What George Floyd Means To A White Woman From Europe

The episode of “A Million little things” two weeks ago, shows a black gathering with family and friends. There is laughter, people pick at each other, the way we all do when we have a good time. A young teenage boy joins them, his face is earnest. When asked what is going on, he turns his phone around, and shows the rest of he people a video he just saw online.

And while it is just a silly TV show, I sat quietly in our living room and I understood for the first time that my feelings and their feelings were not the same. George Floyd’s death rocked my boat, to the point that I sewed and proudly wore “Black Lives Matter” face masks. I protested, I showed solidarity. The way this man had to die in custody, handcuffed on the ground, gasping for air, forced me and many others like me, to take a stand.

An image of George Floyd with angel wings and holding a sign that says ″Stop Racism!'
Italian street artist TVBoy painted a tribute to George Floyd, featuring Floyd with angel wings and holding a sign that says “Stop Racism!’ on a wall in Barcelona, Spain

Will I ever understand how a black person feels about George Floyd and his unnecessary death? No, I won’t. I can imagine, but that doesn’t mean I can’t came close. If I am ever in trouble with the law, I want to know that I will be treated fairly, and that I will be safe from harm. I want this for me and everybody else.

A TV show and black actors showed me in silence what they felt.

We try to walk in each others shoes. We feel compassion and empathy -at least most of us.

Will you ever know how it feels to visit the Concentration Camp Auschwitz, knowing your Grandfather had been there not just once -but twice? You can’t and I cannot put in words how it made me feel inside.

Will you ever know how it feels to have violent parents who pick alcohol over their child. I hope you can’t. You can only imagine, the same way I imagine how it must feel to grow up with loving parents.

I have black friends, and I have Asian friends. I have Latino friends and they are blessed (or burdened) having a first generation Austrian-Italian friend who they try to understand.

I told one of my friends a while back, “This is not my fight, I wasn’t raised here. This racism thing you guys have going on, is not me. I grew up differently.”

He told me it was my fight and he was right.

A mural of three men, dressed for a protest, on a wall in France.
A mural in Nantes, France, pays homage to protesters and the late George Floyd emblazoned with a French phrase that translates to “let us breathe.”

Everything about human rights, no matter who’s rights are suppressed and violated has to be my fight.

I am a woman, and like so many other women I had to endure my share of gender equality. I have felt dirty and small through looks. I had to let go of my rights to speak up, to not cost any problems. Just 30 years ago I couldn’t speak up when I was touched. I will never forget the strip search at an airport in Asia in the ’80, just because I had shook my head when the customs officer opened my nail polish. Overpowered by religious believes I have lost my right over my body.

I have sat under a sign reading “Jews won’t be served here.” The sign was in German, the country was not Germany or any other German speaking country. Was it a relict, a memorabilia about WWII, a reminder of a past we all should never forget? Or was it provocation showing political judgment and hatred that has caused so many lives?

I don’t know. I got up and left. It wasn’t my home country. I was a foreigner without rights far from home and I was young. I never forgot how it made me feel. My Grandma was part Jewish, a fact that she hid from me until her deathbed. I became and orphan and part Jewish the same day, which I always thought was quite comical.

To feel and to understand what others go through. It means overcoming fear of the unknown. It means to be humble. It means to care. It means opening your heart even if it things could get complicated. Standing up for what is right is not easy and to be honest, it shouldn’t be easy. It takes courage!

George Floyd’s death was the first death I saw live on a screen, and I wish from the bottom of my heart that I will never have to witness any other death played over and over on the internet. I fear it was only the start. Falling from one extreme to the next, that’s what we humans are good at.

I understand and applaud the bystanders who took the video. I am just so afraid that killings and murder scenes will from now one be part of our virtual life. I fear we might get used to it and I don’t want to.

I felt with George Floyd, and I will remember this for the rest of my life. I watched my husband’s face and I could tell he felt the same. So many emotions. Shame, anger, disgust, disbelieve, empathy, compassion, frustration and fear. Yes, he was not a saint. Yes, he has been arrested numerous times before. None of it matters.

I am not black. How could I possibly understand?

I am a European American. How could I possible understand?

I am white and privileged. How could I possible understand?

Mural depicting of George Floyd in Syria's Idlib
Graffiti artist Aziz Asmar spray painted a mural depicting George Floyd on the ruins of a bombed-out building in Syria’s Idlib province.

I have mixed feelings about it. I do know and understand that the US has a lot of white people in power, protected by a uniform that should protect all of us. Black sheep’s with white faces. Racism is nothing new in this county or in any other. We could learn a lot of Africa how the Africans handle and talk about apartheid.

Why do I have mixed feelings? I don’t want to see white police officers to be afraid to arrest criminals. I don’t want them get shot in the line of duty, because they are afraid to do the wrong thing.

I was raised by a woman who taught me to always look for a policeman when I would be in trouble. I followed her advice. In Rome, my favorite city in this world, when I needed help I waved down a Pantera with Carabinieri (Police car and Italian police officers.) They helped and I was safe.

The officer in Austria who stopped me on my way home when I was nineteen. I had been drinking, not much because I couldn’t afford it, but enough to not drive.

He took my car keys away and my license. He gave me his card and asked me to see him the next day at the station in Vienna. I arrived the next day with a major hangover and the arrogance of the youth. He sat down with me, showed me photo of accidents caused by drunk drivers. Then he handed me my keys and my papers. I never forgot him or the lesson I learned that day.

The police officers in Africa, who I had to ask for help when my purse and all my money was stolen. The cop who talked to me until the ambulance arrived when I had an accident.

I trust the police and I hate to see them all thrown under the bus now. I see the cops in our neighborhood helping families in need. Black and white, helping all!

The good cops are as angry about the situation as we all are. Things have to change and they will. They have to. We need equal justice for all! It probable won’t happen to my lifetime but I would love to see it. George Floyd’s death has changed my life. He has made me a better person by being more observant. More than ever do I see the good, the bad, and the ugly.

While walking in each others shoes is not possible, we should at least imagine and care enough to do so.

Equality is not a concept, it is a necessity.

My friend was right. It is my fight!

An image of George Floyd with the phrase ″I can't breathe,″ on a wall in Germany.
Berlin Wall, painted by Dominican graffiti artist Jesus Cruz Artiles

9 thoughts on “What George Floyd Means To A White Woman From Europe

  1. George Floyds death was flat out murder. This hate that lives in too many hearts needs to be tamed. I agree that we cannot know how others feel, but we can be kind and compassionate. That sounds like something that SHOULD come naturally but there are too many who never see it to emulate it. I don’t know what the solution is, but we have to find one soon before more people are killed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I believe you can only educate against racism. Taming hate won’t work, it’s like putting a beast on the leash and when someone evil like Trump comes along and unleashes it, it comes back twice as bad.

      Like

  2. I certainly feel as you do that racism is an ugly stain anywhere it appears, and wherever we can speak up and add a voice or protest in support of the oppressed, I do hold as my responsibility. I can’t identify with those who are treated with overt hate or even passive disregard, but I can use whatever knowledge and empathy I’ve accumulated across my lifetime to inform me of what is right and what is wrong. I really enjoyed reading and seeing photos of memorials around the world, Bridget. I really didn’t know how much George Floyd’s death had reverberated around the world. We in the U.S. deserve to be under the world’s microscope! And judged seriously lacking.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I didn’t know about the tributes around the world either. A friend in Germany sent me the picture of the Berlin wall, and then I did my research. It has spread so far, I wish it would be known here.

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