Skip links

Why Now?: The Collective White Awakening

Think of white America as a huge, ever-expanding bubble. Bubbles, in essence, are isolated spheres that are not easy to pop, that are closed off to everything except themselves. Inside of this bubble that is white America lives white bodies with luxuries like suburbia, intergenerational wealth, land, clean drinking water, healthy food, and adequate education. As history shows, this bubble has only opened its borders to groups that will labor its acres and expand its wealth at little to no cost. Otherwise the bubble remains closed to those who are not from there, and has for numerous centuries.

That bubble was pierced enough to shatter on a late May evening in 2020. For 8 minutes and 46 seconds white America watched George Floyd, a black man, beg for his life on camera while 4 police officers murdered him. George’s Floyd’s immense suffering, his last breaths, were captured as he laid face down on the concrete. And so white America began to see that what exists outside of their bubble matters too, even as much as their own white lives. They began to see that the police do not always murder those who ‘threaten’ them. They began to see that certain acts cannot be subjective, rather that they are objective and straight. They began using their money to fund organizations fighting for equal justice and using their bodies to protect those of color from police at protests. And all across America, black and brown people asked themselves the same questions – Is it true? Is white America waking up?

When white America is thought in resemblance to a bubble, it becomes easier to perceive how this seemingly collective white awakening is just now starting. Before George Floyd was violently murdered, white America was experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic with the rest of the beings outside of their bubble. Loved ones in their communities were sick and dying, jobs were being cut, and they also had to stay in their homes for periods of times that many had never endured. They struggled with food and housing security, mental health declines, and a plethora of other consequences of the pandemic. Like those outside of their bubble, they too felt a sense of desperation. The death and the boredom and the pain were already enough for that bubble to fidget. 

Fast forward three months and, what felt like suddenly, the news and the media completely shifted. All across screens and lips was real discourse about Black Lives Matter, police brutality, racism, white privilege, defunding the police! In the scalding middle of a public health crisis, the issues of black America became the issue. George Floyd’s life tipped the scale, however, names like Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor had been shaking the bubble walls, a jogger and an EMT who were both slain just for being black. The country was quite literally on fire, and it takes a whole lot of effort to ignore the beginning of a civil rights movement. The time to not have a stance has passed.

While this surge of action, responsibility and empathy are truly remarkable to witness, black people are holding a degree of skepticism. I have asked myself countless times Why now? Why in 2020? When you carry the DNA of ancestors who broke their backs, who were/are beaten, raped, incarcerated, stripped of their entire identity, denied the right to be treated like a human being for over 400 years… well, you question the sincerity and longevity of the allyship. You question if Black Lives Matter will be just as important to white people when it is no longer a social media trend, when they are not constantly being reminded of life outside of their bubble. Black people have been crying out in pain for years, so at times it feels rather insulting that the collective awakening has just begun. There is anger, confusion, and frustration being felt and that is completely valid. The sudden allyship of white people does not diminish your reality.

Nor does it take away from the fact that this shattering of the white America bubble left some pieces tethered together. There are those pieces of white America that are full of hate, rage, and mainly a copious amount of fear. They are infiltrating peaceful protests, arming themselves with bats and war weapons, and hanging black men in states like California, Texas, New York, and New Jersey. As this is no longer the time to remain silent, there will be vocal white people on both ends of the spectrum and it can be utterly terrifying.

The truth is, this will never make total sense to black people. We will never be able to fully comprehend why all of our collective suffering is just now starting to be taken seriously. But black people, we will always be the leaders of this fight and of this movement. After all, this is our movement and this movement centers around our lives. As leaders, we have a responsibility to provide our allies with a clear vision of our objectives. However, though an accessory to the movement, white people are simultaneously huge catalysts because of their white privilege. Their allyship is an ingredient for real change. 

And so as COVID-19 showed us the paradox of humanity, the ties between isolation and community, somehow so does the fight for black lives to be treated as though they really, truly matter.