When I was 9 years old, Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election. I was at my best friend’s house, and our moms were watching the election. They were drinking substantial amounts of wine in anticipation of him losing, despite their highest hopes for him to win. I will never forget their cheers of joy when he did. I turned to my mom and asked her, “Why is this such a big deal?”
My mom was born in 1964 — she grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee. She went to a primarily Black school and spoke about how as a “skinny, white nerd,” she only had friends because she was so great at track. She grew up with extremely progressive parents (who were both expelled from grad school for having a multi-racial party — my grandpa was jailed for several months), she lived through the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 and a time of political unrest similar to what we are experiencing now.
So when I asked her why Obama’s victory was such a big deal, she started to cry. She said, “I’ve never been so sure I did a good job raising you. You not understanding the improbability of the election of a Black man in America is exactly the world I want you to live in.”
As an adult, I understand what a momentous moment President Obama’s election was. My mom was not racist despite growing up in Tennessee, and she went out of her way to teach me to treat everyone the same. My blindness to the historical significance of Obama’s election affirmed my mom’s efforts to teach me that people in this country can accomplish what they want, no matter what color they are. I simply didn’t understand why Obama getting elected mattered more than anyone else getting elected.
As a biracial, Chinese woman, the last year has been tragic and eye-opening. Waking up to the video of George Floyd being brutalized by a white cop is something I will never forget. The global outcry that followed was profound — people from every background in many places spoke up to say that treating a human like that is never warranted. It does not matter what someone did or didn’t do — kneeling on a person’s neck is simply unacceptable. The demonstration of so many people sharing this belief, in a sad way, restored a bit of my faith in humanity.
Unfortunately, many of us were expecting that Derek Chauvin, Floyd’s murderer, would be excused with nothing more than a slap on the wrists. When Chauvin was found guilty of murder in the second degree, murder in the third degree and manslaughter in the second degree, a collective sigh of relief was heard by those of us who were so outraged by the crime. What upsets me now is that it has taken this long for Chauvin to be held accountable. In 2017 he was cited for kneeling on a 14-year-old boy’s neck until the boy briefly lost consciousness.
Similar to Floyd’s case, “Chauvin held the position even after the child told him that he was in pain and couldn’t breathe, and after the mother tried to intervene.” During Chauvin’s 19-year stint as a police officer, he racked up 18 complaints — only two of which resulted in discipline. The owner of the nightclub during Chauvin’s time as an employee said “Chauvin’s demeanour would change during special events for Black communities.” Chauvin’s well-known pattern of excessive force and racism is extremely problematic, especially because it was not dealt with until Floyd’s murder.
Shortly after Chauvin was first charged in 2020, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said he did not believe that one prosecution could “rectify the hurt and loss that so many people feel.” I agree — while the prosecution of Chauvin and the other three offices who failed to intervene is a victory, there are so many white officers who have hurt or killed Black people with no repercussions.
At every turn, people of color are met with prejudice, racism or hate in some form. They must jump through hoops and overcome barriers that more privileged people don’t believe in because they’ve never encountered them. Law enforcement and the legal system are just the beginning of what needs to change — we need a complete overhaul of the entire system that was built on racism. It has caused so much historical trauma that culminated in the protests sparked by Floyd’s murder. As Attorney General Ellison said, “The solution to that pain will be in the slow and difficult work of constructing justice and fairness in our society.” Chauvin’s guilty verdict is just the first step.