If there’s one thing the coronavirus pandemic has shown, it’s how double standards of race and class divide the world. The privileged—white—part of the population is protesting to get haircuts, and the other side is demanding that no more innocent black people are killed.
On Tuesday, an incredibly disturbing video depicting officer Derek Chauvin suffocating a black man in Minnesota began circulating on social media. Filmed by a bystander, the video shows police kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes, ignoring his desperate pleas and cries for help. Floyd was murdered in plain sight under a false accusation of forgery in yet another act of police brutality against an innocent and unarmed black man.
This is another in a long streak of similar murders. It was only two weeks ago when headlines told the story of Ahmaud Arbery, yet another black man shown on video to be hunted down and shot while simply going on a run in a predominantly white neighborhood.
The national outrage at the video of George Floyd’s murder culminated in a Black Lives Matter protest in Minneapolis, with people breaking lockdown orders in the city to voice their anger. The protesters demanded justice for George Floyd and a radical change in the police system. They were unarmed and most wore protective equipment such as masks in an attempt to maintain health standards. The Black Lives Matter movement has been peaceful and anti-violence since its origin in 2013.
Police promptly showed up to the Minneapolis protest in full riot gear, shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters, once again highlighting police officers’ abuse of authority when facing people of color.
Meanwhile, anti-lockdown protests, also called American Revolution 2.0, have recently been found out to be presided over by far-right groups. The movement has been supported by the same militia movements and sites of someone that bombed a mosque. Many of their websites and pages were deleted by Facebook and other social media sites due to misinformation, which included denial of the pandemic and anti-vaccination claims. Angered protesters have even compared lockdown measures to slavery—a white woman recently had to publicly apologize for holding a sign which compared masks to muzzles used for “slaves and dogs,” and a popular slogan reads “I prefer dangerous freedom to peaceful slavery.”
The anti-lockdown protesters don’t only pose a health threat by assembling in large groups without wearing protective masks per government advice—the extremist nature of their affiliations is also a threat to minorities and vulnerable people in America. The U.S. is the country with the most COVID-19 deaths, a disproportionate amount of which have been people of color; they’ve also been impacted more than white people in losing employment and financial stability. For middle and upper-class white people to protest the conditions is not only a privileged position, but one that can only be a consequence of white-supremacist beliefs. This feeling of oppression is rooted in white privilege and denial of American history as well as the suffering of countless black people.
Local authorities, particularly sheriffs in Arizona and Michigan, have refused to enforce government-mandated stay-at-home orders, essentially standing with the protesters, even when they show up carrying assault rifles and storm into the state capitals.
The contrast in police reactions was mirrored by President Trump, who called anti-lockdown protesters “very good people” in a recent tweet and encouraged some of their demands to be met by state governors—while calling the Black Lives Matter protesters “thugs.”
The differences between the two protests are undeniable: one is a group of peaceful, predominantly black people and allies defending the basic human right to live, and the other a group of far-right armed white people wanting to go to church and hair salons. White privilege lies in the fact that anti-lockdown protesters are asking for non-essential luxuries—things they can do in their own homes—while Black Lives Matter activists are asking to not be killed for the color of their skin. There will be no equality until the worst thing that can happen to a black person is not being able to get a haircut.
By Sofia De Ceglie