Mr George Floyd’s death has sparked a wave of protests across America. U.S. main towns such as Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, New York City, San Antonio, Miami, Atlanta, Detroit, Salt Lake City, and of course Minneapolis, – the list is long – have been shaken by huge public demonstrations since George Floyd’s forceful arrest and subsequent death. As is well known in the U.S contemporary political history of race relations, George Floyd’s death is just the latest chapter of a huge volume of inequalities from which minorities have been suffering in America. America, a land of freedom and dream of self-achievement, is also a land of inequality. And George Floyd’s death simply reminds us that the history film of inequality is still here to be watched.
The U.S. film of inequality is still unfolding, all the more so as the U.S. political elite – especially the one in power today – does not seem to understand the significance of the anger-fuelled public demonstrations across America. Had they fully understood the significance of this public anger in the wake of George Floyd’s death they would not have taken controversial policies such as that of letting the military out to put a check on the demonstrations. Coming from a country where freedom of speech is a creed, this is totally unbelievable and should not be accepted. We all hope these authoritarian tendencies of the U.S. political leaders in power will not prevail. Another surprising thing about the Black Lives Matter Protests in the United States is related to the silence of the African leaders. To the best of my knowledge – and I would be happy to be proved wrong – no African leader has condemned George Floyd’s death publicly. The natural question which some Africans may feel like asking is why Africa can ignore its diaspora so completely. For instance, the video of George Floyd’s arrest has been widely shared on social media in Burkina Faso among the elite; but it did neither provoke a public outrage nor prompt a civil society or political leader to come out and condemn the act. African leaders may have other fish to fry. However, it is my conviction that pleading the Afro-descendants’ cause and defending the ties which exist between Africa and its diaspora – past and present – is worth the effort, for history is strong, and in some cases, may be determinant. African leaders should not wait until they are in need of African diaspora’s support to turn a lovely and brotherly attention to the African Americans. Africans should not be forget that the founding fathers of Pan-Africanism are, in the large majority, Afro-descendants.
The author is a PhD student in Political Science at the Universite Ouaga II in Burkina Faso and an alum of American University.
As America grieved the passing of George Floyd, Public Health England, the body of health professionals and scientists that advices the British government published a report on who was dying from the coronavirus. It concluded starkly that former subjects of the British Empire especially descended from Africa and Asia were leading the death toll. “ Death rates from COVID-19 were highest amongst people of Black and Asian ethnic groups” the report said adding that this was a departure from what had been happening previously. In some cases, the likelihood of death by Britain’s colored citizens was twice that of its “White British ethnicity” the report added. Much of this death had little to do with color but rather income.
In short wealth was health. The essential workers that formed the frontline of Britain’s COVID19, the nurses, drivers and janitors were a colored defense around its White privileged citizens. The report reminded me of another take on “Why COVID19 was killing Black People” a podcast featuring Arline Geronimus hosted by Kai Wright appropriately named the “United States of Anxiety”. Geronimus is the Public Health academic who came up with the term “weathering” to explain why black people in America suffer negative health outcomes because of the constant unmitigated stress related directed to systemic discrimination and race-related hazards such as the image of Floyd, unarmed choking to death.
This is to say that it seems understandable now why Floyd, killed in the year of the coronavirus, transformed from victim to martyr as institutionalized racist violence, which in ordinary times might have passed as the common fate of black men, became emblematic of the burden of socio-economic injustice.
“ And still I see no changes; can’t a brother get a little peace? It’s a war on the streets and a war in the Middle East. Instead of a war on poverty they’ve got a war on drugs so the police can bother me” Tupac Shakur.
Racism is inequality.
It is not a competition between people’s but rather a competition for resources and opportunities. As seen from the British report the structure of inequality that is repugnant today and embodied in the George Floyd protests was built on slavery and the exploitation of other races.
But inequality is a condition that is also colorblind. Black people continue to suffer not because the world is filled with racists. Colored people outnumber white people after all. The indignities associated with the “knee on the neck” of the underprivileged are unleashed sometimes more viciously by people of the same color.
