By Samuel Bovitz
In response to recent events, I took to Zoom and discussed many of the recent issues that have sparked conversations once more due to the death of George Floyd with a few members from Beacon’s Black Student Union.
The following roundtable has been edited for clarity.
Sammy Bovitz, 9th Grade (Moderator): Thanks to all of you for joining me today. The killing of George Floyd has once again brought to the forefront the systemic injustice of the police in the United States. I’ve heard many different solutions to this problem. Which one that you’ve heard or thought of yourself will bring the best results, and how will it be implemented?
Clementina Aboagye, 11th Grade: This is a really tough question because there’s a lot that goes into it. I feel like there’s not just one aspect to control or try to fix, but it starts with police training. It starts with when they first go to the police academy, and having discussions about race; discussions about the fact that you are a police officer and your job is to protect people, and you are supposed to protect all people, and these stigmas, these stereotypes, these fears, of people who have more pigmentation than you should not be part of your job as a police officer. It’s hard to be a human being and not go into your job being subjective, but you need to pull yourself out and look at it from the lens of black people being human beings and not a threat on your life, because when you see people who are black as a threat, then you’re not doing your job right. If you fear black people, then you should not be a police officer because you are policing in the United States and there’s all kinds of people here. You need to take out your own personal biases and put them in another place and do your job as a police officer, which is to enforce the law, not abuse it.
Jade Walker, 10th Grade: I agree with Clementina. Basically, starting with education, we can go from there to law enforcement. I think that people need to be educated on our history, and really acknowledge it, not just know it, to be sensitive and try to understand. I agree, I really think a good start is education.
Chinyere Brown-McVitie, 11th Grade: I agree with everything that’s been said about education, but also, people have always relied on police for the littlest things and we have to stop that. For instance, if a light is broken in your house, you don’t have to call the police, you call the electric company. I think education is a start, but I also think that the police are getting too much funding. I think the amount of money they’re receiving is getting to their heads. The police do not need $6 billion dollars. I think education and cutting back some of the money that they get.
Naia Owens, 10th Grade: I think defunding is also a huge thing as well, as far as a solution goes. I think a few years ago, [NYC mayor Bill] DeBlasio did something related to police that they didn’t like, and in retaliation, they decided to pretty much not do their jobs and sent out less policemen to patrol the area to see if there were higher crime rates, and there just weren’t. They thought they were doing something, and really nothing happened, and it made it very clear that there doesn’t need to be as much funding. If we don’t need that many police officers out and patrolling, we can take away some of their funding. That’s not to say that police don’t deserve to get funded, of course not, we’re not saying that, it’s that they don’t need billions of dollars to do their job. There’s a lot of things that we can do, but part of it is changing the amount of time that they’re educated and the little things that happen when you’re at the police academy. It’s a little thing someone mentioned to me a while back, but changing the color of the targets from black when they’re doing gun training and stuff like that to any other color in the rainbow because if you spend so much time seeing that target for so long and then go out into the real world and see anything with darker skin that’s immediately what you’re going to go for. It’s minor things like that that really make a change, but also defunding the police is a huge one.
Chinyere Brown-McVitie: Yeah, I also think that we have to look at the curriculum of each police academy, because I’m pretty sure the type of training the police get in New York is much different from what they get in the South. So I think all over the United States they need the same type of training. The way the sheriffs are trained in Long Island should be trained the same way they’re trained in Brooklyn.
Moderator: Let’s shift gears a little bit, and this is again a bit of a general question; what is the right way to honor George Floyd’s memory?
Clementina Aboagye: I think that if George Floyd was alive right now, he would realize that his death was at least not in vain, not to say that him going away that way was good. He’d be happy that he didn’t die for nothing because his death catalyzed everything that has happened now. But I also don’t want to say it was because of his death because it didn’t need to take a death for the United States to realize that black lives matter. I think the best way to honor him right now is to keep educating, keep pushing for systemic changes to happen, vote; I think that’s a big thing for Americans because there’s a lot of people that protest and people that have voices but when it comes to voting for political leaders, they don’t use that power and they forget that black people fought for the right to vote. It wasn’t given to us like it was given to certain people, so we had to fight for it. We need to utilize that power to implement leaders that can create systemic change. I think that’s what can truly honor his death.
