father who is a former law enforcement executive, or even myself. Heartbreakingly, I also think of my beautiful 9-year-old daughter. George Floyd was us. Where are we now? The lines have been drawn. Police brutality continues, white nationalist forces are inspired, and the country is teetering. American democracy has shown itself fragile. Yet the steadiness of racism and all its consequences in this country remain stubborn and unbending. Thinking of the racial polarization leads me to more wisdom from Justice Marshall:
“ I wish I could say that racism and prejudice were only distant memories We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred, and the distrust. ... We must dissent because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better.”
Hamiltonians reflect on how George Floyd’s death last May has affected race relations in America:
Regarding race relations, whatever we’ve thought about ourselves requires revisiting, a re-examination through the lens of current events. Sure, since last summer, lots of people read books, organizations published Black Lives Matter messages, leaders committed to change. The results of the 2020 elections, however, showed just how deeply divided we are as a country, even when the overwhelming evidence points to profound injustices based on race and class. This country still suffers under the weight of white supremacy.
George Floyd is a searing symbol of racist violence in America — a stark reminder that not much has changed. His recorded death opened some eyes and hearts to what many have been saying for centuries, decades, years, days … unfortunately, there are just as many who refuse to acknowledge his humanity or the hate that so savagely murdered him. It is difficult to be optimistic about progress when hate is openly demonstrated and continues to grow. Healing requires a willingness to listen, acknowledgement of racial inequity, and personal accountability for harmful actions and inactions. There is no room for fragility, complacency, or denial.
Community School - Office of Children and Families
Gauging race relations in America, there has not been much progress, despite efforts such as shifting police funds to youth and social services, removal of Confederate and slavery-linked statues, the U.S. House of Representatives passing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Bill of 2021, and financial commitments to support communities of color and minority-owned businesses. The same issues and incidents continue to occur. The obstacles that hinder the advancement of Black people in America still exist. The pursuit of freedom and equity will be the epitome of American history for many years to come. It is up to the American people who hold power to make progress a continuous process.
Organizations such as the NFL, NBA, and Bank of America have taken a strong stance to verbally, financially, and socially support efforts to improve race relations. At the same time, fear of being seen as prejudiced or not understanding has led some to adopt strategic colorblindness [the avoidance of addressing or acknowledging racial differences in order to avoid the appearance of bias]. The mixed views of Americans on the topic of racial inequality has further slowed the progress of addressing these issues. One of the most important things that needs to happen is that leaders and those in power in this country have to publicly acknowledge the harm that Black people have endured and establish new laws and policies focused on enforcing zero tolerance for racism.
It’s time for America to take meaningful collective action, accepting responsibility for the injustices faced by Black people and establishing physical safety and mental health measures to ensure improved race relations among Americans. These efforts should include, but not be limited to, an emphasis on providing additional resources to support and expand the work of organizations offering financial and social services such as employment, and mental and behavioral health to communities of color.
The death of Black people as a result of police brutality has been an ongoing issue, with each name being replaced with another. We have yet to find a resolution for effective policing. Until the killing stops, George Floyd will be remembered as one of the many people who suffered at the hands of injustice.
DM Media, Inc.
Americans have a very short memory, and history is constantly being changed to erase the truth. As with the educational publisher McGraw-Hill that announced it will revise and reprint a geography textbook that refers to African slaves in America as “immigrants” and “workers” after a complaint by the mother of a Texas high school freshman, most of the historical changes and lies have not been caught, confronted, or changed. The inaccuracies start small and slowly — change the color of a person in the movie version of a so-called “true story;” cover up and bury an entire story that will inspire a group of people to be self-sufficient (like the utter destruction of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Okla.); draw a red line around a portion of a city or refuse to give a group of people access to bank financing, making it nearly impossible to acquire wealth to leave to their upcoming generations.
George Floyd, Sandra Bland, Rayshard Brooks, Emmett Till, and thousands of others who have been victimized by racist people and long-standing institutions will be forgotten until the next “uprising” predicated by social unrest. I foresee the answer to the general public’s cry for justice at the inhumanity of violence based on race being, “It’s time to have a conversation.”
It is time to teach children the truth. It is time to shine a light on the ugliness of racial inequality and the systems, policies, institutions, and people who perpetuate it. It is time to teach children to reject racism, sexism, and all the “isms,” so they can create a way to coexist in love for one another, despite their differences, real and imagined. It is time to move beyond “conversations” and on to actions — actions that can change the world.
As a human resources professional for more than 20 years, I have often wrestled with the notion of how humanity manifests when it comes to inclusion and fairness within organizational cultures. Through that lens, I believe George Floyd has been a catalyst for examining humanity in the workplace, as evidenced by the sheer number of senior diversity roles that have been created since his killing in 2020. These organizations want to demonstrate they are humane. But is this an example of companies being more humane or is this merely a branding strategy? It is probably a little of both. Regardless, it is still a step in the right direction. My hope is that there will not be another George Floyd to necessitate that we rediscover our collective humanity.
Northeastern Illinois University
In May 2020, an unarmed, restrained Black man was callously murdered in broad daylight by uniformed police officers. Although this heinous crime was not an isolated incident, it was unprecedented, in contemporary times, for the entire world to have a frontline view to an 8 minute and 46 second public execution. The gruesome nature of this act made it difficult to dismiss and impossible to ignore. The public nature of this act allowed us to have a first-hand account of what transpired before it was countered with a fictitious police report.
People continue to respond to this racist incident by actively challenging ideologies that insidiously lurk in discriminatory policies and practices and embolden individuals to commit racist acts — ranging from microaggression to homicide. Large-scale political protests erupted worldwide, as people defied the stay-at-home orders of a global pandemic. Almost a year later, moral outrage still looms, and the exasperation with bigotry has reached a boiling point.
