Tone "Death": 2020 So Far - The Pain & Insensitivity That Has Marred It

My initial idea of what 2020 would be as a new year, with all its hope and the meant-to-be broken resolutions every calendar-flip brings, started out with a chat in a WhatsApp group with two of my closest buddies in December 2019. We joked around saying that the advertising tagline “2020 Vision” was going to be woefully overused as companies peddled their products and services, while professing it’s “clear to see” they would be the right choice for our hard earned money.


2020 then arrived with all its pyrotechnic fanfare and surprisingly, the slogan, from what I’ve observed, has been used very sparingly in the UK and global print and multimedia marketing campaigns. Maybe, similar to us in that WhatsApp group, commercial marketing executives thought it would be too corny a phrase to use and would elicit way too many eye-rolls.


However, to sprinkle some irony into the equation, nothing in the world right now seems clear, as life as we have come to know and enjoy has become blurred and totally unpredictable, as the weeks and months have passed. The events that have transpired since we hit January 2020 have provoked tears, raised many questions, (re)energised several debates, fuelled countless conspiracies and unfortunately, (re)opened centuries old, emotional and ideological wounds that are regrettably linked to current events.

As individuals roaming this earth, we know that death is inevitable; obviously being a part of the cycle of life…but how some of these losses have occurred and for the reasons they have, has been extremely difficult to swallow. These deaths have happened in a year that was supposed to signify supreme advancement and maybe a portal leading to an era of further progress, acute enlightenment, cutting-edge science and technology, liberalism and equality. These are some of the characteristics we have encountered to some degree and those we anticipated would
be fully normalised, as part of the comfortable, convenient and superior (?) digimodernism that has been the hallmark from maybe 2010 onwards.

So far, the world has observed the passing of Kobe Bryant and former NBA Commissioner David Stern to start 2020. The former being important, as for basketball and sport in general, he exemplified individuals (before and after him) who have risen to rightfully acquire global acclaim for their immense talents and blend of exceptional marketability. By also achieving lofty competitive success, many fans and media venerated him and other comparable athletes. It’s as if he was almost invincible, untouchable and to an extent, deified…globally. That concept of invincibility was shattered when Kobe, as one of the titans of sport (and celebrity) regrettably passed, doing something, which for him was akin to you getting into your car on a morning. The word legacy was left to hover heavily and in some cases, roundly debated for weeks, as we retraced the missteps of the life and career of the Black Mamba. 


In the entertainment industry, notables like centenarian and Hollywood icon Kirk Douglas, Rock and Roll legend Little Richard, Bollywood star Irrfan Khan, Country music phenomenon Kenny Rogers and English TV Presenter Caroline Flack all passed in the first half of 2020. All of them (and others) leaving us with varying degrees of emptiness and distress around the world, as people who inspired or touched us emotionally, in various ways.

In addition to those unfortunate deaths above which shook many of us when the news broke, we are currently in the midst of one of the most prolific and reported viruses the world has probably seen since the Ebola outbreak, Swine Flu, SARS, and the Spanish flu of 1918. According to Johns Hopkins University, Coronavirus/Covid-19 has infected nearly 7 million people and claimed over 400,000 lives (as at June 7th); many of which painfully, may have been loved ones we were near and dear to. At this point, if there was one things that would characterise the first half of this tumultuous year; it’s very likely to be death, especially those linked to the infamous 2020 c-word: Coronavirus. 


Having been relegated to isolation and extensive quarantine regimes for months, we’ve watched the infection and death tallies increase, businesses go bust and consequently, unemployment rising at unprecedented rates. As our lives have become increasingly disrupted, so have we expanded our vernacular to include the terms lockdown, PPE, pandemic and social-distancing, as words and phrases used daily. Athletic clothing retailers and technology giants have joined the protective equipment business as producers, while governments and health officials worldwide have mandated we socially-distance ourselves; staying 2 meters apart from each other, as we try to hinder the spread of this communicable virus.


