Saying His Name, Remembering His Life.

Date01 June 2022
AuthorGilmore, Brian

His Name Is George Floyd: One Man's Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice is a healing book about a truly terrible moment.

Written by Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa, two sharp reporters from The Washington Post, this social biography of George Floyd is a masterwork. Floyd is not rendered as a caricature or perfect martyr; instead, he is flawed, ordinary, and special. He made a lot of mistakes and yet also tried to live a good life. And in the end he was, by his own definition, a success.

"For as long as he could remember, George Perry Floyd Jr. had wanted the world to know his name," says a passage early in the book, presaging his emergence as the face of the movement against police violence in the United States. This reminded me of the scene in Richard Wright's Native Son when Bigger Thomas tells his friends, "Sometimes I feel like something awful is going to happen to me."

Floyd's heinous death on May 25, 2020, unleashed a global protest against police violence, even as the world was in the throes of a deadly pandemic. But his story, in this telling, is rooted in the history of chattel slavery in the United States. Floyd's ancestors were imprisoned in that world and, as Ta-Nehisi Coates has said, "plundered." They gained their freedom only to lose their sole lifeline to economic freedom after Reconstruction, when their land, like millions of Black Americans, was taken from them.

George Floyd grew up poor and was offered barely a speck of opportunity. He and his family struggled to get by. His mother even moved to Houston to get away from the trappings of the family's connections to slavery in North Carolina.

Samuels and Olorunnipa also explore the various players in Floyd's backstory: the enslavers of Floyd's ancestors, those who stole their land, and Derek Chauvin, the cop who took his life, whose family came to the United States from Europe in the nineteenth century but instantly jumped ahead of Floyd's people in the U.S. racial caste system.

The chapter on Floyd's killing is detailed and horrific. As someone who saw the video of his killing early in its circulation online, I found...

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