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The ongoing protest against racism fuelled by the anger on the unlawful killing of the African-American George Floyd has spread worldwide. It has allowed the black folks to lay their racial experiences, and stories open to the world. Everywhere you turn to the discussion is on racism and the injustices meted to the blacks in every corner of the white world. Many notable blacks and mixed-race individuals have come out to share ignoble stories of how they are treated because of their colour. The overall understanding of these stories is that it is not always an easy journey for the blacks in the white world.
Undoubtedly, the killing of the 46-year-old Floyd has ignited, once more, a race argument that has been on pause since the death of Martin Luther King. Floyd’s death has become the catalyst for a radical movement to highlight the challenges of black people. Floyd, committed to earth last week Tuesday, died after a white Minneapolis policeman, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds. He died on May 25. It was supposed to be a normal high-handed arrest of a black man but went wrong, thereby highlighting the injustices suffered by black citizens in the hands of security agents.
The reactions to the death have been unprecedented worldwide. From the US to Israel, Syria to London, Australia to Hong Kong, the outcries against racism and police brutality had been loud. It is unique with everyone on all divides trying to get into the good side of history. In the present situation, it is unfashionable to support racism or be perceived to be racist. Even the alt-right nationalist groups and individuals respect this and had to retreat. A few individuals, such as President Donald Trump of the United States, have not hidden what side they are. The likes of Nigel Farage in the United Kingdom, whose career fed on racism and nationalism thought it was an opportunity to reinvent himself. He soon realised his voice was lost in the sea of reasonable opinions.
The whites have been vocal in their condemnation. I saw a video clip of some American celebrities taking responsibility for racism by their past acts. It was skin-crawling to watch the clip that was put together to ride on the bandwagon of the present time. But it was a mistake as it was too cringy I could not watch it the second time. Give it to them; the acting was perfect, but they were unconvincing in the new commitment to rid the planet of racism. I don’t grasp what informed the decision of these white individuals, but it was more comical than the truth it was supposed to convey.
At least we know where the Trumps, Farages or Robinsons stand in a world where people are falling over themselves to show solidarity to “Black Lives Matter.” In a world where “taking a knee” to depict the cruel way Chauvin snuffed life out of Floyd is now a way of life. People of all races have abruptly woken up and “taking knees” as a form of protest against oppression. But wait a minute, where are the racists? And where are all these “soldiers” coming from, you may ask? The herd mentality prevailing now is seriously giving me concerns.
It is funny but true. With several white folks (some of them racists) raising their hands and voices to condemn racism, we wonder how many racists are left in the field. As they do this, the question of how long they are going to “take a knee” keeps tugging at our minds. Will they rise and go back to their “vomit” of racism immediately the camera turns away? Or the world would change for good after all these? It is puzzling but worth a thought.
I get goosebumps when I see employers of labour that have inbuilt systems to reject black and minority applicants based on their names come out to condemn racism. How sincere are the executives of 99 per cent white-populated companies denouncing racism? How seriously do we take companies asking black employees to come forward with past grievances? They had the opportunity to deal with these cases when they occurred but chose to look away. It is funny when bosses that had fettered promotion of blacks or ethnic minority colleagues are sending email messages out with a promise to redress the situation.
Imagine, individuals who could not tolerate black colleagues, neighbours, classmates a few months ago are now the unusual champions of anti-racism campaigns. Corporate institutions that were a few weeks ago active promoters and supporters of racism are tongue in cheek, lining up to say “Black Lives Matter.” The white bosses that barely regarded their black employees as human beings have suddenly repented and are talking about racism in uncomplimentary words. They are no longer looking for the tails hidden in their black employees’ trousers. Funny, this is.
There is no doubt that the death of Floyd is one too many. It had prompted a closer look at the endemic evil practices of racism in the western world. The protests and anger expressed by people in all corners of the world are understandable. The spotlight on policing in the US reveals the racial discrimination that has been part of the system for decades. What this death has done is to imprint the age-long practice of police brutality towards black African Americans into the world consciousness. The video recording of Chauvin kneeling on the neck of Floyd while pleading “I can’t breathe” has become iconic.
To think that America is the only country that blacks are racially discriminated against is to trivialise the evil called racism. In the western world, racism is part of a society where blacks are mistreated. The society turns a blind eye and sees nothing wrong in these treatments. The only difference between racism in the USA and other white populated countries is that it is more confrontational in the US. While in the UK, it is subtle but make no mistake that this is “fairer” than what is obtained in the US. No.
I am beside myself when white individuals think blacks sometimes take “this issue of racism a bit too far.” It is a wave of anger I have suppressed many times in my years of living in the UK. I am outraged not for their audacity to think this way, but the feeling that probably blacks exaggerate their racial abuses than they actually experience. I am more angered by the casual way they interject the thoughts into discussions.
Racism has become an endemic part of day to day living in the UK that some white people see you as odd if you complain about it. It is understandable on their part to think this way because most of the racial abuses have become institutionalised. It is offensive to white colleagues when blacks complain they are systematically denied promotions because of their colour. Promotion over black colleagues is white privilege, and they wonder why they should share these with black folks.
I am amazed and amused when white colleagues or “friends” in their wisdom try to understand the effect of racism. It is worse when they relate to you trying to show they are not racists. It is annoying when some of them start the conversation with “I have a black friend.” I have learnt to decode this “tale” as a defence mechanism by the racists, so you could lose your guard and think they are not racists. I assume the opposite way when colleagues start weaving tales about their “black friends or neighbours.” They try to convince you without any prompting that racism is not in their blood.
Yet, give them an inch; thinking they ought to have learnt one or two things from their “black friends or neighbours.” But you will discover that these black friends are figments of their imaginations. They love yearning stories of how they stood against racists on behalf of their friends. They always end the story with: “I am not racist. I can’t stand them.”
You laugh because this is a familiar story that you have heard many times all over. No matter the setting or the city, they are the same. White folks trying hard to convince you that they are not racists. But unconsciously their actions and “slip of tongues” reveal their real selves. It is a “joke” that is played on all black folks in the western world. The only assurance we get from racists is “I am not racist. I can’t stand them” even when you call them out. I guess now it is “I am not racist, black lives matter.”
As written for the Diaspora Matters Column, Sunday Vanguard, June 14, 2020.