Ever since the killing of George Floyd, a middle-aged African-American man, by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25, 2020, America had witnessed a wave of anger and protests followed by horrendous police brutalities that unmasked the nation’s long-overlooked police violence. Since then, issues like systemic racism, the impoverishment of African-American communities, and the disproportionate killings of African-Americans in the hands of the police occupied the U.S media narratives (the global news) and political discourse in a crucial election year.
The killing of George Floyd in a gruesome manner which is emblematic of the disproportionate treatment by police of Africa-Americans ignited a long-simmering anger. On May 7 2020, a video footage had emerged of the Killing of Ahmed Aubrey, a young black man in Georgia, as he was jogging in a neighbourhood by a retired police officer and his son. He was ‘mistaken’ as a fleeing burglar. The association of African-Americans with crimes, calling the police on them and their disproportionate treatments in the hands of police that leads to deaths and injury reflects a social culture predicated on systemic racism.
Know that protests have engulfed the US and solidarity anti-racism protests spreading all over the world, can protests and riots bring racial injustice, xenophobia and hatred into an end? In a post-pandemic world being gripped by a looming economic crisis, rising unemployment numbers and a rising right-wing populist-nationalist politics, protest and riots are not the only panacea. A world-wide effort that challenges mistreatments of human bodies and dignity, which are enshrined in national and institutional policies can stem out the systemic culture of racism and hate faced by African-Americans, domestic workers and construction labourers in the Middle-East, Muslims in India and China, and migrants in detention centres around Europe.
Systemic racism and the impoverishment of African-Americans
Race is a critical flashpoint in American social and political imagination. Racial superiority has played a significant role in the foundation of America. In An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States (2014) author and historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz observes how violence motivated by racial superiority and theological providence for material prosperity wipe-out the indigenous Native Americans. Moreover, in America’s original sin (2015) theologian and political activist Jim Wallis laments how the American society is still haunted by the history of slavery, the lynching of African-Americans, and 20th century Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation and systemic racism.
At the foundation of the disproportionate police mistreatments of African-Americans is a culture of violence. Turkey’s TRT World and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Journalists and news reporters, among others, have witnessed and ‘tasted’ a portion of that violence. In addition to police violence, African-Americans encounter a justice system and courts that have also equally disproportionately incarcerated Africa-American men and young boys. The mass incarcerations of African-Americans have dented a blow to the economy, education, psychology, and social mobility of African-American communities and families. More critically, most of these incarcerated men and women lose their political rights to vote and being elected, hence locking them away indefinitely from political participation. In many states, this has rendered African-Americans politically disenfranchised.
Economic impoverishment has also gripped African-American communities and households in the suburban neighbourhoods all over the country. African-Americans have the lowest high school and university graduation levels; lowest income, wealth, and wages growths in America; they are condemned to, as the Guardian put it: ‘‘to inferior health, housing and economic conditions’’. Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the dire social and economic conditions of the African-Americans with disproportionate high infections, spread, and casualty. The protests that currently rock American cities have at their roots long-held grievances that go beyond systemic racism.
Although protests and riots are periodic outbursts of anger in the face of systemic racism and injustice, the economic, social, and political impoverishment of African-Americans needs equally systemic reformations and radical changes in policing culture and the justice system. Clearly, President Donald Trump and the Republicans do not seem ready to initiate such massive reforms; Joe Biden and the Democratic establishment that winnowed all African-American candidates in the primaries equally do not seem well prepared for such critical undertakings. Nevertheless, with such protests and riots shaking America to its core, and the out-pouring of a massive global solidarity, America will never be the same in post-COVID-19 – I hope so.
Racism on a global scale
While global news has been captivated by the protests and riots in the U.S and solidarity marches across the world, let us not forget that racism, sexism, hate and xenophobia are persistent global pandemics. Unfortunately, all over the world people of colour, ethnic and religious minorities, women and girls, migrants and refugees face and encounter explicit and implicit structural social oppressions and violations on a daily basis.
For instance, 2020 has been the worst year for domestic workers in the Middle-East with numerous violent incidents capturing national news in Lebanon, Jordan and other Gulf Arab nations. The brutal physical abuse and killing of Faustina Tay, a Ghanian national, in Lebanon represent and encapsulate the larger violence and racism female domestic workers face in the Middle-East. These women work in a contractual framework so-called Kafala system which grants employers total control over them. Given the poor economic conditions of their home countries, these women are lured into exaggerated employment promises and their labours perpetually exploited. More crucially, studies have documented that they occasionally face sexual, physical, and psychological violations that have pushed many to the brink of suicide and sometimes harming others. Similar predicaments are faced by construction workers in the region.
The epitome of racism is captured in the sufferings and violations of migrants and refugees seeking safe heavens face in the developed world. Trump’s travel ban on Muslims and the caging and imprisonment of young South-American children and women in the country’s southern borders reflect an incessant and vibrant racism in centres of power and political influence. Moreover, the European Union efforts to curb migrations have dehumanized migrants and reduced them to expendable souls and bodies. Migrant treatments in the hands of Greek, Italian and Spanish border guards have become normalized global news trends. Hence, while we protest in solidarity with protestors in America, lets us all remember that racism and hate are global phenomena and that they usually occur in our neighbourhoods, cities, and countries than we imagine.
Of course, all lives matter
The recent protests have re-ignited political and racial discourses, or ‘culture wars’ as right-wing pundits frame them, in the social media. Twitter trended with hash-tags like #BlackLivesMatter and #WeCantBreath since the protest erupted. Although these slogans have emerged from specific contexts and conditions and do have a nuanced objective, that is, to bring awareness of the disproportionate police violence and force faced by African-Americans, they have been re-framed as pseudo-racist slogans that are imbued only with the interest of black people in mind. This is insincere, cynical, and misanthropic Alt-right neo-Nazi discourse tactic that aims to undermine and reject the existence of systemic racism and hate prevalent in our modern societies. In a world, where African-Americans are facing deadly and injurious disproportionate police brutalities, slogans like #AllLivesMatter are just unfaithful distractions and diversions. Of course, all human lives matter no matter race, gender, religion, economic status, and lifestyle. But under these historical conjunctures and socio-political circumstances that disproportionately devalue and endanger black peoples’ lives, I say, #BlackLivesMatter.