Something remarkable is happening in the US in 2020 in terms of public awareness of race.
The George Floyd uprising, two months in duration so far, has brought formerly fringe ideas into the mainstream, shifting the entire frame of discourse to the left. The breakthroughs we are experiencing this summer might feel sudden, but they follow decades of activism, with all its labor, learning and dedication. People have been pushing for awhile. The murder of George Floyd was a “last straw” event.
One notable change is that the street actions in Minneapolis and other cities have been made up of diverse crowds that are led by people of color, with whites taking the backseat. This change in centering has been very welcome.
In the last couple weeks, a new element was added to the mix when Trump sent federal law enforcement officers to Portland, Oregon, to attack protesters. Nightly demonstrations in that city, which—though continuous since May—had dwindled to a hundred or so participants, then exploded into the thousands when these officers began nabbing people off the street and packing them into unmarked vehicles. This is the stuff the fascist regimes are made of, and people have been rightly alarmed.
The Feds have had their hands full as new waves of protesters have faced off with them in defense of the George Floyd / Black Lives Matter protesters. The “Wall of Moms” gained national attention, as did the “Dad-archists” with their leaf blowers for repelling tear gas. A Wall of Vets is the newest addition. All these efforts have been explicitly in support of Black-led actions. For example, Wall of Moms members who are white defer from talking to the press, as I found out when seeking an interview for my podcast. All speak of “centering” POC.
I put the word “centering” in quotation marks not to disparage it, but to draw attention to the concept it denotes. The term wasn’t in circulation that I know of ten years ago but now it’s common currency. In part for being visual, it effectively captures the essence of the act of deliberately choosing to prioritize. Given that so much of our settler-colonial culture is about coasting along in ignorance, the emphasis on cultivating attention is desperately needed. One “centers” through an act of conscious will, purposely shifting one’s perspective, as a way to provide one’s support meaningfully and effectively.
“Centering”—and much else of what we’re seeing that’s positive—is being brought to the fore in large part by young people, and this too is very welcome. The leadership class of the US at the federal level is a bona fide gerontocracy at this point, like the last days of the Soviet Union. A major housecleaning is needed. (Or a new house. Or no house at all.) The young people definitely know this, and if we’re going to center people by age, we ought to be centering them. Alas, that we have more “olders” than “elders” in the US, to quote a teacher I once had.
Regardless, shifts are happening, with or without the acquiescence of those in charge. I am personally encouraged because it feels like some energy is moving in the right direction for the first time in a long while.
If we continue in this direction, further lessons will be learned, and more old baggage will get dropped. What we center will also develop; we will go deeper, and the circle of liberation will grow. What will it look like to center Native Americans in the US? How about when the world’s “developed” countries center the planet’s remaining indigenous cultures?
That last step leads to centering the earth. Centering humans, as too many of us have done for too long (since at least the agricultural revolution), has led to unmitigated disaster all around. The oceans are full of plastic and over-fished. The land is deforested, drained, ranched, farmed and mined. The air’s altered chemistry is changing the climate. Overall, domestication has been a real killer and we’re among the victims.
The George Floyd uprising was brought to us by cell phone culture. The original crime was recorded on a cell phone and then spread by social media, which is designed for the device. Millions viewed it and took to the streets. Thanks to the cell phone, and to years of work by activists, police brutality became a mainstream issue and POC are becoming centered as the leaders to follow.
The cell phone is an invention of a culture centered on humans, so the effects to the earth are written off as the cost of doing business by virtually everyone. Rare earth mining harms people of color in other countries, centering one class of humans over another. The mines destroy habitat for living creatures both on-site and off, centering humans above nature. If we were centering the earth, we would not have cell phones or cops or class, and we’d undoubtedly be better off.
Farmworkers have suffered especially bad living and working conditions during the COVID pandemic, which again is centering one class of humans over another. Agriculture is the leading cause of habitat destruction worldwide. Between crop-growing and animal-pasturing, half of the planet’s habitable land is used for farming. That’s all habitat that’s impacted or wiped out, centering humans above nature. If we were centering the earth, we would not be farming and we’d undoubtedly be better off.
There’s no jobs on a dead planet. And no justice or peace either. Yet our collective death cult continues.
The fact that the dominant culture is centering humans might seem impossible to change, but that seemingness is itself a feature of the culture, and what is presented as inevitable is actually aberrational. This is one of the lessons of 2020.
Change happens when’s there’s critical mass. One person filming the cops in Minneapolis ended up moving the ground under our feet as a nation. But such sparks are unpredictable and probably impossible to trigger on purpose. So, it’s all about being ready when the wave hits, with a willingness change ourselves most of all.