The last couple of weeks have been very difficult for me as a Black male. I’m not the type of person that tries to avoid the conversations or topics that have come up, but lately, I can’t get away from them and that is probably for the best because it will make me a better teacher.
As a young history teacher, I am sometimes annoyed by the fact that almost everything I teach my students about is second hand. Although I am obviously older than my students, my actual birth has come well after most of the noteworthy moments of the 20th century according to the history books. There were events like both world wars and the Civil Rights Movement which obviously occurred before my birth. Then, there are events like the fall of the Soviet Union and the Gulf War. I was technically alive during these events, but I was not old enough to remember or mature enough to make informed observations about what took place.
September 11 is probably the most significant event in my lifetime that I have first-hand knowledge of. I now can add the social upheaval following the death of George Floyd to that list.
The awareness of police brutality has been simmering over the years with various hashtags popping up every summer. I, like many people, previously thought the riots in Ferguson or Baltimore represented the peak of the tension, but clearly, I was wrong.
It is not unprecedented to see a community demonstrate, protest, or even riot after controversial police killings. Dr. King even said, “a riot is the language of the unheard.“ However, this movement spread. Aided by the fallout from stories like Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, the George Floyd video didn’t have the responsibility of reigniting the dormant conversation about racial injustice because we were already having it.
George Floyd’s video went viral and grew wings faster than most. People watched both the peaceful protests and the destruction in Minneapolis and woke up a few days later to find that it was happening in their hometown, too. Every major city was using the death of George Floyd to call attention to their own victims.
While the spread across the country to places like Utah and Alaska is significant enough, the demonstrations spread around the world to places like London, who had previously dealt with this situation before in 2011. Also, places as far away as New Zealand where the event caused people to examine the practices of policing in their Indigenous communities.
The reasons and the spread of the protests were important enough on their own, but the protests became stories in and of themselves. Not just because some of them evolved into riots but because critics say the police response to the events yielded even more examples of brutality and misconduct as well, only this time on camera in front of journalists for the world to see.
In a year where the originator of Rock and Roll died…
In a year where arguably the most famous athlete in the world was suddenly killed in a helicopter crash…
The biggest story has arisen from a man allegedly trying to buy cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill.
If they still have history books decades from now, this will be one of the events people who are living right now need to take note of. They should make observations … maybe even save artifacts. This is a significant moment in world history. Don’t let it pass you by with the next news cycle.