“Why is it that Christianity seems impotent to deal radically, and therefore effectively, with the issues of discrimination and injustice on the basis of race, religion and national origin?”
| Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited
“The white man’s foot is on my neck.” I heard this expression as a child. It was used to explain the oppression of African Americans, their inability to move up the corporate ladder, the restrictions placed on their economic advancement. Like their African ancestors, who were kidnapped and forced to lay down in the belly of ships, they laid prostrate while feeling the pressure of a foot on their neck.
They were not simply to keep their head down or keep their distance from socially colored white people. Crossing the street was not enough. No, they would be kept down. It was being enforced.
It was the job of the colonizer, the oppressor to ensure this social, economic, physical and psychological position. There would be no break, no time for African Americans to get up and stretch. Like Derek Chauvin, the police officer who kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes, there will be no mercy, no second thought, no second guessing the decision.
No, this would be their only position. Head down, face down, his humanity is rubbed into the ground.
George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He suffocated under the knee of Chauvin on his neck as he cried out for his life and his mother. “Please I can’t breathe. My stomach hurts. My neck hurts. Everything hurts. They’re going to kill me.”
It is all being recorded. From any angle, it is seen that he is not resisting arrest. He is in handcuffs and on his stomach. He is being strangled for nine minutes. This was not a split- second decision.
Persons from his community asked the officer to stop, to let up, to let Floyd get up. Hands in his pocket, Chauvin did not. Instead, he maintains his position. And all of this force because Floyd is accused of using a fake twenty- dollar bill at a local store. He killed Floyd to pay Paul?
The city erupted with protests, riots and looting. There are calls for justice and for the arrest of the four officers involved who have only lost their jobs. For those who are against looting and/ or don’t understand why, Frederick Douglass offered this explanation in 1886:
“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”
People are simply tired of a justice system that turns a blind eye, of police officers that look the other way, that stand in the way of persons seeking to come to Floyd’s aid like Officer Tou Thao.
Howard Thurman wrote in Jesus and the Disinherited, “Many and varied are the interpretations dealing with the teachings and the life of Jesus of Nazareth. But few of these interpretations deal with that the teachings and the life of Jesus have to say to those who stand, at a moment in human history, with their backs against the wall.” So, I have to ask, “What does your religion have to say to a person whose neck is pinned down in the street like George Floyd, whose shot while jogging down the street like Ahmaud Arbery, whose is murdered in her home like Breonna Taylor?” If you cannot answer this question, then don’t question the protests and uprisings that are taking place across the country.
People are tired and want to get up. Because life was not meant to be lived with someone’s foot on your neck and you will do anything to move freely.
2 thoughts on “Neck and neck: George Floyd’s death is a symbol of racialized oppression”
I am so broken, so weak. I am sad, I am crying, and I am praying. Praying for strength, for wisdom, for a mouth filled with grace in my anger. I must remain focused on justice and not be swayed from that vision.
Oh, I am right there with you. I screamed and pounded my kitchen counter last night. His death has gotten to me. I woke up this morning and he was the first person on my mind– just like Arbery.