Race relations have arrived at another metaphorical fork in the road. Will we allow the damaging, yet familiar, hegemony of unearned white privilege to continuously chip away at humanity, or will we demand the veracity and value of pluralism to usher us into an era that centers and celebrates diversity? Only time will tell.
Martine Kalaw Enterprises, LLC
George Floyd’s senseless murder awakened us to the systemic racism that has percolated underneath a national colorblind ideology, which insists that since everyone should be treated equally, we therefore are all equal. Our failure to acknowledge race and Blackness, and instead skirt around it with euphemisms like “diversity” and “people of color,” prevents us from improving race relations. The real work begins when we get people in the workforce to verbalize what they are afraid to admit — seeing someone like me as a Black woman.
If we do the work then we will remember George Floyd as the catalyst for change, but if we get it wrong — not to verbalize the word Black — then our recollection of him in history will be reduced to a mere phrase riddled with ambiguity and a failure to acknowledge the importance of race dynamics: Floyd was a Black man murdered by a police officer.
It has been an ongoing battle since the first enslaved African set foot on this land back in 1619. America has seen it all: lynching, chattel slavery, Jim Crow, and race riots. For the past few years, we have seen a rainbow coalition of Americans stand up to state-sponsored terrorism: police brutality. One might think this is extreme, but if you crack open a history book, Black Americans have always gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to law enforcement. George Floyd felt the weight of 400+ years of cyclical oppression through the knee of a police officer.
History is written by the victor, and on this issue, Black Americans have yet to win. Calls for equal justice under the law and the unalienable right to life seem to be doled out on a case-by-case basis, being antithetical to our founding documents, our national anthem, and our Pledge of Allegiance. One can only hope that continued pressure on our government will make this senseless loss of life a thing of the past. Let us work so that George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and every unarmed Black person who has died at the hands of law enforcement will not have died in vain.
Former Dean, School of Law, Florida A&M University, Dean/Professor, North Carolina Central University School of Law
Altamonte Springs, Fla.
We have made a great deal of progress, but the country has become more polarized in the process. The country has become more racially diverse, but people have become more alienated and isolated with the growth of the internet and social media. The divide between rural and urban has never been greater. Economic inequality has increased to a greater extent than ever before, and this has fostered greater gaps between the haves and have nots.
I often wonder if the nation made a mistake when the mandatory draft was eliminated. While universal service doesn't lead to changes in political beliefs, it does create an environment for the expression of different opinions and a willingness to listen to others. Plus, you really get to understand how much people have in common, namely because everyone must put aside their differences to accomplish an objective.
George Lincoln Rockwell, leader of the American Nazi party, gave a lecture in the Hamilton Chapel during my freshman year in January 1967. Alex Haley, who helped Malcolm X write his autobiography, taught public speaking classes and was writer-in-residence, while finishing his famous book Roots. It’s ironic that Hamilton College played a role in helping to understand the persistent cruelty of American slavery, given the role of our College’s namesake who, as quoted in the musical Hamilton, “was in the room where it happened” at the formation of our country when slavery, the original sin, was allowed to continue.
It is impossible to deny that the coverage of George Floyd’s death had an impact. Many individuals who were otherwise indifferent to Black issues now had a scene that made it impossible [to ignore]. However, to label this awareness as an improvement is hyperbolic. The memory of the American public is short-lived. These scenes of wanton violence against Black folks are not new. We must be hesitant in labeling things as progress. Even in these moments of heightened public emotion, we must ask, “How do we discern who is committed to allyship, and who does so for the simple pleasures of social mobility or fashion?”
During the summer of 2020, we witnessed the drawing back of those gilded curtains that protected this reality. The question now is this: As the draft made by falling Black bodies that caused those curtains to pull apart slowly wanes, who will hold them open? Will that rallying cry remain? Ten months is an improbable metric for determining progress made to address an issue with such historical precedence. And the idea of this question raises the same problem that we had to address in 2008 — the idea that the Obama presidency equated to a post-racial America.
LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corp.)
I believe the murder of George Floyd has led to the beginning of a conversation around race relations in America. There are many organizations and individuals who have made statements as well as donated funds to address racial inequity, but we are far from being able to claim that race relations have improved. George Floyd will be remembered for a long time to come because his unfortunate murder was the impetus for this conversation that continues to bring people together to address racial inequity.
Hamilton College (1995-2020)
I must believe in the potential for change. I am fueled by both anger and hope. I refuse to let the accomplishments of my journey, and those who made it possible for me to rise, be negated. The topics and actions of hate and suppression are not new but have positioned themselves front and center. It is a time to re-educate and be reminded of truth that acknowledges who built this country and at what price. I give voice to my anger and action with hope because I am willing to do the work.
Hyde Park, Mass.
STUNG AND SOAPY
On May 28, 2020,
one day after the Minneapolis protests,
I took a shower around 7:30 PM.
Childish Gambino chanted
“This is America,”
trending on Apple Music
blasting from my phone,
as if it was 2018.
The chorus desperately reminded me,
“police be trippin’ now.”
Two years later and we’re still surprised.
I dragged my mind into the grey ceramic
to be consumed by a personal storm.
My arm stretched to choose
an idolized and exported entity;
grabbing my African Black soap,
I scrubbed for its treasured lather.
Empty white bubbles overcame
the multi-shaded brown,
dissolving the hefty block of cocoa pods,
plantain bark, shea butter
The suds smothered.
It was their nature.
I spread the pale foam against my skin.
Its mass engulfed
a new Black body.