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A Minnesotan Weighs In: Is There Hope After the Hashtags?

PRODUCED BY

Erianna Jiles

St. Paul, MN

06/04/20

The killing of George Floyd has led many people to consider what they and those around them think about race in America. Erianna Jiles has been frustrated, but encouraged that maybe we’re at a turning point.

A memorial site where George Floyd died while in police custody in Minneapolis.
Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images.

I grew up in St. Paul, and as an African-American, I know there is racism here, but I rarely see it actively on display. In South Minneapolis, where George Floyd died, most of the people I’ve met are super liberal and white people who “care.” The murder happening in this neighborhood, makes me question the Minnesota I know.

The image of Derek Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck keeps replaying in my head. To me, it represents a metaphor for the experiences that African-Americans face daily. Some days I feel like I can’t breathe because it’s hard for Black people in this country to catch a break — from racism, police brutality and COVID-19. I don’t understand why just our existence often seems threatening.

Since Floyd’s death, I’ve felt anxious and exhausted. I’ve just had to take a break. It’s too much pressure to deal with my emotions while social media is flooded with opinions from so many people.

At 22 years old, I know that to see real change in this country, we need all people that don’t look like me to stand up. The response to Floyd’s death feels more inclusive, but it’s deeper than showing up to protests with your “Black Lives Matter” sign.

What will life look like when the protests end and the hashtags disappear? Will you still be our voice to challenge injustice? Will you urge officers to abide by their oaths and finally protect people that look like me?

These last few weeks have left me questioning my four white roommates. Since the incident, I haven’t heard a word from them. It’s confusing that they can attend rallies and stand up for Black lives but can’t check on the one Black person they share a house with.

I understand this makes for uncomfortable conversations, but it is time. If we don’t start this dialogue, we’ll continue with a generation of police officers like Chauvin or the many Amy Coopers of our society who don’t understand *why *reporting fake crimes against Black people can be deadly.

I have hope we might be at a crossroads for change. So I’m committed to talking to my white friends, peers and now my roommates about how we can create a better understanding of one another and bridge the gap.

In return, all I ask is that white people engage themselves in conversations, be open-minded to hearing experiences they’ve never had before and not ignore the signs of racism just because it’s easier at the moment.

Ultimately, I can only hope for a society that treats me like my life matters.

Also featured on NPR/WBUR’s Here and Now.

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