Earlier this year, before the COVID-19 outbreak, I got a tattoo of a butterfly that spans across my chest. It has a special meaning to me as it signifies a major turning point in my life and my own personal metamorphosis.
Sunday night, before my mother went to bed, she called me into the room. She wanted me to wear shirts that didn’t expose my tattoo if I were to go out in public. She was worried a policeman would see me as a gang member.
Initially, I blew her notions off. I’ve never been in any serious trouble with the police. I’ve gotten one speeding ticket my whole life, nothing close to gang activity. But after thinking about it I realized it wasn’t such a ridiculous assumption.
If a police officer, who’s already on edge after days of protests, saw me taking a walk in downtown San Antonio, Texas, he wouldn’t see a law-abiding, American citizen. Nor would he see the special meanings behind the butterfly. He would see a dark-skinned boy with a large tattoo.
I’m almost certain there are no white parents in America who have to worry about their child’s safety because of their tattoos.
Earlier this week I was having a conversation with a friend, a white woman, who said her parents taught her to find a police officer if she was ever in trouble. I was not taught these same lessons.
I was taught to say “yes sir, no sir” and to keep my hands visible at all times if an officer were to approach me. Only speak when you are spoken to and if something happens, don’t fight back. We can always hire a lawyer after.
I’m not African American so I can only imagine what black mothers and fathers need to tell their kids in order to help their children return home safely after an encounter with the police.
But I do know this, in the 157 years since the Emancipation Proclamation, our black brothers and sisters have implored their white counterparts to listen to them and help them with their problems of police brutality.
This shouldn’t have been too much to ask, for the Constitution says equal protection under the law is a right for all Americans. And for the better part of 157 years, there was push back. There wasn’t any concrete evidence of such an issue.
White Americans hadn’t truly witnessed this until 1992 when video was released of the Rodney King beating. Then, instead of helping to be a part of the solution, many people dismissed the issue because he must not have complied with the officers and plenty of other excuses to avoid having the tough but necessary conversations.
Almost 30 years later and we’ve seen countless videos of police officers abusing their power and killing black Americans without punishment, which has led us to where we are now, nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd.
I don’t want to see another video of an innocent, unarmed black man or woman getting killed in the street because of the color of their skin. I don’t want this to be my reality because I choose not to look. I want it to be the reality of each and every black citizen in this country. I refuse to believe this is impossible.
I beg of everyone reading this to take some time out of their day and ask themselves how they can help progress our society forward. There will never be any real change if we don’t all do our part.
If we don’t, George Floyd will not be the last and we’ll be exactly where we are now having these same conversations.
The other major reason I wanted a butterfly tattoo was as a representation of my favorite piece of art, Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 album, To Pimp a Butterfly. Oddly enough, the overarching theme in this album is racial injustice in America.
At the end of the album’s final song, Kendrick recites a poem that describes the plight of a caterpillar. The caterpillar is this spiteful character, unwanted by the world because he eats every plant around him in order to survive. He then builds a cocoon as both a way to protect himself from outsiders who want to eradicate him and a prison as punishment for consuming his surroundings.
Finally, the caterpillar breaks free from these walls, having successfully navigated his environment and metamorphosed into something new and beautiful.
The story of the butterfly is a lesson for all of us, especially during this time of heightened racial tensions in America.
Despite all the hard times in the caterpillar’s life, the butterfly is a beacon of hope.
As of today, this country is that caterpillar. We must take action now and build our “cocoons,” whether that be in the ballot box or using our platforms in a way that evokes real change, so that one day we as a nation can evolve into the butterfly we know we can be.