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Why the George Floyd Case Was a Mere Symptom of a Split American Society – And Why Education and Upbringing Matter

Written by Lara Siebrecht

“All three counts!” “Whose victory? Our victory!”

After Derek Chauvin was not only charged guilty of manslaughter but second-and third-degree murder as well, it seemed like a vital step toward a more racially just the United States of America was finally taken. There were tears of relief — and a new spark of hope among the Black community. According to Floyd’s lawyer Benjamin Crump, this was a “turning point in American history.” President Joe Biden witnessed this trial as a potential “step forward in the march towards justice in America.” 

Though this was an important event in African-American history, one question remains: did the outcome of this trial have a real impact on the people of the United States? Perhaps the Black Lives Matter movement is a symptom of a split in American society. Within this joy of progress lies the realization of an ever more escalating conflict between two groups in society that are far from ready to have a civil conversation about political issues.

Cooper, a 23-year-old medical student from South Carolina, reports that he witnesses division among American society every day. He feels that the Black Lives Matter Movement is justified, pointing out relevant statistics about health care averages: “Black males are 2.2 times more likely to die from prostate cancer than white males.” This is because “there is a lack of education, screening, and treatment.” Cooper is thankful he did not grow up in a “sheltered” environment and that he could think critically for himself rather than rely solely on his parents’ opinion. He sees complications in how people always feel they “must choose a side,” not just in the Black Lives Matter movement, but also in heated topics such as gun rights/reform. 

Hunter, a 23-year-old engineer from New York, has made similar observations. Something he emphasizes in particular is how people in the US are unwilling to have an “open-minded” political discussion. Within the opposition to the BLM movement, e.g. “Blue Lives Matter,” Hunter has witnessed how people love to “nitpick” views contradicting their own while ignoring the basic values of human respect. Shaking his head, he explains that the main problem lies deeper: “People are split on so many issues. What people do not realize is that the solution is almost always a compromise.” He claims that his education at a competitive public school and his urban upbringing in the state of New York have definitely influenced him to think more critically and openly about political issues in the United States. Hunter regrets that not all people are willing to be more open-minded and humbler in political discussions. “Many people are very stubborn. They already made their mind up on an issue without doing any thinking for themselves. If I know the person is stubborn or will not have an appropriate conversation, I do not bother.” 

Tessa, a U.S. missionary currently based in Sweden, finds it incredibly challenging not to have political disagreements with people nowadays. She explains that the most challenging part of it is not the issue at hand, but rather that “often we are talking around each other.” Having been exposed to many different worldviews throughout her life, including those from outside of the United States, Tessa believes that “change comes from meaningful conversation.” 

So what do education and upbringing have to do with U.S. society’s inability to lead civilized political discussions? What we need to take into consideration is that education in the United States very much depends on a student’s socioeconomic and geographical background. For example, children who are raised in a one-parent household are more likely to attend a public school, whereas children who are raised in two-parent households are more likely to attend a private school. Statistics also confirm that 69% of elementary and secondary students who attend private schools are white, while only 9% of them are Black, 10% Hispanic, and 6% Asian. This is a massive racial division. Furthermore, U.S. education varies very much depending on the state and whether the school is located in a rural or urban area. On average, urban students have higher literacy rates than rural students since urban schools receive more funding and political attention. Students from rural areas also tend to grow up in more sheltered and religious environments, which gives them significantly fewer opportunities to be exposed to diverse communities. This can be crucial because less exposure to diverse socioeconomic, racial, and geographic groups leads to more social and political misunderstanding.

Hannah, for example, a 22-year-old student from Florida, reports that growing up in a very sheltered environment limited her critical thinking about racial inequality and police aggression. “For myself, I didn’t even know it was an issue. I grew up with family members and friends that were in the police force and of course I never thought they could be in the wrong because they were in my inner circle. But seeing the intense stunts they get away with is gut-wrenching.” After having almost completed her undergraduate degree at a public university, Hannah now recognizes that the United States “needs to change.” For things to change, she argues that deeper interaction among various groups is necessary. If such interaction is promoted, different opinions can be heard and recognized instead of being discarded and ignored. 

The years of elementary, middle, and high school are crucial for creating open-minded communication and integration skills. With the apparent divisions in the United States’ education system, it is extremely hard for students to gain these skills. The United States’ split society demonstrates that the lack of integration becomes more problematic once students turn into adults. 

Whether they went to a public school, a private school, or were homeschooled, one thing is clear: all interviewees mentioned that it can be hard for them to engage in political discussions, and so will sometimes choose to avoid political conversations entirely. This pattern will only become more and more dangerous. As hate arises from the two opposing narratives within US society, the desire and ability to communicate will continue to evaporate. The split in the United States is becoming more and more visible, most recently due to the outcomes of the presidential election in 2020. As for the trial of George Floyd, Chauvin’s lawyer has already appealed the decision. Clearly this will further intensify the tensions between two already deeply divided groups. 

Without the immersion, communication, and education between these two groups, tragedies like the murder of George Floyd will keep happening. Will this lead to even more hate and misunderstanding? If the United States chooses to tackle the underlying structural problems that form miscommunication, there might be some hope for a more united future. 

Edited by Olivia Christman; Photo Credits to Julian Wan, Unsplash