The final eight minutes and 46 seconds of George Floyd’s life have been viewed by millions of people around the world, sparking calls for racial justice and police reform. Happening just two months after the shooting death of Breonna Taylor, Americans and people far beyond U.S. borders took to the streets – in the midst of a pandemic – to protest systemic racism.
While watching news coverage of the Black Lives Matter protests, IUPUI’s Cleveland Hayes was struck by the number of white Americans protesting and wondered what it was about this moment in American history that caused so many to “wake up” to the injustices experienced for centuries. With support from IU’s Racial Justice Research Fund, Hayes is embarking on a study to find out.
“The number of television shows talking about the racial injustices in America was at a level I had never seen going back to the death of Trayvon Martin, and I just kept asking myself what was different about this moment for white Americans in particular,” said Hayes, a professor and associate dean of academic affairs in the School of Education.
Later this year, Hayes will begin virtual interviews with individuals representing many racial backgrounds and from a variety of intersections, including gender, class and sexuality to hear their stories of how this moment impacted them. These personal experiences will be pivotal to helping him answer the question of “why now.”
“The protests after the world witnessed the murder of George Floyd didn’t just happen in the Black community,” Hayes said. “I think this was the first time in the history of protest for racial justice that the world has seen such a rallying of people from all walks of life say ‘okay, enough is enough,’ and those are the people I want to interview.”
He hopes their stories will help him gain a better understanding of why George Floyd’s death has inspired so many white individuals to act when other events that sparked national debate and action did not.
“When Colin Kaepernick kneeled five years ago, many who are not part of this current movement lost their collective minds over how disrespectful it was to the flag, with people being more concerned with a piece of cloth than human life,” Hayes said. “Black folks had warned white folks in particular about this five years ago, and now so many are shocked by it all.”
Hayes hopes his project will inspire people, particularly white individuals, to take a step back and examine their role in the systemic racism that has existed for so long.