What are we living for?
George Floyd’s death is equally tragic as it is absurd, particularly because it reflects a unique situation — a specific death, that is, while nevertheless being identical in structure to a myriad of other murders of Black Americans at the hands of the police.
Floyd’s death, like many others, helps to illuminate the depressing (but at this point trite) fact that America’s various punitive apparatuses do not stand to protect, but rather to subjugate. But of course, this is not the full story, for the subjugated Americans in question all bear one striking similarity.
More to the point, it serves as a harsh reminder to Black Americans, the global Black community, and those external to our community but who are nevertheless aligned with us in spirit and temperament, that Blackness cannot escape death. As it follows, death plays a crucial role in the very constitution of Blackness itself: wherever Blackness is found, death is too.
This, in turn, raises an important question: if Blackness and the bodies which contain it cannot escape death, for what reason do we live? And grieve? And sing? And smile? And protest?
What exactly are we suffering for?
The psychological distress that the Black community must face in the wake of state-sanctioned murder is unremitting, and Floyd’s death is emblematic of this very fact, for it serves as a prime example of the ways in which those who wield political, social and economic power may remind us, as they please, that our death is never-ending.
Withal, Floyd’s death reminds us that every step forward is followed by a complex journey in reverse. We always fall right back where we began — in protest, rage, anger and misery — because the path forward is one which does not exist in the eyes of those denying us our livelihoods.
However, it would be foolish to claim that all those blocking the path forward are doing so because they simply lack the conceptual resources necessary to imagine a different world. In doing so, I would absolve them of responsibility of the fact that the blood on their hands is deliberate in origin.
More specifically, to say that the path forward is one which does not exist to those in power is not to say that it is merely a path “they” have not envisioned yet, as if it were supposed to come to them as some kind of revelation. Rather, it intends to say that the path is so obvious, so open and clear, that they must reject it precisely on those grounds.
Because if the absolute onslaught on Black integrity and welfare comes to a halt, what else will there be left to say about the institution of whiteness?
Perhaps we are suffering to keep the path itself within the realm of possibility; that is, to ensure that no matter how far we travel in reverse, there will be something, anything, to strive towards. But even so, it puts into question the worth of living and fighting now if the end which we strive for requires us to accumulate a countless number of lifeless bodies along the way.
Still, I do not mean to say that we should give up. Indeed, marching on is the only option we currently have. But as we continue through our endless cycle of taking one step forward and two steps back, we mustn’t become numb to the death that continuously plagues us along our journey.
As so, if we are going to accumulate bodies — and to be certain, we will — we must remember them, rejoice in them, feel sorrow for them, and honour them to the best of our abilities.
Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, Eric and Erica Garner, Natasha McKenna, Yvette Smith, Tamir Rice, Tony McDade, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Meagan Hockaday, Trayvon Martin and countless others still remain in our memories, and hopefully they always will. Here is an expression of the sorrow I feel for George Floyd.
We need to remember him, his life, his joy.
George Floyd was a brother, son, friend and graduate. As a CNN article tells us, Floyd was born in Houston and moved to Minnesota in order to better himself. In the same article, his brother noted that knowing Floyd entailed loving him.
Despite not knowing Floyd personally, I do know that he will never again experience the awe we all feel when looking at an indescribably beautiful sunset, the joy in eating one’s favourite dish, the daily pains and aches that accompany everyday life, laughing uncontrollably with a loved one, and partaking in those activities that make us most happy — that make us who we are.
Now that this has all happened, who does Floyd get to be? And if you are reading this, why are we able to ask this about him, as opposed to you?
There is, I believe, no grave moral ill to be found in instances where someone dies naturally (say, of old age). Grief and sadness, perhaps, but no identifiable wrong between persons.
Yet succumbing to death by way of shooting, choking, beating or, specifically, having one’s neck pressed upon by another’s knee, all of which happen at the hands of a police officer, disfigures death’s natural form. It gives death a new shape and meaning, imbuing it with characteristics it does not naturally hold: racism, structural inequality, police violence and so forth.
When we cherish those things in life which makes us who we are and hold onto so dearly to in order to get us through the most difficult of times, we need to engage in moments of reflection so that we remember how many are stripped of these basic experiences because they, alongside us, live in social structures which seek to deny the very fact of their existence.
Earlier I suggested that we suffer to keep the path open. But what we — Black people — live for, I am still not so sure.
One suggestion is that we live in order to continuously engage in the act of remembrance I outlined in the preceding paragraphs. Another is that we live for those who can no longer do so themselves.
Perhaps there are more reasons currently blind to me; but if I am blind, it is because someone, some power, does not want me to see.
Still we must ask: can we breathe again?