Jade Walker: Agreed. I think that change is the biggest way to honor his death. This is also the kind of thing should be learnt about in school and I think we should have a unit not only on how black people were treated in this country due to slavery, but how black people are treated in this country now with police brutality and different things that black people face in the workplace and so on. I think his story, along with many others, should be taught in school; I think that’s a big way to honor his memory.
Naia Owens: I think the other thing about using his name is that his case was somewhat different because a lot of times I thought of police brutality as just when people were shot, but this time an officer kneeled on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, and that’s very much intent, you can’t say that’s self defense. It sparked in all these people this rage because it’s clear to see that it’s obvious, blatant racism. There were video clips before where he wasn’t even fighting back, he went and sat down against a wall, and the cops were talking to him peacefully, and then he’s taken by the officer around the corner of the van, and then all that happened. But before that, he wasn’t doing anything that would spark rage from the rest of the officers so it was very clear that he did not deserve to die and that’s what brought the resurgence of the movement. In a way it’s sad that it had to take his death to do that, but it is what it is. I think we are honoring his memory by just saying his name, and using it in these cases, but I don’t want his name and Breonna Taylor’s name to be the only ones that are seen here. I think it’s really important to call out the rest of the people– and there’s a lot of them. George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are the victims who are sparking all of this, but they’re not the only ones and I think honoring them is also honoring the rest of the people who were killed through police brutality and people who are now affected by it, people who are still alive like me and the rest of my family, living in the slight fear that should something happen we could never talk to cops or law enforcement. I think to really honor their legacy we need to wake up everyone that the deaths of Floyd and Taylor should not have happened, but it has happened to a lot of other people.
Moderator: I can definitely see that George Floyd’s name in particular has sparked something in people. Have any of you attended any of the recent protests, and if so, what were they like?
Chinyere Brown-McVitie: I didn’t attend any protest physically, but I did attend some virtually. My friends would FaceTime me when they were at one and many of my family members who live in Europe, they would go live on Instagram and I would feel like I was there. So, watching those protests in Europe, seeing everybody outside– and from what I’ve seen, it wasn’t just black people protesting, it was all races, all backgrounds, all genders, and I think that it’s so beautiful to see everyone coming together for the same cause because it shows that we’re all on the same page. I think that sometimes when things like this happen, everyone has their own agenda or everyone is disagreeing on how we should go about this situation, so it’s very beautiful to see. I also think it’s really good it’s white people protesting too because black people have been protesting for a while, it’s amazing to see them protesting and us all coming together.
Jade Walker: I attended a protest in my neighborhood, and I live in a predominantly white neighborhood– some might call it diverse but it doesn’t feel like it when you’re the minority– and I was the minority at the protest, and I went with my grandmother, and she’s kind of old school. She thought it was so funny, all these white people saying “Black Lives Matter!” She’s looking around and hearing them say “Black Lives Matter!” and saying “Wait, I know!” It was funny because we were the minority, and other people were fighting for our cause. It was a good feeling but also a weird feeling, because to be honest, I want to be surrounded by black people, but it feels good to have support. It’s a weird thing, but a good thing. I wasn’t surprised that it was majority white, but it felt good to have my neighbors supporting me and supporting my family, my black brothers and sisters in this country. It was definitely a good feeling, but a new one. I remember a couple years ago with the Trayvon Martin protests, I went out and the crowd was very different, it was predominantly black, so seeing it shift was really interesting.
Chinyere Brown-McVitie: Also, just like Jade, there was a protest happening right in front of my house that was passing and I was honestly shocked to see some of my neighbors outside. I was like, I didn’t know you were down for the cause. I always assumed because they were white they were just not with it, but to see some of my white neighbors outside actually saying “Hey, you better sign this petition and donate money!” It feels like a utopia.
Jade Walker: Yeah.
Moderator: We’re going to shift gears again, and talk about another huge issue recent events have brought up: white privilege. It is obvious, it exists, and every white person in the US has been a part of it, no matter how subtly. But there are some that still deny that exists. What is the best way to educate these people?
