Kirsten Greenidge included in POLITICO Magazine: “What George Floyd Changed”
This article was first published in POLITICO Magazine on May 23, 2021.
What George Floyd Changed
The protests over one man’s death touched far more aspects of American life than just criminal justice. Seven thinkers reflect on how America is (and isn’t) different now.
In the year since George Floyd died under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, the explosive waves of national protest that followed have taken on almost a settled meaning: They were calls for police reform, and for America to take a hard look at the racial injustice threaded through its civic life.
But in its breadth and impact, the reaction to Floyd’s killing also blew through any conventional expectations for what a “protest” might touch. The reckoning it prompted about race in America extended to workplaces, classrooms, legislatures; it shook the worlds of art, literature and media. Americans began to talk about their own history differently. They physically pulled down monuments. The waves crashed against the fence of the White House, and rippled overseas.
POLITICO Magazine asked a range of thinkers to reflect on the surprising ways that Floyd’s death reshaped the country—and what hasn’t changed, too. They noted that many Americans, including political leaders, now talk about race and racism in blunter, more honest ways, and are more willing to rethink the stories we tell ourselves about who we are. Some cities are physically different, perhaps permanently.
Of course, in some cases, they said, the way we talk might be all that’s changed, and not so much the way we act. A year later, a police officer is guilty of murder, but Black people have continued to die. And the next chapter has yet to be written.
We bought the house at the end of Barack Obama’s presidency and settled in during the era of Trump. One might say Massachusetts is not known to have a large percentage of Republicans, but our town has a fair number of Trump supporters. The rotary on Main Street, with its patch of green lawn, is the designated space for political expression. Activists of all persuasions use the rotary to give voice to their beliefs, urging motorists to honk in agreement. For most of the year leading up to the 2020 election, when it was supporters of more right-leaning candidates or causes, my presence in our town was met with ice-cold stares or blank looks off into the distance, away from me and my kids, none of us white, in the backseat. If I could, I’d catch their eye, try to match their gaze.
When I first began walking it was March. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd were known only to their loved ones. By spring, no longer. Through May the makeshift signs signaling the current death toll from Covid-19 and placards heralding graduates’ accomplishments gave way to new signs and new postings. In front of the houses in this rural white town rose black fists and hashtags calling for justice. By the end of June I was seeing rainbows and demands for the world to continue to listen, for those inclined to continue to fight. Black lives, trans lives.
Not every lawn, to be sure. And minds do not change direction; they are not streets heading only one way. But minds can expand to be able to hold new ideas. While our nation has a very long way to go in terms of ensuring equity and equality for all, the months, minutes and moments after we bore witness to the killing of George Floyd have demonstrated that we have the capacity to expand, as individuals and as a nation, our ability to love, truly love, our neighbors. We do not have to know each other, or fully understand each other, to honor the notion that we each have the right to live.
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At BU, Kirsten Greenidge teaches Ensemble I: Introduction to Playwriting with first years, Adaptation for sophomores, and Playwriting Colloquium with seniors. She is the recipient of a Village Voice Obie Award for her play MILK LIKE SUGAR, which was commissioned by La Jolla Playhouse and Theatre Masters, and co-produced by La Jolla Playhouse, Playwrights Horizons, and WP Theatre. MILK LIKE SUGAR has also received a Lucille Lortel nomination, an AUDELCO nomination, and an Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE) Award. Other plays include THE LUCK OF THE IRISH, originally produced by the Huntington Theatre Company; BALTIMORE, which is the product of a Big 10 Consortium Commission, a program created to address the lack of roles for female BFA candidates; ZENITH, most recently produced by San Francisco Playhouse’s Sandbox Series; BUD NOT BUDDY with music by Terence Blanchard (Kennedy Center; Metro Stage); BOSSA NOVA (Yale Rep); SPLENDOR (Company One Theatre Company); and SANS-CULOTTES IN THE PROMISED LAND (Humana Festival/Actors Theatre of Louisville). Learn more about Kirsten Greenidge and playwriting at BU.