Lest We Be Fooled, As We Reflect on the One-Year Anniversary of George Floyd’s Murder - Higher Education


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Lest We Be Fooled, As We Reflect on the One-Year Anniversary of George Floyd’s Murder

by Ronald W. Whitaker II and Adriel A. Hilton 

I see no changes, all I see is racist faces
Misplaced hate makes disgrace to races
We under, I wonder what it takes to make this
One better place, let’s erase the wasted

(Tupac, 1998)

As critical scholars and DEI strategists, the one-year anniversary of the egregious and pernicious lynching of George Perry Floyd, Jr., committed directly by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, but indirectly, by centuries of systemic racism that has historically targeted Black bodies and communities of color, is an opportunity for us to take a bold stance within this op-ed.

Specifically, our position and forthcoming claims within this article align with the above lyrics by the late rapper, actor, and cultural icon Tupac Shakur, in which we also contend that we see no changes. Thus, as the nation gets ready to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s killing with marches, rallies, poems, and speeches, we refuse to participate in “sanitized celebrations” but rather, we declare, “Lest We Be Fooled!”

It is believed that the phrase “lest we forget,” originates in a Victorian poem penned by writer Rudyard Kipling. The phrase is also intended to warn people against forgetting those individuals that have fought and died for their country. Within the context of reflecting on the life and legacy of George Floyd, we want to “remix” the phrase “lest we forget,” to “Lest We Be Fooled,” about the “so-called” post George Floyd inspired DEI efforts being facilitated within U.S. institutions, but specifically, within higher education.  Explicitly, in this moment that will determine our commitment to “authentic” notions and practices of democracy and freedom, we must resist symbolism and the Diversity Crisis Model. Regarding the diversity crisis model, Williams (2013) argues that:

Dr. Adriel A. Hilton

“Too many diversity planning efforts are reactive, isolated, simplistic and driven by crisis, or “cheetah moments.” The crisis follows a similar pattern: an unpleasant event occurs, which leads to a largely symbolic response, a half-hearted institutional mobilization, and then a gradual weakening of institutional efforts over time.”

Of course, the “crisis” that we are highlighting is the tragic and senseless murder of George Perry Floyd, Jr. on May 25, 2020, which in the aftermath of his brutal death, prompted university presidents and administrators to make a host of promises around committing to inclusivity, racial justice, and anti-racist practices. Nevertheless, sadly, many students know that these promises and commitments is nothing more than lip service!

Therefore, “Lest We Be Fooled,” that Derek Chauvin’s conviction on second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, equates to racial justice, racial harmony, and racial awakening.  For example, how can we be in a season of racial justice, when 20 minutes before the conviction of Chauvin was announced 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant was shot and killed by police officer Nicholas Reardon?  In addition, how are we experiencing racial harmony, when 14 months after her killing, we are still waiting on justice for Breonna Taylor? Both cases illuminates the “caveats”  and the evil ways that we fail to recognize the “humanity” of Black girls in society, and also how the aforementioned translates into the experiences of  Black women in higher education.

“Lest We Be fooled,” when we are dealing with white fragility 2.0 on the backdrop of Floyd’s killing.  Diangelo (2018) defines White Fragility as “the defensive reactions so many white people have when our racial worldviews, positions, or advantages are questioned or challenged. For a lot of white people, just suggesting that being white has meaning will trigger a deep, defensive response.” Over this past year, we have witnessed White Fragility 2.0, by hearing White students and White colleagues say the following:

  • “The webinar was too much for me on the history of racism and inequities; I had to disengage for a moment.”
  • “Why are we just focusing on the experiences of Black People, it’s obviously important, but there are other inequities we also need to focus on?”
  • “Your talk was insightful, but it scared me in a good way lol.”

Dr. Ronald W. Whitaker II

We are calling the previously mentioned statements examples of White Fragility 2.0, because even though those individuals claimed to be committed to “equity” and “progression,” their statements clearly reflect their defensiveness and resistance to having substantive and truthful conversations about racism and racial division. The highlighted statements also underscore the importance of Dr. Eddie S. Glaude’s Jr. theory of the Value Gap, which he maintains is “the belief that white lives matter more than others do, an idea that has distorted and deformed our democracy from the start.”

Further, despite the denial that continues to persist about the true history of America, “Lest We Be Fooled” that White backlash will not be magnified in the upcoming year. The attack on Critical Race theory and the recent denial of tenure  by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill of Nikole Hannah-Jones, who is a New York Times reporter and lead author of the 1619 Project, are just two examples of White Backlash. Anderson (2016) would situate White backlash through the lens of White rage, which she argues is “the structure of racism has brought about white anger and bitterness towards blacks, especially when social progress has been made.”

In closing, “lest we be fooled,” in regards to rhetoric around justice. The conviction of Derek Chauvin was not justice, but rather, it was one aspect of accountability. How can Chauvin’s conviction be justice, when Floyd’s body has been decomposing in his casket for close to a year, his family is still grieving, and his children will live the rest of their lives without their father? Similarly, our language around justice within higher educational milieus, should not equate to highlighting a few “diversity hires,” a newly approved DEI plan, or mandatory anti-racist and equity webinars and/or workshops. No, that’s not justice! Rather, true justice is being completely honest and transparent about the historical and contemporary racist structures that continue to target students and faculty of color, and then taking the necessary holistic action steps to let “justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing  stream” (Amos 5:24) within our respective colleges and universities!

Dr. Ronald W. Whitaker II is the culturally responsive assistant professor of education, assistant dean of the School of Education, director of district and school relations, and director of the Center for Urban Education, Equity, and Improvement at Cabrini University. 

Dr. Adriel A. Hilton is the vice chancellor for student affairs & enrollment management at Southern University at New Orleans. 

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