George Floyd’s death has triggered activism that has spread to more than 50 countries across the globe. Thousands have taken to the streets in a show of solidarity against anti-Black racism.
Statues of slave owners and colonizers have been toppled. Mass murals of Floyd’s face scripted with “I Can’t Breathe” have been painted on buildings far and wide. Even the media has begun an overhaul with editors resigning.
There is power in protest. Real, concrete changes are being made.
In Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, a veto-proof majority of councillors are calling for a “transformative new model of public safety” to effectively dismantle the police. Emergency call analysis has revealed a majority pertain to mental health, emergency medical and fire services. As such, there is a push to reallocate funds to such social service efforts instead. Another major change in Minneapolis is the ban of chokeholds by police.
In France, protesters have drawn parallels between Floyd’s killing and that of 24-year old Amada Traore, a Black man who died by asphyxiation while in police custody in 2016. On Monday, France’s Interior Minister Christophe Castaner announced police use of the controversial chokehold method of arrest would be banned.
There have been big-budget police reforms pledged in other major cities across the United States. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged to redirect some of the US$6 billion in police department funding toward youth and social services. The NYPD’s current budget amounts to more than the homeless services ($2.1-billion), health ($1.9 billion), youth and community development ($872 000) and small business services ($293 000) combined. (All U.S. dollars).
Likewise, Los Angeles City Council has introduced a motion to reduce the LAPD’s $1.8-billion operating budget.
Vermont, Ithaca, New York, Boston and Dallas, along with a growing number of other cities across the U.S., have recently implemented a “duty to intervene” rule that requires officers to stop other cops who are engaging in inappropriate use of force. New Jersey’s attorney general said the state will update its use-of-force guidelines for the first time in 20 years.
Protesters across the States have been downing various statues of slave and plantation owners, and colonial kings. Last Sunday, British demonstrators in Bristol toppled Edward Colston’s statue and threw it into the River Avon.
In Toronto, there has been a petition to rename Dundas Street, which is named after Henry Dundas, an 18th-century politician who delayed Britain’s abolition of slavery by 15 years. It has reignited controversial conversations around bringing down statues and renaming institutions of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, who commissioned residential schools, responsible for the cultural genocide of Indigenous people in Canada.
Among others, the name of Ryerson University, named after Egerton Ryerson, also influential in the creation of Canada’s residential schools system, has been called into question.
Media is starting to see an overhaul in leadership positions. It began last Friday, when Reddit’s co-founder Alexis Ohanian resigned. He urged the board to fill his seat with a Black candidate — a decision he said was “long overdue.”
“I am doing this as a father who needs to be able to look in the eyes of his Black daughter when she asks, ‘What did you do?'” he said in a video. Ohanian implored other leaders to consider doing the same.
On Monday, we saw some of those changes take effect, though likely not out of the same righteous enthusiasm as Ohanian — more as measures of damage control.
Christene Barberich, Refinery29’s co-founder and editor-in-chief, stepped down in response to former employees speaking out on social media about the toxic and racist treatment they said they experienced at the brand. The very same day, Adam Rapoport, the editor-in-chief of Bon Appétit, resigned after photos of him dressed in brownface surfaced online. Leandra Medine Cohen, founder of Man Repeller, also announced that she would take a step back from her blog in a show of commitment to diversity and addressing issues of anti-Black racism within her company.
However, there was a bright spot to the many resignations. Publishing history was made at Heart with the announcement of Samira Nasr to editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar. Nasr’s appointment makes her the first Black person to lead the magazine in its 153-year history.
Here in Canada, we saw some pretty big shakeups as well. Wendy Mesley was removed from her hosting duties at the CBC after she “used a word that should never be used.”
CTV announced the removal of Jessica Mulroney’s reality show I Do, Redo from its airwaves. Writer and influencer Sasha Exeter revealed that she and Mulroney had been feuding after Mulroney “took offence” to a generic call to action Exeter had posted for influencers and bloggers to use their platforms to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
“What happened next was a series of very problematic behaviour and antics that ultimately resulted in (Mulroney) sending me a threat in writing last Wednesday,” Exeter said in a video posted June 10, adding that Mulroney’s threat was an example of “textbook white privilege.” Cityline, Hudson’s Bay, Kleinfeld Canada and Smash and Tess have also since ended their professional ties with Mulroney.
Social campaigns are making an impact, too. “Pull Up or Shut Up,” asks beauty brands to “pull up” and release the total number of Black employees at their companies and to identify the levels at which those employees sit. Dozens of major brands, including Glossier, L’Oreal and Ulta Beauty, have already responded, posting their employee numbers and pledging to improve their Black employment.
From #PassTheMic to #QuietAsWereKept and other social media campaigns designed to amplify Black voices, we are beginning to see real transformation ignited by the social sphere.
The past two weeks of protest have resulted in significant change, not just structurally, but in terms of the intangible, too.
Some things are more difficult things to see, like the intimate conversations that are being had in our homes at kitchen tables with our spouses and at bedtime with our children. There are uncomfortable discussions with family members and friends. There is self-reflection, learning and unlearning of prior behaviours.
Perhaps these unseen acts of activism are the most important in creating lasting change. In seeing others speak up so bravely in their convictions, often jeopardizing their careers by putting themselves “out there” to support the greater good, I have been forced to face my own fragility and fears. I have been inspired to take more firmer stands and not stand silent where I may have in the past.
“What if 2020 is the year we’ve been waiting for?” asks Leslie Dwight in an Instagram post.
I believe it is.