However, 400,000 lives later, we added one more death (to a continually growing list), which metaphorically exposed how far apart we really are, as a human race. When George Floyd was killed on May 25th 2020 in the streets of Minneapolis, the 2 meters distance rule was totally insignificant and the incident magnified the universal outcry that many have chosen to ignore; that actually, we as humans were probably never close at all.

George Floyd, was another unarmed man of African-descent who was killed by a (white) police officer. Derek Chauvin, the main assailant in this case, is the disgraced, dismissed and charged police officer, who was accompanied by three other (since fired) officers, who took Floyd into custody. He was forcibly detained and eventually pulled to the ground by Chauvin from the back of the police vehicle where he was placed. Chauvin, in what may be said to be an attempt to gain Floyd’s submission, then proceeded to kneel on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes. This was done in plain sight of gathering onlookers who video recorded the incident on their mobile devices and called for Chauvin to release his knee from Floyd’s neck, as it was quickly noticed he became motionless after stating at least 16 times within 5 minutes, that he couldn’t breathe. The tragic (and since reported) illegal submission manoeuvre, ultimately lead to Floyd’s death by asphyxiation.

This overexertion of force and police brutality, where Chauvin and his colleagues were initially responding to a report by a nearby shopkeeper, that Floyd allegedly used a counterfeit $20 bill to pay for cigarettes, reignited the countless lamentations by the African-American community for the eradication of police brutality and the imposition of fair charges for officers who hurt or kill unarmed people in their custody. The need for legal accountability, especially as it is a disproportionate scourge affecting this specific racial group in the United States, is also clearly required. The gripping and repeatedly traumatic reality of such racially induced crime against blacks by the police has sparked unprecedented protests and cries for equality and that “Black Lives Matter” in the States and globally, with the societal ill of racism levitating horribly over the lives of ethnic minorities in America and elsewhere.

***

In the wake of all the protests and demonstrations where activists call for justice, accountability and equality, quite a few tone deaf statements were offered by individuals, whom you’d think should know better. Comments (and actions) which, either do nothing to show empathy to the plight of the victims of these heinous crimes and some also inciting rage, racist-sentiments and anger towards those who are already dealing with the difficulties of the moment. If the persons who uttered the insensitive drivel or completed a knee-jerk, “look at me” action thought for a moment more before speaking/typing/doing, they would realise their rhetoric was firstly harmful and unhelpful. In some cases, it could even perpetuate further hatred that would lead to more persecution and the eventual deaths of ethnic minorities. 


Here are my top 5 tone deaf comments and actions since George Floyd’s death and my honest reaction:

1. President Trump: “I am your President of law and order and an ally of all peaceful protestors...I take these actions today with firm resolve and with true and passionate love for our country.”


During his Rose Garden speech on June 1st 2020, President Trump, in an attempt to show leadership and solidarity with those who mourned the death of George Floyd and protesting to end police brutality and for equality, lets everyone know who’s in charge but more importantly, that he “supports” peaceful protests. Comically, whilst he relays this, he (and/or his staff) orders federal law enforcement officials to launch an attack using tear gas, flash grenades, rubber bullets and unnecessary force, to disperse a crowd of said peaceful protestors, outside Lafayette Square; a stone throw away from the White House.


MY REACTION: I was in shock! He clearly couldn’t see the side-by-side, live footage the whole world was seeing! “I am an ally of peaceful protestors” and women, at that moment were being hit upside their heads with shields and batons, whilst also getting ran over by officers, throwing tear gas at them. For what, may you ask? See #2


2. President Trump: Walks to St. John’s Episcopal Church for a photo-opportunity, holding a Bible, after soldiers forcibly clear peaceful protestors from nearby Lafayette Square.


