An image of George Floyd and his daughter Gianna has been circulating around social media since yesterday. George is sitting in the driver’s seat of a car, wearing a black T-shirt and black baseball cap with the word Houston emblazoned in cursive letters above the brim.
In the passenger seat is Gianna, who is now 7 years old, but in the photo—taken a few years ago—looks as if she isn’t more than 3 or 4. She is wearing a purple-and-pink shirt and matching pants and a small plastic bracelet on her right wrist, and has several silver and pink bobbles tied into her hair. Her right hand is holding a pair of plastic blue-and-black sunglasses—the sort made for children with the expectation that they will not last very long—and she looks as if she has pulled the large glasses down from her face and to her chin specifically for the picture.
I find the photo compelling for a couple of reasons. George and his daughter share a striking resemblance. The image has captured them in a moment of uncanny synchrony—bodies facing forward, heads turned toward the camera to their left, each of their mouths slightly ajar. The photo also draws you in to both pairs of eyes. Eyes that are still, direct, calm, and so clearly built from the same blocks of DNA.
The photo is striking, too, because Gianna here reminds me so much of my own daughter. My daughter is 2 years old and has worn those same sorts of sunglasses around our house. I’m pretty sure that we have several scattered under couches, behind teddy bears, and at the bottom of our toy chest. They are the kind of toddler accessory that begs you to take a photo because the sunglasses are half the size of the child’s small face. My daughter wears her hair the same way, with ties that have colorful balls so that when she runs toward the slide at the park, they rattle against one another and create a chorus of tiny cackles. My sister wore her hair the same way as a child, the way my cousins did, the way my nieces do, the way little Black girls we meet at the park also do. “My hair!” my daughter will say, pointing toward another child with the same style, and then touching the top of her head as if to make sure that someone had not in fact taken her hair and put it on someone else’s head.
This similarity and connection, along with many others, have made many Black people feel a level of intimate proximity to the Floyd family and deeply distressed by what happened to George. Saying you can see yourself in another person can sometimes sound trite. But for many of us, when we see the Floyds, we see our family.
I watched the Floyd family’s press conference yesterday, after the verdict was announced. Members of his family came up to the podium to share their thoughts, appreciation, and reflections, and I heard many of the voices and saw many of the dynamics that exist in my own family. Alongside the sense of relief was the banter, the playfulness, the lilt in their voices.
Even if we are of a different socioeconomic status, we see those same bobbles in Gianna’s hair that we put into the hair of our own children. Even if we have never experienced addiction as George did, chances are we are close to a friend or family member who did. In this photo, you see a small Black child and her Black father sitting together in a car on a day that probably felt like any other day. Perhaps they were preparing for a trip to the playground and thinking of getting a Happy Meal from McDonald’s, or perhaps she simply hopped in the front seat of the car to say hello to her daddy and show him her new sunglasses.
Yesterday, I watched the judge read the verdict of the trial alongside my wife in our home. I could feel my heart thumping against my chest; I could see her legs shaking as she leaned toward the TV, hands covering her mouth. The judge read the jury’s verdict:
We, the jury, in the above entitled matter as to count one, unintentional second-degree murder while committing a felony, find the defendant guilty.
…We, the jury, in the above entitled matter as to count two, third-degree murder perpetrating an eminently dangerous act, find the defendant guilty.
…We, the jury, in the above entitled matter as to count three, second-degree manslaughter, culpable negligence creating an unreasonable risk, find the defendant guilty.
Each of us took a deep breath, a wave of something like relief moving through us. As we found our way back into our bodies, both of our children sauntered over. My almost-4-year-old son was carrying a plastic dinosaur and had a mouth painted in patches of purple from his peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, and my daughter was bobbing her head back and forth as if music were playing all around that only she could hear. I picked up my son, and my daughter crawled into my wife’s lap on the couch. I kissed my son on the cheek and looked at my daughter and made a funny face. She laughed and said, “Daddy silly.”
These small moments with our children make parenthood what it is. George and his daughter no longer have these moments. To say that I feel “good” about the verdict wouldn’t be right. I feel hope that Floyd’s family will be able to find some peace. I hope that Gianna’s memories of her father, to the extent possible, are shaped not only by the symbol he has become to the world, but by those small moments of laughter and joy the two of them shared. George has become a symbol, but he was also a father. And in so many ways, the latter is far more important.