The killing of George Floyd last spring supposedly opened America’s eyes to racism and sparked a new racial awakening in the country. But now the trial of his killer, Derek Chauvin, reminds us of another trial almost 30 years ago—that of four Los Angeles police officers charged with beating Rodney King almost to death. Not enough has changed during the interim, and I’m not just talking about the police beating and killing Black men. In both instances, too many white people are willing to disbelieve what they see with their own eyes—because they are looking for an excuse to pretend it didn’t happen. They will accept any explanation rather than face the obvious truth, a reality they cannot accept.
The same people who accepted an analysis of the Rodney King video that vindicated the police are willing to entertain the notion that former officer Chauvin didn’t really kill George Floyd by putting his knee on his neck for over nine minutes. They are seeking an alternative explanation for why Chauvin did what he did as well as confirmation that Floyd actually died of heart failure based on the drugs already in his system. (According to their way of thinking, all Black people have drugs in their system and thus their demise is always their own fault.)
We all know the killing of George Floyd, a Black man held down so that he couldn’t breathe, struck a nerve because it was a perfect metaphor for the situation in which African Americans still find themselves—held down by systemic racism. But too many white folks still refuse to acknowledge this reality and believe it is the Black man’s own fault for being on the ground.
Denial of reality is an American specialty of late. Denial of what happened at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th—a violent and deadly insurrection of rightwing Trump supporters—continues to proliferate. First, rightwing media claimed the riot was orchestrated by Black Lives Matter and Antifa; in other words, it was not what it appeared. Next came a fictitious depiction from Senator Ron Johnson, who claimed there was very little violence and no serious threat to anyone; in other words, it wasn’t what it appeared. Most recently, former president Trump purported the ridiculous fantasy that the rioters were hugging and kissing the Capitol police, which quite obviously contradicts what the rest of us saw with our own eyes.
Denial of Reality—Especially About Racism—is an American Specialty.
Lest we think that everyone in America has been fooled, we know that at least one person knows that what happened at the U.S. Capitol was a violent insurrection. The state trooper who arrested Georgia state representative Park Cannon outside the room where Governor Kemp was signing the new election law, claims he arrested her because he thought the situation might turn into a riot such as occurred at the U.S. Capitol and he feared for the Governor’s safety. How could anyone think that one women (okay, apparently there were eight other protestors in the hall at the time) represented the threat of a riot?
In the trooper’s white mind it probably did represent a threat, because whenever a Black person can’t be held down or held back, it’s a threat to the status quo. She was Black and she was trying to gain entrance to a white inner sanctum where the governor was in the process of signing an election bill to suppress the African American vote. It’s more than coincidental that the trooper arrested a Black woman for fear of an insurrection and Ron Johnson said he would only have been concerned about the January 6th attack if it had been perpetrated by Black Lives Matter and Antifa. The fact is, for a lot of white folks, any transgression by a Black person is threatening, while horrific actions by white people are acceptable—acceptable enough to be invisible.