At the end of Trump’s Rose Garden speech, he lets everyone know that he was going to “pay [his] respects [in] a special place.” This need for visibility was in stark contrast to the previous weekend when the White House went dark, with all exterior lights turned off and it was reported that Trump retreated to a bunker as his aides feared for his protection. The social media hashtag #BunkerBoy trended like wildfire!


Whether it be "paying respects" to George Floyd specifically, the nation or himself, is still unknown. That action, in and of itself maybe would have been greeted with smiles and applause on a normal day, especially if he was known to do such things frequently; but at this time, in the midst of the turmoil the nation was going through? It was just wrong on so many levels! This also happening just minutes after, federal law enforcement officials barbarically cleared out peaceful protestors to pave the way for this Presidential procession, just to hold up a Bible...for a few camera snaps? Absolutely intolerable! Maybe he went to inspect it…just like he did with his bunker?


MY REACTION: I could not contain my shameful personal quirk of laughter in a time of awkwardness. Laughter for me, in such contexts always exposes my true feelings of shock and is a default reaction for being lost for words or being in utter disbelief. That was me, laughing away, in real-time, to what I was seeing unfolding live on television at 1a.m. in the UK. Wow. No prayers offered, no moment of silence, nothing…just Trump, showing up, unannounced at the front of a boarded-up church. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington, DC later characterised Trump’s actions as a charade and was “outraged” by his actions


S.M.H.!

3. Drew Brees: “I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag.”

Brees made the statement after being asked by Yahoo Finance’s Daniel Roberts about “how he would feel about players kneeling during the national anthem this season in protest of police violence.” (Quoted from The Guardian’s article by Melissa Jacobs). He went on to discuss the role of the Army and Marines and his two grandfathers fighting overseas in WWII for the country and why that “disrespect” would never sit well with him. 


MY REACTION: Man! This is not about the/your flag or your granddaddies! Major respect and kudos to your family (and many others) for fighting valiantly for America but in this moment, it’s bigger than that! America is fighting right now (and has been for a while) within its borders! And that war teeters closely towards racial injustice, police brutality, wrongful deaths, societal infighting and the law seemingly turning a blind eye to it!

 
You know what Drew, forget your apologies…take the Kaepernick knee with your teammates when the NFL seasons starts up again! It won’t erase your initial comments and cover your real feelings and naivety; which you did try to clean up after the expected backlash but it would be a symbolic and welcomed gesture that shows you "get it" and can get passed yourself and privilege.

4. President Trump: “Make America Great Again!”


Four words popularised by Trump and the rallying cry for his 2016 electoral victory and tweeted a couple times since the Rose Garden speech on June 1st 2020.


MY REACTION: I guess, it’s an election year so #MAGA is making a return. I guess also that Trump does not realise that this chant is also closely linked to the “Make America White Again” movement, who some have linked to white supremacists. Wouldn’t it be better to use his business acumen and flex his commercial versatility to create a new phrase? Distancing himself from anything controversial would be a good idea, no? What am I thinking…he loves controversy! It’s the Trump way!

5. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell: “We were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier…”


Goodell made a minute-and-a-half video in response to a collection of NFL stars speaking out about their intolerance and exasperation with police brutality and inequality that black people have faced in America. Goodell’s support on the surface seems liked a great endorsement of his stars, showing overt support (to the untrained eye) but it rang extremely hollow considering he folded under the pressure of another knee previously- that of Colin Kaepernick and the backlash that came from the team owners who employ Goodell to handle their business affairs. President Trump also vehemently opposed Kaepernick’s silent and respectful protest against police brutality.


MY REACTION: Nice move, Goodell? Kind of! The Adam Silver-like glow, was almost there! What you couldn’t do like Silver though, was to get it fully right! How could you conveniently omit the efforts of Colin directly, as the player who was employed in the league 4 years ago and brought a (flood) light to this situation with his protest!? Is your league that ashamed of how wrong it was or that adamant to persist with this view that he was wrong, warranting the escape of his name from your mouth? 

