Say Their Names by Julieth Lara and Lexi Tabacu
Sadness. Anger. Fear. Three words that have circulated society in both real life and online. Three words which have translated into the emotions of others as the deaths of young, innocent people of color continue to rise. Three words which have marked generations, as loved ones and strangers continue to be killed solely because of the color of their skin. These three words have been translated to an even greater saying: Say Their Names.
As the #SayTheirNames movement has gone viral on social media, it is an unfortunate series of events that have created these hashtags to bring awareness to unjust deaths of black, immigrant, indigenous, LGBTQ+ lives that have been taken due to racism embedded in this country. The current movement has taken a well-needed surge after the death of George Floyd, with protests and riots overtaking the US and many other countries, along with a constantly growing number of posts and social media projects that spread awareness. George Floyd was a black man killed by police in Minneapolis, MN, Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, pinned his neck to the ground with his knee. Even as Floyd begged Chauvin to take his knee off, pleading that he could not breathe, Chauvin did not stop. Floyd died shortly after, due to mechanical asphyxia. His death caused outrage, and continues to bring awareness to the prevalent issues in our police and justice system that cause an inherent bias towards BIPOC. From the police to schools to neighbors, racism is present in all institutions. However, as the #SayTheirNames continues as a viral hashtag, it is important to address the circumstances surrounding it: white privilege, police brutality, and oppression.
White privilege. These two words have become a controversy in the fight against racial inequality. Although many white people and others believe white privilege “isn’t real” it is important to face the facts: the color of their skin most likely hasn’t been a burden or hardship for the lives of white people. The color of their skin hasn’t caused them a fear of being attacked or harassed due to the sole nature of their complexion￼. The color of their skin has representation in all forms of media. As a child, they never had to watch a TV show and cross their fingers to see a character with the same skin color as them. They have seen representation through history books, movies, and more. The color of their skin has protected them from daily racism. The color of their skin hasn’t been a barrier in terms of gaining jobs, being treated unfairly, or facing police brutality. A white man or woman does not have to live with the constant fear for their lives that plagues BIPOC, and especially not fear for their lives at the hands of the people who are meant to be protecting us. A white man or woman does not have to be careful with speaking to a police officer or getting into any minor legal trouble, like getting pulled over, for fear that they will be tossed around throughout the justice system and never make it out alive.
Many argue white people are killed more by police in comparison to black people. However, this concept is entirely based on our population distribution. In the USA, 76.3% of the population is Caucasian, while 13.4% is African American. In a study on police brutality incidents, 52% of police brutality incidents happened towards white people, while 32% of the victims were black; they held a fatality rate 2.8x higher compared to their white counterparts. 2.8x higher, 2.8x more names there are to say. 2.8x more deaths due to the color of their skin. For many, what we see in the media is a statistic, a stranger, however, more strangers are dying. More people of color are dying due to racism, due to unjust police brutality, and due to the unlawful errors in our justice system. These three words, #SayTheirNames, mark a new era, a new era of change in society. An era of recognizing your own (white) privilege, of noticing racism and taking a stand, of supporting your POC friends and family, and of doing more to end the unjust deaths of many. We must say their names, we must use these three words to bring back power to their names, to bring back power to their lives, to make change.