The Weight of a Name

For George Floyd’s legacy to be to be fully honored, we must accept the responsibility to contribute to positive change.

Although+George+Floyd%27s+death+occurred+nearly+a+year+and+half+ago%2C+his+name+has+only+grown+more+symbolic+of+the+need+for+racial+justice+in+America.

abc13

Although George Floyd’s death occurred nearly a year and half ago, his name has only grown more symbolic of the need for racial justice in America.

Samantha Podnar, Staff Writer

George Floyd.

Millions of people have protested in his name. During one week last June, Floyd’s name was searched more than “coronavirus” or “Donald Trump.” Protestors have set up an autonomous zone in Minneapolis called George Floyd Square, and Congress is even writing police reform legislation with his name attached.

We use his name as a shorthand to refer to the unrest this summer, a symbol of the violence that many Black Americans have suffered at the hands of police—attempting to capture all of it in eleven letters, two syllables. “George Floyd” has become a buzzword, a point of conflict, a point of connection, a commodity, a catalyst, a weapon, a shield. In the midst of a movement that champions the phrase “Say their names,” Floyd’s name has come to mean far more than the person behind it.

Floyd was born in North Carolina and grew up in Texas and was “like a superhero” to the younger neighborhood kids. He wanted to be a Supreme Court justice. He was a football and basketball player in high school, nicknamed “Big Friendly.” He went to college on an athletic scholarship. He was homeless for some time. He was arrested and charged with aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon. He served five years in prison. He volunteered with his church, helping to baptize people in a tub on a nearby basketball court. He had five children. He lost his job as a bouncer when the pandemic hit.

He was complicated. He was human.

And as his name has been amplified, it’s been difficult to preserve those small details about him, what truly made him who he was. Floyd’s girlfriend has shared her struggles with grieving privately in the midst of the media attention and chaos, but she’s also learned to celebrate the public movement sparked by Floyd’s death.

His life is much more vulnerable now, more public, more highly scrutinized, but it is also connected to everyone who has joined together under one cause.”

“Floyd was my man,” she said. “But George Floyd is a movement. And his name speaks for everyone who has been affected by police violence!”

Many people share Ross’s sentiments that Floyd represents something larger than himself. But that has also opened up his life to scrutiny that he can’t deflect. After he was killed, 15 months ago, he was no longer able to defend his name or monitor its usage. The world ran with his name, and now it’s taken on a life of its own, spoken in myriad ways by people who have myriad different motivations.

On one side, he has been attacked. His opioid addiction has been made to stand trial, teenagers have reenacted his death for laughs, it has been implied that his death was some sort of noble “sacrifice” for a just cause.

His name has been said by countless people in the past year—strangers who, if Floyd was alive, would never have fit his name into their mouths, where it now sits uncomfortably, impersonally. They would never have known him. That anonymity, that gradual obsolescence after death, serves as protection for most of us—Floyd does not enjoy that same protection. He has been robbed of his privacy and is unable to defend himself. 

Yet despite the slander his name has endured, the insults and blame and racist labels, people have also rallied around his name. The Black Lives Matter protests this past summer saw tens of millions of people demanding justice, their chants and anger all packed behind two syllables, the namesake of a man all but a few of them did not know. As people continue to say his name, they pour into it their own experiences, the grief and the violence they’ve personally endured. They create his legacy, piece by piece—the sort of legacy that very few people have, and one that was thrust upon Floyd with the injustice of his death.

Floyd was a person—we cannot forget that, cannot erase his story and his dignity. But we can also honor his life by supporting the movement that has come to accompany his name. His life is much more vulnerable now, more public, more highly scrutinized, but it is also connected to everyone who has joined together under one cause.

Most people are survived by their relatives and friends, but Floyd’s legacy will also be shaped by people all across the country and the world. His story has been shared with us—and with it, countless other stories and calls for change. We all know the weight the name “George Floyd” holds, and because of that knowledge, we all have the responsibility to channel this energy into a force for positive change. 

 

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Editors’ note: All opinions expressed on The Uproar are a reflection solely of the beliefs of the bylined author and not the journalism program at NASH.  We continue to welcome school-appropriate comments and guest articles.