Clementina Aboagye: So I was watching this TED Talk about white privilege because I felt like it was the best way to truly explain it to someone, white people have to educate themselves and start by putting it in the easiest form so that they can understand it. One prominent thing that the man said in the TED Talk that really stood out to me was that white privilege doesn’t mean that you don’t face issues, that you don’t face struggles, that you can’t overcome things, or that you don’t face challenges as a white person. It just means that those challenges don’t come to you because you are of another race, that you are not facing them because of your skin color, you’re facing them because you’re a human being and we all face challenges. So I feel like the best way to truly educate white people is for them to tell them we’re not undermining you being human, and we’re not undermining [you] having overcome things and having to face things. Just like how black people can get cancer, white people can get cancer too. That [doesn’t] mean because you’re white you’re all of a sudden immune to having issues, it just means that you don’t have to fear the police, you don’t have to fear for your life. You know when you encounter a police officer, he might smile at you, give you a ticket and let you go when you drive past the red light. You know that your kids are safe. You know that when you go into the grocery store, the man behind the counter is not going to be staring at you, looking at the security camera to make sure you don’t steal anything. I just feel like that’s the best way to tell these people that you don’t have to fear these things, because the world has been built to fit around you, the world has been built to cater to your life, and the way you live, and you see yourself on TV, you see representations of yourself all over, and people of color have not had that same privilege. That is what white privilege is, at least a big aspect of it.
Naia Owens: I think along with that, with what you were saying, Clementina, about how the world caters to white people. I think part of that is also expecting that someone else will explain white privilege to you, that people will take time out of their day and make the effort to explain to you why you have privilege. I think that’s a huge part of it, that everyone will stop what they’re doing to explain to you why they are feeling hurt or feeling scared, stuff like that that you should know and be aware of yourself, and educate yourself on. I think another part of it is just the fact that you don’t realize it or can deny that it exists is part of white privilege. People are always like “I don’t have white privilege because my life isn’t pitch perfect,” but privilege isn’t always a bad thing. The problem is that we don’t all have privilege. I would love it if we all had privilege, but that means that none of us had privilege, it would mean that we’re all equal. The thing is with white privilege is that you guys don’t have to be above that and that’s what the problem really is. You don’t have to be aware that you have that privilege to do what you want and do all the examples that Clementina said. White people have to educate themselves on that and take their time and effort into learning about it themselves without expecting all the people of color around you are going to explain it to you, educate you on it. You can struggle with financial issues, but you don’t have to face racial oppression on top of that. The fact that you have privilege isn’t necessarily bad, it’s the fact that we don’t all have privilege makes for the inequality.
Moderator: We have just a couple more questions before we wrap, but those were some great responses. I now want to talk about Instagram performative activism. Beacon students, other teens, adults, parents, and celebrities alike all participated in what was called “Blackout Tuesday” on June 2nd. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the event and its response.
Mali Jackson, 11th Grade: Personally, I feel like the blackout was used by a lot of people in the wrong way. I feel that people thought they were doing something by just posting a black square or putting that as their profile picture, and that was completely missing the mark. I thought Blackout Tuesday was supposed to represent an entire media chain for people and posting content that was about the issues, and spoke to your feelings and emotions as a black person about this. I think it was abused by white people and black people, to be honest. I think the idea was in the right headspace, but it just wasn’t used correctly in terms of using social media as a platform to gain awareness and attention about the issues that are going on currently.
Chinyere Brown-McVitie: At first, I thought Blackout Tuesday was something that was really good. Everyone was going to be in solidarity, because when I looked it up, that’s what it was. But then, as the day went by, I started to see people that did not post one thing about the movement started posting “#blackouttuesday,” and I was thinking, is this your way of saying “Oh yeah, I’m here with y’all, but really I’m here because it’s a trend.” I think there was some positive within it, because people used it differently. Some people would post a black screen and their caption would say “here are some black brands that you can buy from,” and someone put a caption that was the history of something. But I feel like it wasn’t very effective, and the protests and people learning were a lot more effective.
