Column: Wake Up Call – George Floyd and Living While Black in 2020

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The world won’t get no better

If we just let it be

The world won’t get no better

We gotta change it, just you and me.

– Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes, “Wake Up Everybody” (1975)

The year 2020 began with great promise.

In numerological terms, the year 2020 represents not just the start of a new decade, but, as a four year (2+0+2+0 =4), it foretells a year of rewards resulting from a lot of  hard work and organization. Traditionally, the four is the year of the builder. Following the creative and sometimes chaotic energies of a three year, the four year crafts stability, clarity, and a strong foundation for long-term successes and accomplishments. In tarot, the symbol of year of the four is the Emperor, the symbol of structure and authority.

In astrological terms, however, the year 2020 sounded a wake-up call, with the conjunction of Saturn and Pluto in the sign of Capricorn on January 12.

In the year 2020, we have landed on a trifecta: a viral pandemic, massive economic instability, and social unrest. Each of these exposes authoritarian abuse of existing systems. The combined energies of the January conjunction have exposed the underlying deficiencies that many knew, but few had the power to change.  The climactic symbol of the long-overdue change that needs to happen on a human level rests in the murder of George Floyd.

Being black in the United States of America, a country founded on the principles of freedom, means walking a tightrope between two perceived worlds: the larger white world built by the founding fathers and nurtured by the three branches of congressional, judicial, and executive branch leadership; and the colored reality, constructed and navigated by so many as a means to survive the larger white world. Manny Tejeda-Moreno’s recent editorial in The Wild Hunt evinces a stark reminder that the role of skin color in many places puts whites first and those who are not considered white anywhere else.

A recent Nightline broadcast included an interview with four women, two white and two black, and their fears for their children. Three of the four women have biracial children who identify as black due to the color of their skin. All demonstrated concern for their children. As one of these women, Twila Dang, noted:

“The thing that I want most for my kids is for them to be able to walk through the world and just be themselves. In full. Unapologetically. And one of the hardest parts about choosing to be a parent as a black person is knowing that you’re going to bring a human into the world who will not have that choice, particularly in America.”

As a black woman, I hear that and think of the last words of George Floyd, when he called out “Mama.” My heart clenched. In that moment, like every other black woman, I was his mother and I wished that I could do anything to take away the pain of  the knee suffocating the life out of my child.

George Floyd memorial in Minneapolis by Xena Goldman, Cadex Herrera, and Greta McLain, with assistance from Niko Alexander and Pablo Hernandez [Lorie Shaull, Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0]

Every time I hear “Wake Up Everybody” by Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, I remember that what is old is new again. In 1975, the Watergate scandal concludes, the Vietnam war ends, then-President Ford survives two assassination attempts, and the country is in an energy crisis. A country in pain and bearing a painful past can remain hidden for only so long. The murder of George Floyd  produced a seismic eruption through the fissures of society. Black bodies weep at the pain of witnessing the light of life leave the eyes of one more body. I knew 2020 would be rough, but George Floyd’s murder has been a cataclysmic explosion.

Living while black has never been more visible in 2020 than through the visceral reaction to a public homicide. The image of the cloth covered knee on the neck of a man gasping to breathe until the spittle dripped from the side of his mouth in lifelessness reflects the unresolved societal pain of racial turmoil, of living while black.

The phrase “I can’t breathe,” known by many as a cry from Eric Garner, another black man killed when an officer’s chokehold triggered a fatal asthma attack in 2014, once again appears on t-shirts, facial coverings, and protest signs for the death of George Floyd.

What makes this an international cry for help, for freedom, for justice, for payback, is the raw emotion on Floyd’s face during the eight minutes and 46 seconds that ended his life. His face is the symbol driving protests and long overdue change. In a world where violent movies featuring death are the norm, there is something especially disturbing about seeing a man die who did what every black parent tells a son, especially, to do: show respect, don’t resist arrest, stay alive. We never know when we send our children out into the world, be they six years or or 46 years old, if they will encounter evil in the form of a law enforcement officer who thinks of our children as less worthy or less than human.

For those who have watched the video, there is a moment in the officer’s eyes when it is clear that he does not see the person beneath his knee as a threat to his power or authority. There is a moment of fear in the officer’s eyes when he responds to requests to check Floyd’s pulse and to take his knee off Floyd’s neck; his response is to use pepper spray on the very bystanders who are trying to save Floyd’s life.