As a “witness” to the race and inequality crisis in America, it is disturbing to see how race color blinds many Africans to the true social burden of race as inequality. It is disturbing to observe just how many African countries, aided by external advisors from the Northern Hemisphere, are working hard to perfect the Victorian model of socio-economic development based on the crude engineering of classes, the stripping of land and natural resources, dirty industrialization, immoral investor capital and so forth.
I had the urge to read Charles Dicken’s Hard Times which I learned in secondary school in Uganda, not as literature, as it was taught to us but rather as history in repetition. Kampala, the Ugandan capital, may as well be Coketown.
On most days the city is as polluted as Beijing or Mumbai. On its overcrowded streets the greatest value is placed on money as a desperate underclass of cheap labor is presided over by shameless corruption of the establishment elite who in Dickensian fashion socialize the costs of each and every crisis and privatize the benefits. As Floyd lay breathless many Ugandans too were short of breath – but at the near daily news of corruption, the kind that has come to define the country’s coronavirus response. Without money or social capital most citizens are likely to lead shorter miserable lives in the cities while the countryside is the scene of a civil war over land, forests and rivers.
Our version of Victorian progress also fetishes “ peace and security” as well as “order” and gives carte blanche to the ruling establishment to write the rules of economic progress if not in “racist” terms at least, in the terms of its cousin – ethnic chauvinism. No report shall be produced on the ethnography of the frontline health workers, security personnel, drivers and so forth that have seen an uptick of COVID19 infections for they would reveal their own poorly held secrets about the emerging social order.
The Middle-Income national project – articulated with Victorian gusto stands as testimony about how the race question has not moved beyond color to the root of the problem – a systemic defense of inequality. Colonial Britain and its well-oiled system of extraction helped expand slavery. In fact, the last race crisis in Uganda was the expulsion of Indians by Idi Amin in 1972, a decade after the civil rights movement gained foothold in America and as race riots threatened the peace. These Indian clerical and commercial class were trafficked out of their continent initially as cheap and indentured labor for the British Imperial East Africa Company, the local branch of the imperial behemoth.
Ironically – official racism in India was crafted by General Lord Charles Cornwalis who accepted the defeat of the British in America on behalf of the Crown – thus presiding over the independence of the United States. Later posted to India he oversaw the whitening of the colonial administration and official class discrimination. Cornwalis so-called reforms excluded “ the children of British men who had Indian wives from employment in the company ( British East India Company) and later purged Anglo-Indians entirely from key branches of “civil, military and marine” of BEIC except as “pipers, drummers, bandsmen and farriers”. With time the discrimination of Anglo-Indians “reduced them to community of “minor clerks, postmen and train drivers” ( the essential workers of the time).
These formed the emerging commercial and clerical Indian class found their place atop the Africans in Uganda that exploded as racist tension under Idi Amin.
White racism is the system that violently defends privilege as a white monopoly against other colors. It also succeeds by presenting the race question as a competition between people and not resources and opportunities. The latter would expose, especially in America, how unfair the economic system is across color lines, across genders and so forth.
So, racism is the political ally of the wealthy and the social philosophy of unaccountable capitalism. Many Africans offended by the George Floyd affair recall the pain of racist violence and exploitation that came with the experience of colonialization. Black America, and the experience of recent migrants continue that tragedy.
In his 1964 speech “ The ballot or bullet” ( given two years after Uganda attained its “independence” from Britain) Malcom X, outlined three dimensions of the race question in America.
Firstly, he argued that while black people should turn increasingly to their own solutions in America, they should learn from their African brothers/sisters and other non-White people to see that White Supremacy as a system can only be replaced not changed. “Revolutions are bloody” he said referencing amongst others America’s own bloody rebellion against the yoke of British Imperialism.
Later he would revise this to say that a “bloodless” revolution was possible in the United States if the black man was paid his full dues and not treated as a 20th century slave in a country were his labor was exploited that had visited him with violent indignities mostly for the color of his skin. He also argued that the political value of black votes was important to both leading parties, the democrats and republicans. However, beyond that the White Establishment, in both parties, had no further interest.
