I have struggled recently to take in and understand what is happening in the United States right now. Not because it seems out of line or out of nowhere, but because I’m on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean when my country is tearing itself apart in the quest for change and for justice and I have never felt so far away from the things and the people that matter, right now, to me.
I am very lucky that I do not have to explain why this outrage exists and why it is being expressed the way it is , for the most part, because I am in a country which has been through riots and through massive political upheaval only recently, and who look at the actions of the police in America and are horrified by what they see.
But I have been called on to try to explain how all this came about. The daily struggle for black people and black citizens in America to be seen and perceived as a worthy and respected membership in the American community has not been visible outside our borders to the extent which it is now. It has taken the near total collapse of the international political and economic infrastructure due to a global pandemic for America’s founding sin, which echoes throughout the present day and has done so without interruption since those earliest of days, to make headlines around the world.
That any number of people have thought to say to me, “We thought you’d moved past this,” was and is shocking to me. When my first thought when I heard that George Floyd said the words, “I can’t breathe,” was “Not again.” This wasn’t just the murder of another black man at the hands of police it was the reminder that since Eric Garner was murdered by police nothing has changed and those who claim to “protect and serve” felt comfortable repeating a murder in such a fashion that the victims must repeat their pleas for the most basic of mercies.
I don’t know, entirely, how to start this conversation over again from the beginning. Starting the marathon of rhetoric over again from the beginning, the same one we’ve been running at home for years and decades and centuries, sometimes threatens to take my feet out from under me.
Because this discussion is everything. This is about how we talk, and what we say, and what we mean; but it’s also about the structure of statistical information. It’s about the performance of identity and anger in public, and it’s about the confluence of structural inequalities.
This is a matter of life and death. This is a matter of honor and a moment of truth. We cannot look away and we cannot be silent.
** Spike Lee