I’m a chaplain, but I work with mental health professionals and have for the last 10 years. Along the way, I picked up the simple therapeutic tool of the “responsibility pie,” which might offer a new way of looking at the George Floyd case.
The responsibility pie is most commonly used for a client or veteran who feels that some mistake or problem they did was totally their fault. So the therapist draws out a pie and shows them how their boss was 20% responsible and their coworker maybe had a 40% piece of the pie and the corporation itself had a piece of the pie as well.
What if we looked at the George Floyd case and, without assessing any particular percentages, identified some of the pieces of the pie to demonstrate both the complexity of this case and the issue of race in America?
Full disclosure, I’m 100% white, but I have a decent tan to go along with my acknowledged white privilege. I do, however, live in a neighborhood that is 90% Black, I taught English in an all-Black high school for two years and I like flat-billed baseball hats with the stickers still on them, which once almost got me tossed out of a white club in Memphis.
Pie Piece 1: Derek Chauvin. Chauvin is the 44-year-old policeman who killed George Floyd for no apparent reason. It’s all on video, and the world responded in an unprecedented manner. He is now charged with second-degree murder. His piece of this pie is huge — like a giant double piece of lemon meringue pie at a Tennesee Cracker Barrel.
Pie Piece 2: George Floyd. Let’s get this over with since no one wants to hear it and it might not be true. George Floyd allegedly used a counterfeit bill that precipitated the incident leading to his death. Now if he did not use a counterfeit bill, he is not a pie piece and should quickly be removed. But if he did, then that is wrong and he is culpable of doing something wrong. However, the degree of wrongness that he allegedly did in no way warranted his murder and he (if he did it) remains a flaky small piece of crust on this pie at best.
Pie Piece 3: Black crime. We’re sometimes told that Black people are more likely to be involved in street crimes. I couldn’t find any research to directly support this because I’m sure no one wants to touch it. And it’s probably baloney. But I did discover that the Black arrest rate is seven times higher than the white rate. You can bet that many of the white people are just getting off and not being arrested like the Black people.
But still, let’s assume that in some cases, police in general interact with and arrest more Blacks than whites. That might mean that a police officer who is accustomed to using aggression is doing more than just abusing or sometimes killing a Black man, he is using unwarranted aggression and killing the criminals he works with most. In other words, his actions might not just be racially motivated. In that case, these cops need to be removed and treated for PTSD, anger management or whatever it is they need, not just education in race relations.
In the case of Derek Chauvin, this argument may not ring true since Minneapolis is only 18.6% Black. It could be that Chauvin usually encounters white criminals and he was purely a racist when he encountered what he thought was a Black criminal.
“The impact of the 246 years of slavery is more than any Emancipation Proclamation, Plessy v. Ferguson, Rosa Parks, Brown v. Board of Education, MLK ‘Free at Last’ or Obama election can ever overcome.”
Pie Piece 4: Our socioeconomic system provides fewer opportunities for education and job promotion for Blacks than whites. Our education for most Black students in America is inferior; I’ve seen it myself. I was an awful teacher in an all-Black high school. I was the most inexperienced English teacher ever, with minimal “white” support from the state education department. Our school sucked, and not because it had Black students. It was in an impoverished, dying rural town where the only “land owners” were a handful of white people with big houses and catfish farms.
Look closely at historically Black colleges and communities. While a lot of pride, tradition and excellence remain in these school, the Ivy league schools pull out the cream of the crop and drag them to the East Coast where they can no longer contribute to Black, usually Southern, communities. Our system rarely encourages and promotes Black development, education and employment except in sports, quotas and “feel-good-about-ourself” offices that hire a Black partner, receptionist or whatever.
This problem must be a piece of the pie.
Pie Piece 5: Systemic racism. The bottom line is that the system is rigged. It’s not just rogue individual racists who commit injustice; it’s an entire political and economic system that’s oppressive. This is a huge piece of the pie.
Pie Piece 6: 246 years of slavery. We cannot forget the chicken that beget every egg of racism in America. Nineteen or so Black slaves were stolen from a Portuguese ship in 1619 and brought to Jamestown. That got the ball rolling, and by 1860 there were 4 million slaves. That’s a problem that will follow us until some Marvel comics time in the future. The impact of the 246 years of slavery is more than any Emancipation Proclamation, Plessy v. Ferguson, Rosa Parks, Brown v. Board of Education, MLK “Free at Last” or Obama election can ever overcome. And we are seeing that now. Let’s not just protest the “Blue,” let’s protest the history of the “Red, White and Blue.” That’s the color of this piece of pie.
Pie Piece 7: 100 years of Jim Crow. Here is another piece of this pie that extends beyond slavery. From post Civil War until 1968, (ironically the year Martin Luther King was shot), we had another century where Blacks were subjected in the South to laws affecting such things as literary tests, poll taxes, restrictions on voting and separation between races in public and places of business.
“I especially don’t care if you say you ‘don’t see color,’ because that means you are either a blind person or dumb.”
Pie Piece 8: Continued racism. Since 1968 we’ve continued racism with failed integration, gentrification, affirmative action, higher Black recruitment to the Vietnam War, discrimination related to COVID-19, segregation of churches, just to name a few. We thought we had a good handle on racism after the 1960s when we had the March on Washington, the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1965, the peace movement and reaction to the killing of MLK and Robert Kennedy. But unless you were Black you didn’t see the racism as acutely as you did before. It went under the surface for us white people, infiltrating the entire crust of this responsibility pie.
Pie Peace 9: You and me. I don’t care what your race is, where you live, what you’ve learned, who you know. And I especially don’t care if you say you “don’t see color,” because that means you are either a blind person or dumb. I don’t care if you are protesting in the streets of Minneapolis or Amsterdam; I don’t care if you painted the most beautiful protest graffitti in downtown Durham. Race and racism is in us. My grandmother’s racism is in my veins, like it or not, and shows its evil head way more often than I’d like.
The DNA from every piece of responsibility pie I’ve mentioned runs through all our veins and probably always will. I’m not being fatalistic, I’m just saying let’s be aware and let’s be kind. Let’s protest, but let’s also ask questions like Marvin did, “What’s goin’ on?” Let’s use the pieces of this untasty responsibility pie to paint a broader palette on our graffiti.
Steve Sullivan has served as a hospital and VA chaplain for 15 years. He helped create the VA/Clergy Partnership for Rural Veterans in 2009. This partnership brings together community clergy, mental health providers and others to help veterans gain access to both VA and community care. He worked to establish six ongoing VA/clergy “community action boards in rural sites throughout Arkansas. He grew up in Arkansas and studied at Baylor University, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Princeton Seminary. He is an adjunct faculty member at Memphis Theological Seminary.