Eight minutes and 46 seconds. According to news reports, that’s how long it took for police to kill George Floyd. Less than 10 minutes and now the country finds itself embroiled in civil unrest — the likes of which have not been seen in decades, or at least that’s the narrative. In reality, the eight minutes and 46 seconds it took to murder Mr. Floyd does not explain what is happening in this country right now; those eight minutes and 46 seconds are the concentrated force of over 400 years of oppression honed to a razor sharp blade and applied to the neck of a man who was a target long before he was even born. That same blade was used to strip the life from the bodies of Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Atatiana Jefferson, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery and other Black people for so long that the cries for compassion and hopes of humane treatment have begun to seem like toothpicks proffered as protection against a demon wielding a pitchfork.
Deacons, that demon lives among us and its name is white supremacy. It has been rooted in America’s foundation since our country’s gestation and has been embedded in Wake Forest’s campus even longer than the roots of the Magnolia trees. As we reel in horror in response to the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, many emotions arise: anger, sadness, disgust, but not surprise.
For many, these fatal events are aberrations, but not anomalies; they remind us of the friends and family who’ve been lost in the fight against racism; they remind us of the enslaved people who died building Wake Forest’s campus. And though we are still living, they remind us of ourselves.
Wake Forest University’s history, much like America’s, is built on a foundation of black bodies and nationally sanctioned oppression. At its establishment, it profited off the enslavement and sale of upwards of 60 enslaved Black people. Today, Wake Forest continues to profit from the labor of faculty, staff and students who work to terraform the grounds built on stolen land into a space capable of fully supporting the humanity of its Black community members. In the fall of 2019 following admonishment and demands for change led by the Anti-Racism Coalition, Wake Forest entered a renewed round of discussion, exploration and planning surrounding racial injustices in our community. Now, the entire country — and indeed the world — is presented with irrefutable evidence of the systemic, individual and deadly consequences of failing to acknowledge the realities of America’s anti-Blackness. Much in the same way Wake Forest students took to the pathways of our picturesque campus in order to reveal the racialized gap in the institution’s guiding principle (pro humanitate), people now take to the streets to underscore the racial gap in the polite fiction woven throughout the American ethos: The American Dream.
Now, is the time for us to recognize how those concepts — that the American Dream, that pro humanitate — are not complete. It is time for us to see that those concepts have been waiting for actualization — that we still have enormous amounts of work to do before the concepts many people take for granted are real. Unfortunately, at this point, the only reality is Black mortality.
Whether it’s been eight minutes and 46 seconds or 1834 years, death is no stranger to the Black experience. This is not to say we should be numb to its presence, but rather to emphasize the consistency of our pain. Despite this fact, Black people push forward in streets, classrooms, courthouse and households, in front of Wait Chapel and on the streets of Milwaukee, behind bars in police precincts and on the front lines of protests. Black people are fighting for life.
Until we have successfully dismantled the mistaken belief that we have achieved the American Dream — that we have achieved pro humanitate — we will never secure either of them.
For the past three weeks we’ve seen people risk their lives, their livelihoods and their souls searching for those ideals, but many of those actors have been risking that for years. Now it is time for everyone to ask themselves what they are going to risk to help write a dream that includes all of us.
Many have asked how to aid in this fight, and the answer is quite simple: join us. Use your privilege and power to condemn anti-Blackness, back your words with action, and demand truth, resources and safety for the Black folk in the world and on Wake Forest’s very campus. We are asking you to commit. Not to hashtags and moments, but to real work.
It is time for everyone who fancies themselves an ally to any community, but especially to the Black community, to educate themselves and be committed to change. It is not acceptable to be ignorant. It is not acceptable to wait for someone to pull you along and it is far past time for you to make a stand because the resistance is happening and the change is here. Whether we’re talking centuries or seconds, protests in the streets or battles in the classroom, we must be anti-racist and insistent as we fight our common enemy: white supremacy.
Eight Minutes and 46 Seconds.
That’s how long it took for police to kill George Floyd.
That’s how long Black Americans have been fighting for life.
The question now is how long will it take for you to do something about it?