By Joelyn Suarez
I watched the 8 minute, 46 second video of George Floyd’s murder with my brother-in-law. He propped his cell phone against a centerpiece of fake, white orchids on his dining table. We scooted our tufted chairs together near the round, glass tabletop. There’s a confrontation between two males, one who looks more like my brother and the other who looks more like me. My brother: Black male, 34 years old, 6’2”. Me: Filipino woman, 29 years old, 5’3”. George Floyd is pinned on the ground by the knee of a white officer against his neck. He cries for help, I can’t breathe. He calls out for his Mama.
“Why won’t he get off of him?” I ask, frustrated. My brother shakes his head. We try to shake what we just watched in order to tend to our mixed kids playing nearby.
I carry guilt in this non-Black body. I can tell by the way that strangers willingly approach me that they deem me to be less threatening. Petite. Asian. Female. I’ve known my brother-in-law since my teenage years. He’s always been much more reserved than my siblings, and me, who can be raucous and confrontational.
What kind of privilege affords us the comfort in confrontation without being considered a threat?
My guilt weighs heavy in the realization that the fate of George Floyd would more likely be my brother’s than mine.
My guilt weighs heavy in the realization that someone may actually hear my cries for help, because of my race.
My guilt weighs heavy in the realization that my white husband may serve as my voice, the only audible voice, in such a situation.
What kind of privilege affords us the feeling of guilt over the hunted?
As a country, we indulge in the success of Black athletes. We show up to games, we root for our teams, we parade the streets after championship wins. We analyze sport statistics with the utmost conviction, and marvel at the athleticism of the Black body.
Until we don’t.
As a country, we are told that a Black body should be mourned, but briefly. Thoughts and prayers. Period. It was only one bad officer—or four—in a sea of honorable ones. Don’t be so angry. Don’t be unreasonable. How many Black bodies do we lose before our collective anger is reasonable?
When, as a country, will we defend a Black body as much as we defend a shopping center?
Exactly one week later, I’m back at my brother-in-law’s dining table and we are celebrating my niece’s promotion to middle school. My sister, an activist at heart, is not with us—with her daughter to share in this moment—because she is out organizing protests and bailing protesters out of jail. Every cell in her body is shouting: BLACK LIVES MATTER. DEFUND THE POLICE. She tells me she’s tired, inspired, and reluctantly hopeful for change. She tells me she has to get back to work. Our celebration seems so small.
In his last moments, George Floyd called out for his Mama—for the kind of protection that is loving and unwavering.
I’ve spoken to friends and family, white and minority alike, who see this as a time for self-reflection and action. We talked about how we are accountable, how we are privileged, how we can forcibly change course.
We are at the beginning of a different kind of movement. This movement isn’t polite or passive; it does not use the Black body as a shield to protect other targets, other non-Black bodies. It will call out racism wherever it lives in this broken system. It will manifest the guilt of all non-Black bodies into societal change.
Take in this moment. Let it sink in, and turn from guilt and grief to utter outrage. Then, let that compel you to move.
Joelyn Suarez is a writer from San Diego, CA. She has been published in The Rumpus and Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers.
Verge, by Lidia Yuknavitch, is out in paperback. These short stories will grip your heart and mind. The writing is sharp and the empathetic portraits of broken people will stay with you long after you finish the collection.