They can see, as anyone who watches can see, how George Floyd is struggling to breathe.

When he cries out, “Mama,” the heartbeat stops in every black mother who hears it. In that moment, George Floyd’s cry for help reaches into the soul of every human who longs for justice. It is the moment that the battle truly appears to be lost. It is the moment that the officer loses his humanity, by ignoring the pleas of the dying and the urgent cries of the bystanders.

George Floyd memorial in Berlin, Germany [Leonhard Lenz, Wikimedia Commons, CC 1.0]

George Floyd’s crime was, allegedly, an attempt to purchase cigarettes with a counterfeit twenty dollar bill. This was not a violent crime. Floyd may have been intoxicated, but he knew enough to follow the rules of the “talk” that each black child in the United States of America receives before spending much time out in the world. The talk is actually a series of conversations that help the young child or adult navigate the expectations of white America and the larger world.

It should not be necessary in 2020, 52 years after the death of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the end of what is commonly known as the Civil Rights Movement. Despite the outwardly perceived gains for African-Americans in the areas of employment, life expectancy, socio-economic upward mobility, and personal acceptance, the need for the talk remains. Interracial marriage may be accepted in 2020 in a way that it was not in 1968, but that does not change the two society system that remains for many black folk and people of color.

Had George Floyd been white, he probably would be alive. For every black person, this is not a questionable statement, but a reality for all too many of us.

To live as a black person in the United States of America often means the appearance of straddling two worlds: one world, mostly white, that appears on television, in the movies, and in media; the other, the mostly black world defined by family, and the perception of being black as “other.”

At some point, growing up black means fitting into preconceived notions. The physical knee on George Floyd’s neck is the visual representation of everyday inequalities that face those growing up black. Growing up black means taking the path learning when to speak and when to remain silent. At some point, living while black means accepting subtle discrimination evinced through being turned down for the reality of not being white.

Some deal with it by checking the boxes just as a white person would: speak English according to white standards of grammar, appear genial and rarely show anger, get a good education, dress well according to white fashions. But no matter what is done, there is still a chance that the veneer does not work.

Regardless of having a good education at the finest Ivy league schools, there is still the reality of being arrested outside one’s own home, like noted scholar Henry Louis Gates. This is still a reality for living while being black.

“Driving while black” is a phrase used to describe what happens when one is pulled over for no apparent reason – for while driving a luxury car based on the unspoken implication that a regular black person should not be able afford such a car, for instance, and that therefore it must be stolen. Living while black could be getting turned down for a mortgage in a neighborhood considered to be too white and affluent, with few black residents. It could be applying for the same job as someone else, but not being perceived as “good enough” due to implicit bias common in hiring practices. In short, there are few areas of life where race does not play a part in how a black person is treated or perceived by others.


George Floyd’s murder opens a cry for justice. Jane Hawkner’s “A Statement about Justice for George Floyd” is a plea for change in the year of the Emperor and the era of a foundational call for awareness. The tragic killing of George Floyd occurred in a four year (2020), in a nine (9) month, and on a seven (7) day.  The month of May during a four year becomes a nine month, a time of endings, transitions, and saying goodbye to what is no longer needed. While these may be happy or sad endings, the goal is to deal with the past to start new beginnings in the following one (1) month of June. George Floyd died on the twenty-fifth day, which during the month of May is a seven (7) day. Seven days can be days of spiritual understanding, analytical awareness, secrets, suspicion, and a curious desire for more information. In short, what happens on a seven day is rarely what it appears to be on the surface. There is always more.

The essence or combination for the day of George Floyd’s death (4+9+7=20/2).  In tarot, Judgement fits this position. As a society, seeing the murder in broad daylight of a man described as a gentle giant formed a crucible, a moment that has to more protests and monumental change than anyone could have imagined.

The peaceful protests and demands for a re-shaping of the existing legal structure and law enforcement are the start of a new era.  This is a response to the effects of too much control wielded by too few. The cataclysmic forces that erupted on May 25, 2020, are far from burning out. As the worldwide marches and protests in solidarity with those in the United States demonstrate, humanity cries out for justice when it is so clearly lacking in the so-called land of the free and home of the brave.

The veil has been ripped off and we are led to a new understanding, a better awareness, and a stronger foundation for all.

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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen, and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.