I haven’t yet seen anyone make a connection between Derek Chauvin, who murdered George Floyd, and chauvinism. Ex-Officer Chauvin murdered Mr. Floyd almost casually, as if he had all the time in the world and all the reason and right to do it, by pressing his knee — a part of his own body — against Mr. Floyd’s neck until long after Mr. Floyd had ceased to speak or move.
Chauvinism connotes an attitude of superiority; undue or excessive partiality or attachment to one’s own sex, group, or cause; and excessive, unthinking, or aggressive patriotism. It can blind a person to what is happening — say, for example, the fact that your knee is killing someone — or worse, can appear to excuse a bad act or make it seem legitimate, as if it’s a normal part of your job.
During the coming days and weeks, and in a variety of forums, I plan to share more thoughts about the impacts of racism in the United States, and about the responsibility that I and other White people have to make changes in our lives, our businesses, and our government. We need to finally call a halt to the racial injustice that has damaged Black people, indigenous people, and other people of color —economically, educationally, and psychologically. I’ve already begun sharing materials from a variety of sources that have been meaningful or instructive to me.
But for now, I encourage my White colleagues and friends to begin a process of self-examination. It is time for us to discover where we have been blinded to the real injuries caused by our own actions, whether at work, at home, or in the public sphere, no matter how unintentional they may have been — or may continue to be.
It’s completely human — or perhaps it’s part of structural racism for it to be completely natural to White people — to be unaware of our turning radius and how we knock others out of our way or bruise them when we’re passing by. We are so focused on our own path — what we want, what we think we deserve — that we may not notice the harms we inflict. Or, sadly, we may think that winning and losing are just part of life. Due either to implicit bias or fundamental attribution error, we think we’ve earned all the good that happens for us and that what goes wrong for others is just their bad luck.
Even if we have been irresponsible and are late to the game, we can start today with greater efforts toward empathy and compassion. Perhaps most important, we can begin interacting with individuals who are not like ourselves: asking them about their experience and truly listening to what has happened to them in their career trajectories, and in their lives.
This is a time for careful thought and thoughtful action. I am taking as my watchword Maya Angelou’s statement, “When you know better, do better.” I hope you will join me.
Onward and upward —