June 22, 2020
Words create worlds. The power of narrative affects the future. The one that controls the narrative controls the future. We are experiencing a battle of narratives and seeing a transformation unimaginable just a month ago.
Since the Minneapolis Police killed George Floyd, we have seen four competing narratives played out across the country:
- Black Lives Matter stresses that there is systemic racism in policing as an institution. The response by police to peaceful protests across the country has largely reinforced this critique with massive, militarized police forces pushing, pepper spraying, shooting with rubber bullets and tear gassing peaceful protests. Defund the police has become the battle cry across the country.
- Many white Americans, liberal and conservative, are caught up questioning the chaos, rioting, looting and violence. They say play by the rules. But focusing on the late-night actions of a small minority detracts from and downplays the larger peaceful movement for system change.
- The fearful and those that support the status quo call for law and order and a return to normal. They see police killing of Blacks as a few wayward police officers, “bad apples” that went too far. President Trump used his bully pulpit to paint protestors as controlled by radical Antifa extremists and he threatened “total domination” of protestors in Lafayette Park, even as he built a reinforced wall around the White House.
- An increasing number of whites are for the first time taking responsibility for their role in white supremacy and institutionalized racism. Some might be self-centered, trying to rid themselves of guilt, but many are coming to terms with their role in a system of white supremacy that oppresses Blacks and benefits themselves. While some might be in for performative protests, many more recognize their complicity and are taking concrete action to promote structural change.
While swirling narratives is common after a major news event, this time is different. This time is not like previous mass shootings, where outrage and calls for action peak and then die down before real change occurs. The status quo wins out. Today is different. Over ten days following George Floyd’s killing, the battle for the control of the narrative was won by those demanding change.
Protests were massive the days after Memorial Day but grew even larger and more peaceful the second week in hundreds of cities across the US and world. Even with looting and burning squad cars, the violence-achieves-nothing narrative was being drowned out by a demand for change.
President Trump started losing public support and his stranglehold on conservative voices. Four generals and even his own Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, public stated he does not support using active military against US citizens to enforce order. Despite his 197 tweets in one day, he could no longer control the narrative. Washington DC Mayor Muriel Bowser had city employees paint Black Lives Matter with 50-foot letters on the street leading up to the White House. Many other cities have followed with their own murals.
The winning narrative of Black Lives Matter and confronting systemic racism is leading to change. Defund the police, while not universally understood, has changed the Overton Window, the range of ideas the public is willing to consider and accept. President Trump has been master of this process by pushing extreme policy positions into the realm of possibility and even enacting them, such as banning immigrants from Muslim countries. Defund the police has made possible not just police reform but transformation. The Minneapolis City Council voted to disband the Police Department (what was a model of progressive policing in the country) to create a new public safety department. Los Angeles and New York leaders committed to dramatically cut the police budgets and invest those funds in programs and services for neighborhoods. Bills in the Senate and House are challenging qualified immunity for police. Beyond policing, the NFL admitted they made a mistake in forbidding players to take a knee as a peaceful protest. NASCAR banned the confederate flag; Civil War monuments are coming down. The changed narrative has spawned change in surprising places.
As fast as things are shifting, they did not happen overnight. The power of social movements made possible what we are seeing. Alicia Garza penned “Black Lives Matter” in July 2013 that gave birth to the movement that has grown stronger and more organized with chapters across the country. Replacing diversity training, antiracism work among whites has expanded and is slowly changing the consciousness of millions in this country. Current protests are not just larger, they are more diverse than we have seen in previous moments.
True change requires systemic change. We are learning that shifting the narrative creates the space for shifting policies, resources and structures possible. They go together.
作者 Mark Chupp
- 恐惧者和那些支持现状的人呼吁法律和秩序以及回归正常。他们认为警察杀害黑人只是几个任性的警察，“害群之马” 的执行范围太广。特朗普总统利用他的头号讲坛，恶意描绘抗议者是被激进的反法极端分子控制的，他甚至威胁要“完全控制”拉斐特公园的抗议者，尽管他在白宫周围筑了一道加固墙。
特朗普总统开始失去公众支持和他对保守派声音的压制。四名将军们，甚至他自己的国防部长马克·埃斯珀(Mark Esper)也公开表示，他不支持使用积极的军事手段来维护美国公民的秩序。尽管他在一天内发了197条推文，但他再也无法控制叙事了。华盛顿特区市长穆里尔·鲍泽(Muriel Bowser)让市政府工作人员在通往白宫的街道上用50英尺长的字母书写“尊重黑人生命”(Black Lives Matter)。许多其他城市也纷纷效仿，推出了自己的壁画。
尽管事情变化得如此之快，但它们并非一蹴而就。社会运动的力量使我们看到的一切成为可能。艾丽西亚加尔萨(Alicia Garza)于2013年7月撰写了《尊重黑人生命》(Black Lives Matter)一书，由此诞生了一场运动，如今该运动在美国各地都有分会，变得更加强大、更有组织。随着种族多元化培训的开展，白人中的反种族主义工作不断扩大，正在慢慢改变这个国家数百万人的意识。当前的抗议活动不仅规模更大，而且比我们之前看到的更多样化。