The murder of George Floyd has revealed a breach in our “Social Contract.”
What is happening right now has been happening every day for more than 350 years. We just keep turning a blind eye. When are we going to wake up to the real looting going on? Massive bailouts to corporate America and the grotesque shifting of wealth to the top one percent is the real looting of small businesses and the struggling middle class. But no where does economic inequality manifest itself more dramatically than in how it effects people of color. The Covid19 crisis, too, has revealed just how unfair our healthcare system is to people of color. If we consider society to be held together by a social contract, where we agree to do no harm, then the white elite must finally acknowledge that it has been breaching that contract for centuries.
When police use excessive force against blacks, it is the most blatant breach of that sacred contract, whether in the obvious case of George Floyd, or in the countless, insidious breaches we never hear about, happening every day. Our prisons are filled with people of color because of a school to prison track, perpetuated by the status quo.
Many on FB are blithely asking, “But how does all this rioting and looting help the problem? Doesn’t it undermine their message?” I humbly submit that those who are rioting and looting, not including the right wing provocateurs, who it is becoming clear are behind much of the violence, are doing so not to help, but simply to be heard. It is because we have not been listening that we find ourselves naively suggesting it is “undermining” their message. How dare we expect those protesting, specifically black Americans, to uphold that same, sullied social contract we ourselves have trampled.
Rioting and looting is the language of the unheard. MLK.
Of course I don’t like that businesses are being vandalized and looted anymore than the next person, but the real question is, “why have we still not gotten the message?” Can you imagine being so desperate as to resort to rioting and looting? I’m guessing, for most white folk like myself, the answer would be a resounding “no.” And that is why it’s called “white privilege.” Why do we continue to expect protesters to “play nice and cooperate,” in the face of oppression and neglect?
“That’s not how we do things in Charleston,” came the self-righteous cries from the city’s white elite. When the survivors of Emanuel forgave Dylann Roof, they in no way absolved him or others of their guilt. But who are we to judge how the oppressed should fight their oppression?
Yes, I came close to losing an entire collection of my artwork to vandals during the recent riots, sparked by Mr. Floyd’s horrific death. Peaceful protests became violent here in Charleston and in over forty cities nationwide. In Charleston, this was partly due to bad policing. There were no law enforcement protecting businesses in the upper King area of the city, where my work was on exhibit at Uncork Charleston, the posh wine bar owned by Ken Schneider. Who’s idea was it to line police up at Calhoun and leave the businesses in upper King to fend for themselves? Uncork Charleston, along with all the businesses in the area, were left completely vulnerable. 911 calls were ignored. There were no policeman in sight. I don’t blame the looters as much as I blame city officials, who completely mismanaged the crisis. Why were there no police to keep the peace? I could be wrong but it seems clear the reason things got out of hand was because there were no police where they were most needed, to keep angry protesters from resorting to vandalism.The mayor needs to answer for that. But he probably won’t, because he was enforcing his version of the social order: to protect the wealthy businesses below Calhoun at all costs.
Will justice be served in the George Floyd case? History has spoken repeatedly that it will not. Honestly, windows and equipment, and yes, even my own artwork, are only things. They are not not slain black men. The riots in Charleston and other cities confirmed once again that our complacency and white privilege is not, has never been and never will be sustainable – FOR ANYONE. Justice in this unspoken social contract works both ways. If WE don’t wake up and get the message, I believe we will have deserved our fate. The moral fortress has been breached. Until black lives really begin to matter, no one’s life will matter.
On a personal note, none of my work was damaged. I’m not sure what that means in terms of the value of my work — I’m joking of course. In the aftermath, the day after the unrest, there were lots of mixed emotions, some expressed beautifully by owner Ken Schneider, on the boards nailed up to protect the premises, donated by Southern Lumber, Ross Construction and so many other generous businesses and individuals who poured out their hearts to make their city whole again. Here’s a news clip about Uncork’s response:
But will we ever be whole when justice is so one sided? We, the white elite, have long ago ceded our moral right to dictate how people of color should express their outrage. I have suffered abuse but I have never been systematically oppressed. And I no longer wish to live in a world where either is still the norm.