Moderator: Let’s now focus on the student body here at Beacon. If you had an opportunity to send a message to all the white students at Beacon who want to help, what would you say to them?
Clementina Aboagye: I want to say that silence is deadly, silence is betrayal, silence is painful, silence is hurtful. The phrase “I don’t want to get involved but I still support it,” is deadly, is dangerous. You can’t say that you don’t want to be a part of it, but you support it. You can’t say that I care about the issue, but I’m not going to speak of it. You can’t say “I don’t want to get political,” because my life and my blackness is not about politics. I hate when people bring up politics when talking about black lives, because this is not about Trump and whoever is competing to be the President of the United States. This is about people’s lives and the color of their skin, not about whatever political party you want to be a part of. Staying quiet and being in your little bubble is another example of white privilege because you can decide you don’t want to be a part of it and it doesn’t affect you, and you’ll be fine. I heard this quote that said that black people cannot ascend and get away from white people, but no matter how much white people ascend, they are able to get away from black people. Those who are at the top are usually white. I can’t keep ascending and say that I can bring black people with me, but you guys can take your own people up there, but we can’t all the time. So I want people to understand that your silence is betrayal, and you need to speak up. And when you speak up, you need to educate yourself first. Don’t just look at an Instagram post and then repost it without really acknowledging what it says, without educating your own self, and don’t just show up when I’m around, but show up when I’m not around too. Educate people, especially when someone says something out of pocket, you stop them, you educate them, and you let them know what they say is wrong and why it’s wrong and why it affects black people.You shouldn’t just be saying it because it’s a trend, you should say what you mean and mean what you say. That’s what I would say to the white people at Beacon.
Mali Jackson: That’s such facts, Clementina. I just wanted to say that white people don’t deserve applause for believing in our rights. Just because you go to a protest or post something on your Instagram, does not make you an ally, does not make you the best person on Earth, does not make you more important than black people who are fighting for their lives every day. I think a huge misconception within the white community is that just being an ally, just saying that you’re for us and for our lives, saying that Black Lives Matter, posting that as a hashtag. You don’t deserve applause for that, you don’t deserve to be recognized for that, because it’s a simple thing that everyone should believe. People think that just because they’re not the bad guy they’re automatically the good guy, but I don’t think that’s true. You can’t just be not racist, you have to be antiracist and have to go off and try to make actual change like every black person and other people are trying to every single day. It’s a constant fight for us, it’s not something we can just put on a hashtag for or post something on Instagram, it’s our lives, like Clementina was saying. You don’t get to be a superhero just because you posted Black Lives Matter. It doesn’t work like that. That’s something that the white community often gets confused about, just because they’re saying something does not make you a superhero.
Naia Owens: I agree with that, I think a huge misconception is that white people get a trophy for fighting the good fight which we’ve been fighting all our lives, which is not true. We appreciate the support, but you don’t get a huge thing for doing that for us, which is really doing that for everyone. I think another thing is to stop expecting that every black person has to have a terrible story, like they almost got shot or something that terrible for us to still be hurt and be affected by the racism that’s happening. To those white people that want to help, understand that it still affects us whether we’re 100% black, half black, whatever, any minority really. There’s a lot of interconnectivity, it’s not just a black people thing, it’s all of us. Stop expecting that we have a huge, terrible, traumatic experience for us to still have experienced racism or any form of oppression. Don’t wait for us to have a huge sob story to stand up for us, fight for the microaggressions that happen all the time as well.
Chinyere Brown-McVitie: I would say to the Beacon student body that in order to be comfortable, you have to be uncomfortable. Let’s just say that you’re having a discussion about race, don’t be afraid to speak up and say how you actually feel, live in your truth. In order to be comfortable, you have to be uncomfortable, and that goes for everybody. Teamwork makes the dreamwork, that’s the only way we can go ahead, we have to go as a team.
Jade Walker: I want to connect with what Chinyere said, and when it comes to injustices, no matter how awkward a white person may feel, maybe they feel talked about, and they’re embarrassed because of their history. They have to remove themselves from being the victim, and really focus on who is being victimized.
On behalf of The Beacon Beat, I’d like to thank everyone from Black Student Union that joined us for the roundtable.