Hire the man! Whether it be as a deserving quarterback in the league or an advisor, an executive or part owner of a team (all positions by the way, are underrepresented by black people, throughout the sport!). Yes, I know Goodell doesn't wield that hiring power over teams specifically, but it's time to make that happen! Give Kaepernick his voice back, either in the play huddle on the field, on the sidelines or in the boardroom next to Jay-Z, who you hired to shield you against social justice outcries from many factions within the league, media and wider-society.

Get it right, man! It’s the easiest time to make it happen! Hire Kaepernick or ensure that a team does…it’s the RIGHT thing to do! And whilst you’re at it, take a knee with Brees too!


UPDATE since publishing (11/06/2020): *Pretends to whisper to a listening Goodell*- Hey Roger! The "majority of Americans now support NFL players' right to protest" during the national anthem against police brutality and systematic racism! I think the coast is clear... you can hire Colin back now! Since the owners won't face as much heat from the fans and not hurt their bottomline (read: bank accounts), it's likely they'll be ok for you to kneel now too! You may still need to worry about Jerry Jones and your current President though! 


***


George Floyd was not Kobe Bryant. He was not invincible or deified. Before May 25th, he was relatively unknown to the world. But as his daughter sat on the shoulders of former NBA-star Stephen Jackson, proclaiming that her daddy “changed the world,” it’s hard to ignore the relevance of that youthful but yet, mature proclamation. His life and death and how his last gasps for air, calling for his deceased “Mama” and stating that he couldn’t breathe, was haunting. However, it was the loud reverberating call the world needed to hear to also remember the black lives that died before and may die after him. Eric Garner, Amaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Botham Jean are but a few of the long list of victims we’ve heard about over the weeks, months, years and decades. He most definitely has caused a revolution of exasperated individuals around the world- people of all races, colours and creeds, coming to together to say “enough, is enough.” Black lives do matter! 


It’s weird how this piece started with a joke about the corniness of “2020 vision” as a slogan for this year. That vision becoming hazy with the uncertainty, restriction, demoralising and distant passing of loved ones that progressed throughout the year. Many have called jokingly (or maybe not) for 2020 to be scrapped from history, however implausible that is. It’s almost better if we could forget it all happened, as it has almost been a total loss- in all senses of the word.

However, the death of George Floyd and others offers a moment of reverse irony and gives clarity. The circumstances upon which his life was taken, the consequent outcry, global protests and very public spats between the political/legal power structures and the African American community and their allies, made it very "clear" and "transparent" what is needed. This turbulence is simply caused by the unjust practices of these power structures that continually oppress minorities for way too long. 


We’re in 2020, a time where it was expected that we’d be much more advanced and “better” as a society in many aspects. Why do people of African descent have to keep asking for basic opportunities and the simplest values of respect, equality and fair treatment that is expected and wanted by everyone? George Floyd’s life was unceremoniously sacrificed, his voice stifled. In a lovely twist though, his voice and life now serves as the megaphone for the tired and hurt voices we see protesting worldwide. Surely, it would be ideal that he was still be alive today, seeing everyone doing the right thing for each other but we humans like taking the difficult path sometimes.

This is simple and plain to see though; "2020 vision" clear. Whilst some shout that “All Lives Matter”…that’s simply not possible if one group of lives continue to be marginalised and discriminated against. Tone deaf statements that teeter or mindless, insensitive and plain stupid can provoke narrow-minded individuals to see them as truth. However, all our lives are entangled and now more than ever, interdependent. We ALL need the ability to see each other’s worth and preciousness and not see colour. If Covid-19 didn’t open our eyes enough to value and cherish all lives and the roles we play within it, George Floyd’s death and the following protests just shouted it out for everyone to hear. Don't ignore!

So let’s not be tone deaf and perpetuate ignorance, hate and more death; let us use this moment to progress and advance our species…together.
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