In other words, elections, such as the one that will be held in November, in which Donald Trump, seen now by many as a racist White president, may lose ( or win) but either result, as in the past may not lead to a resolution of the race question.
The third point that Malcolm X made was with regard to the humanity of the race issue. While arguing correctly that racial justice is about human rights – something that is resonating right now with the George Floyd protests, he envisioned justice for black people as something only possible through impartial institutions.
The killing of unarmed black men ( and other types of violence) by armed angry white men and their institutional accomplices is an assault on humanity itself as seen from the reaction not just across color lines but around the world.
“You don’t take your case to the criminal- you take your criminal to court” said Malcolm X. Some voices now argue that this moment now with George Floyds reluctant martyrdom is the one that will change racial attitudes, appealing to our common humanity and helping usher the bloodless revolution that Malcolm demanded.
We are the new court of collective anguish and action that can turn the tide.
There is obviously a reason that centuries of racism has persisted. It is a resilient system. The 8 minutes 46 seconds that led to Floyd’s last breath will not change it. It is resilient so, because racism is incidental to and not the cause of this violence. If black people had not been trafficked from Africa to work in the early plantation economies today some other minority would be under the boot of Derek Chauvin. The real violence is the entrenched inequality in America ( and elsewhere) in which ironically less angry whites are overrepresented. The one percent, versus the next 25 percent versus the rest is at the heart of the problem.
This is possibly why the two-party system, as Malcolm argued, cannot fix racism by votes. The choice on the ballot is of angry white men.
This rigged system (others may call it broken) has people angry of all races. If we transfer our empathy to the white militia roaming around enacting racial violence and longing for the freedom to lynch blacks again – we can clearly see that the system has failed them too. Which is why they are angry.
Ethnic militias defending the Big Man’s tribe, many paid with ineffectual government programs and lip service are ironically an everyday sight in many African countries. So is the sickening whataboutism that supports the multiple bogeymen that corrupt Big Men like Donald Trump set up – so that the real business of this privileged corner of white privilege, and its black equivalents, that sits atop this massive inequality, namely wanton corruption, can go unimpeded.
Angry (and poorer) white men who are ensconced in far-right ideas and groups do have a right to be angry. They have been lied to. The system that they see as representing them, one in which economic, political and social categories are color coded does not stand to scrutiny. Corrupt politicians just paint a target on the backs of any minority as well as foreign enemies, real and invented to complete the trick.
The burning and looting in some US cities too tragically will benefit the same system.
It serves as a guilty cleanse. This type of periodic violence has one other use – it allows for establishment politicians (on both sides) to step in to announce band-aid programs, the type of happy tokenism that buys more runway for the system to continue. These programs are not designed to work but to establish a limit of what can be shared from the table of privilege. Many are responsible for the ring of policies that keep minorities in their place.
If the Africa of the recent past is to be invoked – the tools against entrenched and unfair systems are never violence. Egypt, Tunisia and recently Sudan all fell not because the oppressors in those countries were unable to use violence to suppress protest. They did so because the economy collapsed around the corrupt system.
To see changes, it is the economy that needs reform.
We – in the Third World – used to view the USA as a ‘model’ for a relatively ideal state for all nations yearning for a state of law and equal citizens. However, the recent brutal killing of George Floyd by a white policeman that triggered violent protests, along with previous several similar incidents over years, indicates that the practice might be growing into a pattern of anti-black/racist behavior that might jeopardize America as a coherent society and a stable state.
The critical point here is that what has aggravated the psychological impact on the black all over the world is the imprudent attitude of president D. Trump. Instead of feeling stigmatized and express sympathy with the victim, he turned out to talk of the use of force to crush the demonstrations.
Nonetheless, it is good that many white Americans have participated in the anti-racist protests. This signalizes that Americans seem to converge over their ‘melting-pot’. However, as the President represents the American nation, he is the symbol of America. But by his racist stance, he harms this symbolism. By killing a black citizen, the white policeman is killing the values of America and distorts the image of its civilization.
