The term “20/20” is used to express the clarity or sharpness of vision; 20/20 vision denotes perfect eyesight. The year 2020 brought perfect sight to the reality of racism in the United States and abroad. The year 2020 produced perfect sight, seeing clearly, separating illusion and mythology from truth and reality. The year 2020 revealed the blindness, blurriness and distorted vision that consumed the consciousness of many in the United States and prior colonizing empires. The blindness and rose-colored lenses of genocide, slavery, and colonial oppression have been removed as well, as profits from slavery and colonialism were brought into full view.
On the evening of May 25, 2021, an event occurred that wide-eyed viewers observed on phones, computers, and television screens. The life of a black man, George Floyd, was callously snuffed out by a white policeman on a Minneapolis street as pedestrians watched. At that moment, in the confinement of their homes because of the Covid-19 pandemic, eyes that had been blinded by the illusion of a post-racial America were forced to witness police brutality against a black man. In the past, the killings of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, 18-year-old Michael Brown, and 25-year-old Freddie Gray by the police would have been blurred by the stereotype of the black male criminal.
Suddenly, in full view of the world, American exceptionalism, hypocrisy, and systematic racism were exposed. Thousands of Americans joined the nationwide Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests against systematic racism and police brutality. These protests sparked a global movement as tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in solidarity under the banner of the Black Lives Matter movement. Protests took place in more than 60 countries around the world.
Eyes were opened not only in regard to racism in America; internationally, protesters demonstrated opposition to racism worldwide. Common ground with racism in the United States was found in countries such as Britain, France, Australia, and New Zealand. In Britain, black people are more likely than their white counterparts to be stopped or searched by police. In France, thousands protested the killing of a 24-year-old Malian-French man who died in police custody. In Australia and New Zealand, indigenous people protested racial disparity in policing.
Vision blurred and distorted by the mythical telling and teaching of history in colonial empires and in the United States became sharper and clearer. In Belgium, protesters demanded the removal of statues of Leopold II, who conquered what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo through grotesque, unimaginable cruelty and the genocide of an estimated 10 million Congolese. In Bristol, England, demonstrators pulled down the statue of Edward Colston, a 17th century slave trader. The removal of these statues of these honored men mirrored the removal and controversy of statues of Confederate generals and heroes in the United States. The removal of these statues enables a clearer vision and begs the question: What makes a “great man”? Should one be honored and memorialized for acts of inhumanity?
The graphic nature of George Floyd’s death, the cocooning in homes because of the pandemic brought life to a halt and created the pause and space to correct the vision of American and global consciousness. George Floyd’s death opened eyes to racism and its destructive elements in the United States and abroad. His death and the subsequent protests were a catalyst for a global anti-racism movement.
As we enter the second month of 2021, what lessons will be taken from the vision clearing of 2020? Will the events of 2020 influence and advance social change in the United States? In previous colonial empires? Will America finally acknowledge and confront its history of racial inequality, especially the policing of blacks? Will this moment in 2020 become a catalyst for curriculum reform, teaching the true history of America rather than creating myths to promote national pride? Can the lessons of 2020 create an America that truly embraces the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all?