“We find ourselves on a precipice, on a tipping point,” Oprah Winfrey said as she opened a conversation with black artists and activists on Tuesday aimed at determining how America can funnel the rage and protests of recent weeks into action to eradicate systemic inequality and racism.
Following the May 25 killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who pleaded for air as a Minnesota police officer kneeled on his neck, as well as of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and ensuing protests nationwide, Winfrey’s two-night conversation, called “Where Do We Go From Here?”, featured director Ava DuVernay, former minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives Stacey Abrams, actor David Oyelowo and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, among several others. The special is airing on OWN and Discovery Networks 18 other networks and is available to stream on YouTube.
Opening the first part of the conversation on Tuesday night, Winfrey acknowledged that before the panelists could talk solutions, they needed to discuss their pain. She turned the conversation first to the men on the video call, given the danger that Black men face in encounters with police in America. “My emotional reaction to these things has transformed. It has become exhausted,” author and New York Times columnist Charles Blow said. Selma actor Oyelowo, who has lived for extended periods in Nigeria, the U.K. and the U.S., added that the video resurfaced buried trauma: “I had made the mistake of thinking that things would be different for my son,” he said. “I say ‘mistake’ because I had watched things progress in some ways and then the knee on the neck is so symbolic of so much,” he added, referring to the Floyd video.
New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones said the fatigue that she and others are feeling about the latest protests over Black death in America comes in part from a sense that white Americans only care when something as horrific as Floyd’s death occur. “Black Americans are tired of having to prove our humanity until something [so horrific] happens to us,” she said. For her part, A Wrinkle in Time director DuVernay said that the conversations she’s been having with her circle have centered on how to move forward from this moment without taking on the extra labor of educating white people. She asked white people, instead, to “take on the labor themselves.”
American University professor and How to Be an Antiracist author Ibram X. Kenbi spoke to feeling a mix of emotions: both “enraged” by recent examples of systemic racism in America and “fueled by” what he called “the resistance,” the international group that has been protesting for and under the banner of “Black Lives Matter” as well as pushing for progressive policies to hit underlying causes. Building on Kenbi’s narrative of momentum, Color of Change president Rashad Robinson called for changing systemic structures that oppress Black Americans and warned viewers not to mistake “visibility for actually getting to the place where both the written and unwritten rules around these [structures] change.”
Participants with experience crafting policies noted that while police killings reignited the conversation around Black death, other systemic issues need to be addressed that are even more deadly for Black Americans. Atlanta Mayor Bottoms, who said that she has been looking to the Civil Rights Movement for guidance, told the group she needed both “quick deliverables” for her community and also longer-term solutions. Abrams noted the disproportionate number of Black Americans dying from COVID-19 and losing their jobs and healthcare amid the pandemic. “While George Floyd’s horrific murder was a catalyst, we are dealing with a confluence of events that all demand action,” she said.
Later in the conversation, Rev. William Barber II called for universal healthcare as one way to end needless Black death. Hannah-Jones added that the country needed to close the wealth gap between Black and white Americans and posed reparations as a solution for “70 years of unchanged wealth,” per a recent study.
Following Floyd’s death, police officer Derek Chauvin, who was caught on video pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck, was charged with second-degree murder. Three other officers who were at the scene were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. All four officers have been fired from the Minneapolis Police Department.
Protests against police violence have taken place in all 50 states, with high-profile Hollywood attendees such as Michael B. Jordan and Keke Palmer. Elsewhere, Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, called for the defunding of police departments, while numerous Hollywood companies have shared statements and some, including Comcast and Bad Robot, have matched words with donations and plans.
See the full first episode of “Where Do We Go From Here?” below.