Observations on a March

Carla Bell
7 min readJul 12, 2020
Photo by Carla Bell

George Floyd left this world in handcuffs and muffled cries for his mother.

And in that week following another state-sponsored murder of another Black man, I’d been in my little apartment in Tacoma, about 40 minutes south of Seattle, doing what I’m doing now — contemplating the complex orchestration of Black life and death in America.

Everything about the day felt tauntingly ordinary. Outside my windows, the sun bounced off leafy treetops. I priced cleaning a wool rug. Bills were due. But through the hum of the fan…a faint voice like a collective whisper, and I got still.

“….george floyd……george floyd….” and within seconds “GEORGE FLOYD!… WHAT’S HIS NAME?!… GEORGE FLOYD!…WHAT’S HIS NAME?! …GEORGE FLOYD!” — and on a day that tried to be ordinary, I threw on flip flops and a cap covering messy gray hair, and I joined them.

There I was, a Black woman, probably twice the average age of this mostly white crowd spilling through downtown’s Pacific Avenue, belting out call and response, raising my fist — “GEORGE FLOYD!” …raising my hands — “DON’T SHOOT!” I stayed with them as they wove through cars and trucks and buses at the start of rush hour, “dying” at intersections, demanding undivided attention to the murder of George Floyd by the now terminated and incarcerated Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

In other highly publicized Minneapolis cases, officers of the piece took the lives of 24-year-old Jamar Clark, and 32-year-old Philando Castile in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Minnesota is absolutely undeserving of its claim,“Star of the North.”

For the outsider, Seattle strikes a believable pose as a progressive city. (Though we’re already bursting at the seams, Seattle constantly woos transplants.) But I grew up here, so I know the truth. For many Blacks, it’s an experience in ongoing race-based passive aggression layered with indifference. (I dream of relocating.) I couldn’t remember a time when I’d ever actively disrupted its nonchalance and mundanities like this.

As I recorded the actions, I wondered is this what it takes? Skin privilege of white protestors arresting every schedule and plan to advance Black civil rights?! And I wondered if maybe this series of mostly white political actions protesting Floyd’s murder throughout the days and into the nights would amount to a kind of karmic credit for the region, to help offset its blatantly racist past.

Now, to be clear, these aren’t trust fund white kids. They’re not doing ballet recitals or taking a gap year to party in Dubai. These are anarchists and democratic socialists — young leaders, real leaders. In terms of consciousness, they’re probably the blackest white kids you’re likely to find in the greater Seattle area. Alongside them, I felt I was part of a body politic making an indelible public outcry.

After seeing the video clips[1][2] on social media, a man of Middle Eastern descent remarked on the scarcity of Blacks and predominance of whites in the march. So, ironically, I found myself explaining the basics of living Black in Seattle, or really anywhere in US, to this man of color — highlighting yet another failure in the idea of a single story about the so-called “people of color community.”

First, Black lives matter. So we use wisdom about where to be and when, prioritizing our lives over the chance police encounter, and exposure to COVID-19. Recent decisions at the city government level had temporarily banned cops’ use of tear gas and similar elements, and had provided free testing for protestors. Still, in light of the disproportionate health threat presented to Blacks by COVID-19, as compared to people of other demographics, the local chapter of BLM generally discouraged attending protests.

If the escalating number of viral infections in connection with local protests wasn’t enough to keep Black people away, and if the statement from BLM wasn’t enough either, the cops would be. Over just four days of protests, Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability received 14,000 complaints about conduct of the Seattle Police Department.

Beyond that, Black people in this nation, descendants of enslaved people, are uniquely burdened with historical trauma that catalyzed vulnerabilities to diabetes, hypertension, lupus, sickle cell, multiple sclerosis, and the autoimmune family of diseases. Science bears this out. Plus, physical ailments stemming from genetic trauma are compounded by the escalating effects of climate change. That old saying “when white folks catch a cold, Black folks catch pneumonia,” it’s no overstatement. Burdens land hardest on Black communities.

For only the second time in the history of the nation, Black communities became “essential”.

