Note: This article is my personal view and does not necessarily reflect or represent the views of the organization for which I work (Atlanta Airlines Terminal Company) or any other organizations with whom I have affiliation. Some might be offended by what I’m about to say. If so, good — because those are the people who need to hear it most. These are my thoughts. And, while I feel like I speak for many other black people, I, of course, cannot speak for an entire race.
When George Floyd took his last breath, it felt as though the final breath of hope was expelled from my body. My soul is broken, my spirit depleted, and I can’t breathe.
His death came less than a month after video footage surfaced of the killing of yet another unarmed black man— 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. Pursued by a shotgun-toting white male whose father was also armed, Ahmaud was gunned down in the street while a third white male recorded the hunt.
I have yet to watch the video due to insufficient mental and emotional capacity. Contributing to that weariness is the March 13 death of Breonna Taylor, an unarmed 26-year-old black female EMT and First Responder who was shot at least eight times by police in her home.
I decided that I would wait a while before posting anything about Ahmaud and Breonna to make sure there was no exculpatory evidence that could put the killings in another light. I did not want to jump to any conclusions, as black people are often accused of doing, even though recordings or video footage clearly showed what happened. So, I waited.
But more evidence surfaced that showed just how senseless, brutal and unjustified those deaths were. And other videos that went viral highlighted that many white people still refuse to hear the voices of brown and black people and care nothing about our black lives. Take, for example, the video taken in New York City’s Central Park of a white female, who, on May 25, maliciously called the police on an innocent black man, Christian Cooper, because he asked her to follow park rules.
It was on that exact same day that the cold-blooded killing of George Floyd occurred. A white male cop kept his knee on George’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — 2 minutes and 53 seconds of which occurred after George became unresponsive. George pleaded, “I can’t breathe,” “Don’t kill me,” and called out for his mother as other citizens begged the cop to remove his knee.
Once again, I have chosen not to watch the video because the written articles and pictures have been enough to sink me into my darkest and lowest place.
For years, I have been suffocating under the crushing weight of white people’s complicity, while desperately gasping for air every time white people allow other white people to take the life of someone whose skin is the same color as mine and my three sons.
The only persons who can help me breathe again are those whose skin is different than mine. So, white people, give me back my breath and provide me with some hope. I need you.
Let’s be clear, this is not a message from an angry black man.
Long ago, I released myself from the prison of anger and frustration that held me captive due to white people’s lack of regard, respect and care for black people, our children, our lives and our freedoms.
But I am exhausted and disappointed.
How many more times must we, as people of color, scream out we can’t breathe before white people decide to stop choking the life out of us?
I am exhausted by constantly having to hide this reality from my 7-year-old son. I am exhausted by constantly managing my fear for the safety of my sons, my father and my black friends.
I am disappointed in those white people who claim, with empty words and no actions, to care about black people but continue to look the other way when vicious murders occur, year after year, decade after decade.
White males who chase us down and kill us while recording it — that’s NOT the problem.
White cops who murder us — NOT the problem.
White judicial system that continues to acquit — NOT the problem.
A president who, in 2017, tells a group of law enforcement officers “Please don’t be too nice” when making arrests – NOT the problem.
A president who describes demonstrations and protests against injustice as “domestic terrorism,” but refers to white supremacists and neo-Nazis as “very fine people” – NOT the problem.
The above transgressions and atrocities are only symptoms of the underlying problem.
Those who have the power, privilege and voice to bring an end to the despicable behavior of others, but choose instead to tolerate, condone or ignore this malicious behavior – THAT is the problem.
If you remain silent, sanctioning racist behavior, you are the problem.
It is just not good enough to claim that you are not a racist. You have to become anti-racist.
What not to say
Please stop saying you are color blind. You are not.
Even if you actually had a color-deficiency condition, you clearly see my color — and I want you to.
I understand what you are trying to convey, and I really do appreciate it. But I need you to see my color. I need you to appreciate and empathize with everything that comes along with my color. We, as a people of color, are proud to be black. We love our blackness. We appreciate everything our ancestors endured.
See my color, but do not judge me by it.
If you were silent when you found out about George Floyd’s killing, please stop saying you care about law and order. You do not.
If the law is a concern, you should have been clamoring for the immediate arrest of the white cops who murdered George and the white men who murdered Ahmaud. Why do white males who kill innocent and unarmed black people continue to be acquitted?
Please stop criticizing our response.
We are challenged every single day to figure out how to cope with our internal stress, fears, depression, pain, hurt and exhaustion. We do not need your criticism right now. It adds fuel to an already blazing fire.
Please stop saying “all lives matter.”
Black people understand that all lives matter. But, in order for that statement to be true, then black people must be included in the “all.”
The overwhelming truth is that, for too many white people, black lives do not matter.
What to say and do
I am not trying to castigate the entire white race. I do not believe all white people are bad, nor do I believe all white people are racists. On the contrary, I believe the majority of white people are good and decent human beings with beautiful hearts and good intentions. However, it is no longer acceptable to have a good heart, good intentions and remain silent.
We need you — I need you — to step up, step out, stand up and speak out.
In the past, white people have done this, even when it meant putting their lives and reputations at risk. Their sacrifice and courage helped to create change for black people.
If you want to see examples of what stepping up, stepping out, standing up and speaking out looks like, look at the photographs of the amazing white women in Louisville, Kentucky, who formed a human barrier between black protesters and police.
Look at the awesome actions of Sheriff Chris Swanson in Flint, Michigan, who took off his riot gear and walked with demonstrators.
At this point, the words are not enough — you must put your words into collective action.
If you really want to make an impact, go big and hopefully become a catalyst for lasting change.
Here’s my big idea and my plea for action: I’m asking all white leaders, CEOs, athletes, actors and politicians to use your influence to galvanize the white community to gather in Washington, D.C., and flood the National Mall with your beautiful faces for the Million White March.
Black people did it in 1995 for the Million Man March. It was the most amazing gathering I have had the privilege to attend.
How much more amazing would it be for us to see you standing for us.
Dr. Kofi Smith is president and CEO of the Atlanta Airlines Terminal Company, which manages the facility operations for Hartsfield-Jackson International, the world’s most traveled airport.
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