The good news is that those opposing the killing are not the same people. The powerful but insulated Black rage that Eric saw up close twice before has expanded its geography, and leapt the usual bounds of demography. Thousands of white and other nonblack people got into in the streets, from Hollywood to other unlikely white places like Santa Monica and Glendale, embracing Black rage as valid: Instead of trying to minimize it or argue it down, they have claimed it as theirs. They have finally accepted the rage as both Black and American. This is a tremendous development in our story.
After that disorienting day in West Hollywood (“I wasn’t ready for what I saw,” Eric confessed to me later. “Scared the hell out of me.”) he told me he has emerged with a new kind of hope about the younger Black generation, something he hasn’t felt in a long time. He admires this generation’s conviction, its determination to keep up pressure. Yet he continues to worry about the bigger political picture in which all this is happening. In his view, “Things are going to get worse before they get better.” He reminded me that it’s still unclear whether and how Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who killed Mr. Floyd, will be punished. “That policeman hasn’t been charged correctly,” Eric said. “What I saw was first-degree murder.”
What he means is that white participation in the protests has been encouraging and historic, but then there are white conservatives, the kind that enabled Mr. Trump and continue to support him on principle, the people whose movements Eric continues to chart with outrage and alarm. In short, there are still great forces arrayed against social equality, which Eric believes is the only thing that can make America whole. He has believed it since 1970, when he had a kind of post-60s epiphany about the meaning of racism, what it was really meant to quash — not just fair voting practices or fair treatment by police, but a relationship between Black and white that is equal in the most mundane yet most profound ways. Social equality, Eric says, is our holy grail.
It’s possible, I told him, that 55 years after that first wake-up moment in Watts, enough of us in L.A. and far beyond are having the same epiphany. It just took time.
Erin Aubry Kaplan is a contributing opinion writer.
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