The prioritized capitalist agenda has redefined “community service.” In many respects, the COVID-19 pandemic created even greater opportunities for capitalists. Once the federal government designated many categories of employees “essential workers,” people in those roles became legally bound to the job, except under a few conditions. This meant that, with nominal “hazard pay,” workers at Jeff Bezos’ Whole Foods and other local “essential businesses” were forced behind counters to serve strangers in the midst of a killer pandemic, when they might prefer to participate in some form of civil disobedience in solidarity with the Black community, and those who are outraged about Chauvin’s careless handling of Floyd’s life.

For only the second time in the history of the nation, Black communities became “essential”. We’ve always been predominantly represented in the types of labor which have been so categorized: physically-taxing, low-wage earning, entry level, and blue-collar. We all know, and some will admit, that the American architecture was calculated and designed to uphold and sustain inequities on the basis of race. It’s sturdy construction undergirds inequitable education, inequitable wages, inequitable access to health care, and comorbidity contributing to early death among Blacks. America works according to its design.

“New Blacks” will take a raincheck. Across the Pacific Northwest, and certainly in Seattle, the rare Black corporate hire, the “token Black,” can be just a rung from the bottom, adding to her apprehension about being Black, publicly, in an identity conduct sense. In this kind of psychosocial pressure cooker, a good portion of phenotypically Black people make a deliberate decision to be unconventionally Black, or “New Black[3],” which I can only describe as a hopeless endeavor by a Black person, to live in a post-racial America that doesn’t yet exist, while ignoring evidence to the contrary.

The book “Acting White? Rethinking Race in Post-Racial America” describes it this way: “…one who is identifiably black with respect to phenotype, but unconventionally black with respect to conduct or social behavior… ‘looks lack’ but ‘acts white’ (or at least does not act ‘too black’).”

Some public figures who might fit this description are conservative pundit and Trump supporter Candace Owens, political commentator Paris Dennard of the George W. Bush administration, former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, or radio host Tommy Sotomayor — and, of course, at the nonsense level on the the same spectrum, I see characteristics of Malcolm X’s house negro, in Ineitha Lynnette Hardaway (“Diamond”) and Herneitha Rochelle Hardaway Richardson (“Silk”).

I think a decision to behaviorally whiten one’s blackness follows an imperialist foundational blueprint. It also creates a kind of whole-life code switch, or an “in-between racial identity — that makes a person both recognizable and unrecognizable as a black person…” writes the authors. It’s precisely that in-betweenness that produces a critical misalignment when it comes to matters of Black civil rights.

Besides this middle eastern man, my “fellow POC,” everybody knows New Blacks are a remnant of the community that may never show up for the fight.

In an already overwhelmingly white state, gentrification pushes Blacks out. On a loop, every 20 years or so, Black people are priced out of the very same neighborhoods that red-lining had once mandated, and into food deserts near industrial centers and farther away from good schools. Where one lovely old home held a family for 50 years, or where a beautiful brick-built church held a congregation for a century, developers have erected shoebox style apartments, above doggy daycares and tanning salons. Gentrification displaces whole Black communities and severs decades-long relationships and neighborhood supports. So, protest actions in the city just aren’t feasible for many Black people, and maybe their decision not to attend is also another kind of protest, in response to gentrification itself.

Anyway, all of this is actually white people’s work to do. With the advent of the “white” racial category came the myth of white supremacy which, for millennia, has produced real life and death consequences for Black people, as well other non-white people in this nation, and around the world. So, I think it’s appropriate that white people protest against every form of anti-Black racial terrorism, especially murder of Black people by a predominantly white American “law enforcement”.

White people are responsible for the American state of race, and really must be held accountable for the problems, the solutions, and the reparations.

We’ve been sold and purchased, bred and branded.

We’ve picked and towed, sown and harvested.

We’ve organized, we’ve marched, been hung, shot, and killed.

We lay down the plough. Let the white man labor in the white man’s field.

Writer’s note: In the month of June, this story was presented to six mainstream (read “white”) publications, two in the greater Seattle area, who thought it wasn’t quite the right fit for their audience. #journalismsowhite

***And always remember “Don’t hit the clap button on Medium once. Hit it 50 times!”***

Carla Bell is an editor and journalist based in Seattle. Her work appears in Forbes, Essence, Ebony, The Seattle Times, and other publications.



Carla Bell

Journalist and Editorial Consultant ::bylines:: @Forbes @WHYYThePulse @Essence @EBONYmag Dir MAYDAY:BLACK @mayday_online ::: Black mixed with Black:::