The past week has been incredibly challenging. The best way to describe it is like being “triggered” – many suppressed memories and events that are just locked away somewhere, securely under lock & key, only to have somebody forcibly kick down the door – in the middle of the night, without a warrant…
As I, and many others, begin to process all this, one thing that has been highlighted is the need to educate those who do not live in this world day in & day out.
Given the amazing levels of tone deafness & hypocrisy showed by some persons & brands, I thought this article may provide a glance into some of the systemic racism that makes the most basic of social & economic mobility a challenge for black people all over the world.
As you learn, go down the rabbit hole – find out how the systems around you are complicit and learn what you can do to expose and then extinguish them.
There are really three areas I want to focus on:
- Monopoly over the use of force
- Unhelpful comparisons
- All lives matter
Monopoly over the use of force ??
The Political Science students will recognise the omission of a critical part of Max Weber’s definition (it’s a monopoly over the legitimate use of force) but the point stands nonetheless.
From an education perspective, many people are unaware of how governments perpetrate and perpetuate the oppression of their black communities.
From the Tulsa Race Riots in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma (aka Black Wall Street) where the the city was bombed from the sky (let that sink in) to the Tuskegee Experiments – a 40 year experiment on black men & their families by the US Public Health Service (despite the fact that the Nuremberg Code, in response to the Nazi experiments during WWII, was established 27 years prior).
Let’s not assume this is a US problem only. In the UK, racism has been so deeply ingrained that “institutional racism” has become an euphemism for a stealthier version of the US problem. It has the unfortunate side effect of disassociating and distancing individuals from the effects of their biases.
Let us not forget the murder of Stephen Lawrence (read Chapter Six [pages 41-57] of the Inquiry Report and see how much “change” has really occurred since 1999) or black students who are 21x more likely to have their university application investigated for false or misleading information.
Of course, let’s not forget the workplace:
“Due to racism in the labour market, BME workers are disproportionately concentrated in low paid jobs and sectors. They are often seen as poorly educated, inexperienced and aggressive if they speak up. So instead they choose to suffer in silence and feel isolated at work.”
Whether it’s the so-called “thoughtlessness” or “ignorance” of governments & their agents, like the [UK Government] Windrush scandal or the Chinese authorities forcibly testing Africans for the coronavirus, or even the intensive care doctors in Paris that thought it okay to use Africa as a test bed for a Coronavirus vaccine, force doesn’t have to be as overt as putting your knee on the throat of a restrained person but it is felt nonetheless.
Considering these are just a sample of the public experiences that have been documented, imagine the others that are locked in the realm of personal experiences.
Unhelpful comparisons ✋?
It’s still surprising (although it shouldn’t be by now) that less/unaffected groups still find ways to make comparisons like BBC Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis’ [and her producer, I would presume] comparison to the #MeToo movement.
I’m yet to come across a conversation where the Holocaust is mentioned and the response is “well, what about the other 6million Soviet, Polish or Yugoslav civilians?” – most people would find that to be an unconscionable argument.
Neither will you find such conversations met with “but what about the Gulags?” or “what about the Rwandan/Bosnian/Sudanese/etc genocides?”.
I’ve never encountered those arguments yet, for some reason, issues of systemic black oppression through global cooperation (which I may need to remind you are 520+ years old) are somehow reduced to an exercise is spurious data analysis.
This is the perspective, regardless of intention, that is portrayed every time the issue is conflated or subverted into another, like Drew Brees (quarterback of the New Orleans Saints) talking about “disrespecting the flag” – which he has now had to backtrack on twice.
Furthermore, we seem to forget that racial oppression was legally enforceable in the United States till 1964 and till 1994 in South Africa. While it’s now illegal, it’s still very much alive and real – as ongoing events continue to remind us.
All lives matter ?
The murder of George Floyd (the actual video) strikes such a strong chord with black people because it is a physical representation of the struggle we go through daily.
Here is a black person:
- Handcuffed and already restrained [as we all are – economically, socially, etc];
- Lying prostrate on the ground [how much lower can you be in life?];
- With a police officer [the archetype of systems and authority];
- With a white police officer [a reminder of the enforced social order];
- Having force applied to his neck [the symbolism that progress is only by permission and never through self determination];
- Pleading for mercy: “I can’t breathe” [if limiting our progress is the goal then at least let us live, undisturbed];
- Being denied life: “You’re taking fine” [as long as we can talk, things can’t be as bad as we say they are – there are plenty others suffering like this too];
This is black life.
The life that’s had a world economic & trading system created specifically to exploit it.
The life that’s had to endure the perpetuation of that world system for 528+ years.
Yes, every human life is precious, valuable and should be cherished as such but let’s just focus right now.
Those other lives people are keen to call out as being equally important are also watching closely. They know that if we can all rally to tear down this system of oppression then the signal is clear:
- Their suffering will also be met with the same level of dedication & focus
- They will have powerful allies in the liberated & the liberators
- Their lives will truly matter – not in words but through tangible change
“If we can win here then we give hope to all other oppressed groups that we can win for them too.”
Bonus: what about rioting? ??
For some reason, this seems to be attracting a lot of attention from people who should be reflecting on why the situation has escalated but are instead content to tar the protesters with the brush of a tiny minority.
This is a false narrative for two important reasons:
- In any large gathering of people, it is impossible to govern bad actors – they will always exist
Consider this: despite the persistence of hooligans in football (soccer for the Americans), nobody would find it credible to call a football match a gathering of hooligans. We can easily distinguish between both (although hooligans are responsible for damage & chaos).
Why do we find it hard to apply the same logic here?
- There is growing evidence that the agitators creating/leading the chaos are non-blacks who operates on a separate agenda
One of the many privileges of a nation state‘s monopoly over the use of force is the ability to choose how to display that force.
What do we do now?
Protest peacefully, you say?
Vote, you say?
I don’t have complete answers here but one thing is for sure: what we’ve been doing so far hasn’t worked (and isn’t working).
It’s time for a different approach.
Finally, if the mass gatherings seem at odds with your government’s restriction of movement orders – and that’s what’s bothering you – perhaps you should consider how dire things really are for people to risk COVID-19 over the status quo.
Your life matters. Our lives matter.