Thus, one may argue that America is no longer that ‘ideal’! It has for a long time symbolizes the cradle of liberal democracy, freedom, justice and equality.
Another point is constitutional or related to the legal system. Having no death penalty encourages committing murder crimes easily particularly in a country where there is an easy access to weapons. This legal shortcoming should be tackled to maintain security.
Finally, this ‘official’ white crime against a black citizen raises a question of the future of America’s harmony of its diverse nationalities/identities that has been holding America together over two hundred years. This also challenges some US scholars who believe that “… the United States of America constitute the one dramatic exception to the pattern of ethnic harmony” – as Howard Handelman (emeritus of politics) maintains. Hence, the US scientists have to check these postulates.
Abdu Musa is the author of 9 books, notably Darfur: from a Crisis of a State to Super Power Clashes (400 pp, in Arabic). Doha: Aljazeera Centre for Studies. He received his undergraduate and postgraduate studies at University of Khartoum.
The recent #blacklivesmatter demonstrations in the US against racism following the brutal death of George Floyd in the hands of white police demonstrate lack of leadership to deal with racism, not only in the US but other parts of the world. Racism by white Americans is worse because we, Africans, consider America the most civilised nation in the world. America abolished slavery and introduced democratic constitution promoting civil liberties for everyone irrespective of race, gender, etc. Unfortunately, with the continuous activities of racism in the US, the pretty image of America being the most civilised nation in the world is gone. Floyd’s brutal murder by white police is not the first case of racism in America. Many black lives have been lost in the past through acts of racism in the USA. The American President seems to not give a damn about daily inhuman treatment or even death of African-Americans in the hands of police. It is so sad that even now some white folks not only in the US, but other parts of the world still find it very hard to coexist with black race. Is it a curse to be black? How long will racism against blacks last? I am saying to America criminalise racism. Impose harsh sentences on those who practice racism.
True leadership would stand up without being pushed and strongly condemn the unjustifiable use of force/violence by police officers against civilians. The deployment of unidentifiable military personnel to deal with peaceful demonstrations (united in their diversity) against racism by Trump is unacceptable and it is tantamount to abuse of executive authority. The military should be kept above partisan politics. I believe Americans — both black and white — will reject brutal acts of racism and deployment of the army, and hold accountable those who make a mockery of the USA Constitution. President Trump cannot be allowed to behave as if he is above the country constitution.
Kenya’s response to the Coronavirus has been mixed (like America’s). It imposed restrictions early, but then over-zealously enforced curfew rules, and some returning expatriates were corralled into quarantine until they paid bribes. Kenya’s pastoralists from the Maasai ethnic group, who are often isolated or underrepresented in politics, have been hit hard by the pandemic.
Maasai Good Salvage Outreach, known as MAGSA, is thus making an urgent appeal. Every year MAGSA raises money from speaking tours in the United States and other efforts. My school, American University, has hosted Chief Joseph Ole Tipanko (and friends) ten times since 2007, inspiring dozens of my students to study Africa and practice solidarity in new ways. Students in the School of International Service have raised money for water cisterns, the construction of community libraries, and to pay teacher salaries. MAGSA’s inability to travel this year thus gravely compounded the effects of COVID-19 in their area of the Rift Valley. Pastoralists often lack face masks and hand sanitizer – in addition to the usual challenges of seasonal drought and encroachment on their land by development.
Since the government suspended education in March, the National Human Rights Commission estimates that a quarter of all Kenyans who are typically enrolled in schools are not engaged in any home learning. Not only does this put children in danger of falling behind, it increases the risk of violence for many children, especially girls. With MAGSA’s success negotiating girls out of child marriage arrangements and getting them into school, these issues are all to familiar to Chief Joseph’s community.
That is why I want you to join me in making a donation via this Go Fund Me set up by one of his many friends in the U.S. Any size donation helps – and will go DIRECTLY to the Maasai people in the Ngong Hills. Thanks!