When I opened my phone yesterday morning to a flood of messages, the first video was the new ‘owner’ of a giant 4-foot KAWS piece scurrying out of a store into a maelstrom of chaos. It was a surreal moment, but I immediately knew what was going down. American was burning again and, sadly, I was not at all surprised.
There is of course a huge difference between protesting about injustice and blatant criminal damage, but when nothing changes, something has to give. This issue has smouldered for hundreds of years, and given how provocative Trump’s presidency has become, it’s not surprising the fire was lit in dozens of American cities following the senseless murder of George Floyd.
That footage sent shockwaves across America and the world. On the very same day, a video of a white woman frantically dialing 911 to report that an ‘African American man’ was threatening her in Central Park was white privilege personified. The fact that this woman lost her job and now likely faces criminal charges is shocking, but only because repercussions are such a rare occurrence. With no video proof, this incident, along with George Floyd’s, would never have made the front page.
The facts are clear and they are disturbing. American law enforcement’s record of using violence is deadly. According to the Washington Post, over a thousand Americans were killed by police in 2019. As reported by the Mapping Police Violence database, ‘Black people were 24% of those killed despite being only 13% of the population.’ Even more perversely, ‘99% of killings by police from 2013-2019 have not resulted in officers being charged with a crime.’
We feel for all our friends of colour who fear for their lives while going about their day-to-day business. Burning stores to the ground and ransacking their shelves is not going to solve anything or bring back innocent lives, but when the powers that be hide behind their institutional credentials and refuse to effect change, it’s not surprising their authority is rejected with visceral rage. The system is rigged. Systemic change – from the top down at all levels of society – is the only thing that can address the imbalance of power and racism in all its forms.
Nike’s ‘For Once, Don’t Do It’ video over the weekend showed how the positive sentiment is building. Kudos to adidas for also endorsing that message – I found their show of support moving. In itself, these corporate messages are just a small drop in the ocean, but it is a start – and a show of unity.
It’s up to us all, and especially these multi-national companies, to introduce change by looking at their own values, particularly their record of hiring minorities. Let’s hope it’s not ‘business as usual’ once again, and positives do come from this week of chaos and carnage.