As the newsfeed of popular social media sites turned black and flooded with a single phrase, #BlackLivesMatter, the world came face-to-face with a concept deeply rooted in every country’s history: racism.
On May 25th, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black male, was arrested by police outside a shop in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Receiving a call from the store employee about a 20 USD counterfeit bill which Floyd had used to purchase a pack of cigarettes, police arrived at the scene. After being handcuffed and restrained, Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, pinned Floyd down with his left knee between the head and neck.
For seven minutes and forty-six seconds, Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck, the Minnesota prosecutor’s report had stated.
After repeatedly screaming the words ‘I can’t breathe,’ Floyd was dead.
Moments after Floyd’s tragic death, videos of his brutal murder were shared across all social media platforms. On May 26th, the four officers involved with Floyd’s murder were fired and hundreds of demonstrators showed up to the streets of Minneapolis and proliferated the largest Black Lives Matter movement, since it began in 2013.
Following the week after Floyd’s death, protests had transpired from national affairs to a global widespread call to action, unveiling issues buried deep under the blanket of privilege. As the sentence, ‘I can’t breathe’ was painted on every wall, every sign and every blank canvas in America, the movement narrated a story that extended further than the police violence against black people.
It spoke to the rage rooted in America’s slave past, which institutionalised black disadvantage and white privilege. It brought to light the legitimising of the subhuman treatment of black people, like what happened to George Floyd and to hundreds of others, even 150 years after emancipation.
Racism has existed and been instilled in America’s history for hundreds of years and continues to exist today. However, the issue has sparked a greater flame this time than ever before. In an interview with New Yorker, Opal Tometi, one of the community organisers who started the Black Lives Movement, discussed how the protests are different from what came before, and why they are different.
Tometi explains, “While we see that a lot of anger and outrage and frustration was sparked by the barbaric murder of George Floyd, it’s also clear to me that we have been sitting in our homes, navigating the pandemic, dealing with loved ones being sick, dealing with a great deal of fear and concern about what the day and the future will hold. We have millions of people who have lost their jobs and filed for unemployment and are living paycheck to paycheck and hand to mouth, and I believe they are just thoroughly fed up and thoroughly beside themselves with grief and concern and despair because the government does not seem to have a plan of action that is dignified and comprehensive and seeks to address the core concerns that the average American has.
“And so my belief and my view of these protests is that they are different because they are marked by a period that has been deeply personal to millions of Americans and residents of the United States, and that has them more tender or sensitive to what is going on. People who would normally have been at work now have time to go to a protest or a rally, and have time to think about why they have been struggling so much, and they are thinking, ‘This actually isn’t right and I want to make time, and I have the ability to make time now and make my concerns heard.’
“So, I think it is markedly differently in terms of the volume of demands we are hearing. People are absolutely lifting up names like Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, but I think they are very clearly in the streets for themselves and their family members because they don’t know who is next, and they are also concerned about the economic realities that they are faced with.”
The Black Lives Matter movement also speaks to a more profound connection between Indigenous Australians, African Americans, Asians, and other minorities. Numerous activists leading the movement around the world have shared a similar opinion that one has to be a person of colour to actually feel the discrimination, or injustice that individuals suffer on a daily basis. It has been described as a bond that is uniting people of colour, something which is innate, and not necessarily taught.
For Indigenous Australians, the Black Lives Matter movement has prompted others to learn more about their struggles. Storytelling is an integral part of Indigenous culture and it has been for more than 65,000 years. It helps Indigenous individuals to maintain a connection with their community, and it supports them to heal from the traumas of their past.
In an interview with ABC News, Wiradjuri and Wailwan woman Teela Reid, explains Indigenous storytelling as “honouring our ancestors and celebrating the fact we tell stories in different ways that don’t necessarily comply with Western forms.”
For non-Indigenous Australians, it provides an avenue to learn about the deep-rooted history that is written into Australia’s landscape and learn about the language that intertwines with the country we are in.
It invites conversation and by engaging with Indigenous content, it unlocks the door to our silenced history and unearths our nation’s dark past in order to step forward in the right direction.
It fosters the process of truth-telling.
“Our storytelling is intricately linked with the Black Lives Matter movement because it demonstrates our ways of expression, and it is a movement that tells the truth about our experiences,” Reid explained.
With access to a plethora of resources, it is no longer about raising awareness, but using these resources to create change.
The conversation around justice for Indigenous people has been going for more than two centuries, but it took the death of George Floyd in the United States for Australians to open their hearts and minds.
When we are prepared to confront our past, we can start to empathise with those who reject symbols of those who oppressed them. Taking down statues of those who profited from oppression is not about rewriting history, it is about making the choice to not celebrate their oppression. It can be repeatedly said that in any case, history is not fixed in time, it is fluid.
However, no matter how many protests take place, and no matter how many communities come forward about the oppression they have faced, there can be no healing unless we acknowledge the problem that exists in our society.
Till then, it is our responsibility to continue to share the message and to speak out about the injustice that you as an individual might not face, but the injustice that your fellow human faces.
At the end of the day, it is the knowledge that the oppression of one is the oppression of all.