In the midst of violence and protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd (and also the death of Breonna Taylor and David McAtee), Americans are facing the racist history of the country, which is rearing its head in the present. Understanding history is a powerful way for parents to reflect and educate their kids about a way forward. Systematic racism, after all, is not new, even if current events make it seem that way to kids, and sometimes, adults with their heads buried int he sand.
In all of this, a few excellent history teachers have emerged. One of them is Run the Jewels rapper Killer Mike. Speaking about the tragedy of George Floyd, and his outrage over systematic racism, Killer Mike emotionally said, “Atlanta is not perfect. But we are a lot better than we ever were.” And then, he delivered three salient pieces of historical knowledge, all of which are excellent talking points for parents.
Historical racism within police departments
Killer Mike made it clear that he was a son of an Atlanta City police officer. That fact isn’t just random, police officers of all races obviously exist, but what we tend to forget is how segregation tainted that history. In his speech in Atlanta, Killer Mike mentioned the “original 8,” meaning the first black police officers in Atlanta. As Killer Mike pointed out, these black cops were discriminated against to the point that they had to change into their uniforms in the local YMCA, because “white officers didn’t want to get dressed with n —.”
“The Cornerstone Speech” is a racist, crazy historical rant, which many (white) people, nonetheless believe to this day
There’s a good chance that most forward-thinking people have heard of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an infamous antisemitic hoax from 1903, which tried to convince non-Jewish people that a Jewish conspiracy would soon take over the world. This kind of dangerous hate speech presented casually as non-fiction has continued to this day, but what’s even scarier is that other things just like it are just as pervasive, though perhaps less well-known.
In his speech in Atlanta, Killer Make implored the audience to “look it up,” in reference to the Cornerstone Speech. What is the Cornerstone Speech? Well, during the Civil War, this speech was delivered by Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens, who said, among other things that “Our new government[‘s] foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man.” As Killer Mike pointed out, it’s clear that Derek Chauvin, the police officer who murdered George Floyd, firmly believed in the truly insane speech. “That officer believed that speech because he killed that man like an animal.” This gets to the root of the problem with the Confederacy in the first place. It wasn’t about states rights. It was about racism.
The ending of apartheid in Africa
Killer Mike pointed out the historical fact that local power and demands for change can influence racist attitudes throughout the world. “Atlanta said once, ‘Coca-Cola, we love you. But if you’re going to support apartheid, we’re not gonna drink coke anymore’…and coke pulled out…and apartheid ended.”
He’s right. Because of pressure from American citizens, Coca-Cola (based in Atlanta) ceased conducting business with the racist regime of apartheid in 1986. This was just one of many steps that allowed that systemic racist system to be dismantled at that time. This historical example also should provide some hope. Things can change if people listen and learn from history. “Atlanta’s not perfect, but we’re a lot better than we ever were,” Killer Mike said. “It is the responsibility of us to make this better…right now.”
Right now, for those of us who are trying to do our part, taking a history lesson is a decent first step, and listening to intelligent, history-minded activists like Killer Mike is a great first step. Watch his entire speech above. You’ll definitely learn something.