If racism is worse than it’s ever been, says Will Generett, “it’s not because it was never there but because people didn’t know about it like they do now.
“Racism is like dust. You can’t really see it until you shine a light on it,” says the senior at Fox Chapel High School, referencing an insight he read online. “Right now social media is shining a light on it.”
Will has never been active on social media but since the lockdown in mid-March, he has spent more time on it and found plenty to disturb him.
The student — who started a Black Student Council in Fox Chapel after the school failed to celebrate Black History Month — was looking for a way to cope with his anger over the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed Black man who was going for a run in his Georgia neighborhood when he was attacked and killed by two white men.
So Generett turned to writing. In an essay he calls “Run,” he considers what Ahmaud might have been thinking during the horrific incident. “I can’t speak for him but he can’t speak for himself,” says Will. All the thoughts expressed in the story are Will’s.
After finishing the essay and getting it posted on social media, Will was rocked again by the confounding murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer who jammed his knee into the victim’s neck for nearly nine minutes, despite Floyd’s pleas of “I can’t breathe.”
“It is horrific,” he says. He quotes James Baldwin, which he first heard from his father, in describing his feelings. “To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.”
What do his white friends say to him about the incidents?
“It’s a great question,” Generett says. “I know a lot of my friends are conservative but when it comes to this they’re 100 percent against police brutality; they’re reposting my essay and spreading awareness.”
On the other hand, he notes, “There are others who are very silent about it. And that’s scary.
“We don’t teach white kids to talk about race at an early age,” he says. “They have no clue how to approach it. Some of them try. But all my friends in the Black Student Union? (There are 25 members.) We have very, very good conversations.”
Often the only Black student in his classes at Fox Chapel, Will is headed to Morehouse College in the fall, an all-male HBCU (historically black colleges and universities) school “where I can just be Will and just study and not worry about microaggressions or if the school will be celebrating Black History Month.”
It’s the same college that his dad, Bill Generett, attended, as well as his grandfather. He plans on majoring in biology and hopes to be a doctor.
Here is Will’s essay, Run:
The news cycle shows the men and women storming the state building. Guns in hand, they are demanding the reopening of America. They stand in front of police officers yelling and waving weapons, unafraid of retaliation. They have no reason to be afraid.
They have the backing of the President and the support of their white privilege. In an odd sense, I agree that
the country should try to get back to work as soon as possible. Some individuals need the paycheck they receive from their 9-5 to cover the bills and put food on the table. If I needed to feed my family and the government wouldn’t let me, I would be angry too. Shoot, I would even storm the state house with a few of my buddies as well. Hold on, though: that wouldn’t be an option. A group of black men standing on the steps of a state house with guns in hand would be deemed the black panthers 2.0. Our “protest” would last all but five minutes before the tear gas and riot shields joined us.
Every time I want to sympathize with one of the protestors, I think of the thousands of people dead from the coronavirus. In a country where quality healthcare isn’t available to everyone, people of color have been disproportionately affected by the virus. Social distancing in my family is a must because both my mom and dad have underlying health conditions that could make them more susceptible to Covid. As an escape from all of this, I have been keeping up with my running.