The Murder of George Floyd — Just Another Day in the Land of the Free

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Whether is was the chilling lack of emotion on the face of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin as he slowly choked the life out of George Floyd on the ground, keeping his knee on his neck for nine long horrifying minutes despite him screaming that he couldn’t breath, and despite him pleading for his ‘Mama’. Or whether it was the insouciance implied in the ease with which he did so in front of witnesses in broad daylight.

Whatever it was, over the course of those nine fateful minutes Derek Chauvin was more representative of what America stands for than the Constitution, Bill of Rights, Statue of Liberty, or any of the other baubles deployed in service to the myth of the United States as the land of the free.

Chauvin, at that moment, was the most pristine vision possible to conjure of the white supremacy that defines America far more than democracy ever has. He was the overseer with his knee on the neck of a runaway slave, the slaveowner’s whip, the lynch mob’s noose, the prison guard’s boot. In other words, Chauvin symbolised in those nine minutes the entire legacy and long history of racial oppression in a country that was born in genocide and developed and nourished for two centuries on the back of the African slave trade.

Here we are obliged to wrestle with an unvarnished truth — namely that though slavery in its chattel form may have been ended, the consciousness of the slaveowner remains alive and kicking within the diseased minds of racist white police cops across America. Such individuals are, in fact, less police officers protecting and serving and more members of increasingly militarised white militia groups hunting for prey — black prey.

Those commentators who assert that the struggle for justice for black people has not progressed since the Black Civil Rights Movement in the sixties are, with all respect, mistaken. They are mistaken because the struggle for justice for black people has manifestly regressed since then. The most obvious symbol of this regression is embodied in the current occupant of the White House, Donald J. Trump.

Trump’s election was, at least in part, a racially motivated pushback against Barack Obama’s two terms in office. You don’t have to approve of Obama’s legacy as president (I certainly don’t) to appreciate the symbolism of a black American with an African name being elected to the highest office in America back in 2008. For racists everywhere it was a moment to mourn, with Trump’s championing of a birther movement designed to prove that Obama was not a ‘real American’, leaving not doubt that he was among them.

In the last analysis, it’s really very simple. In the hearts and minds of white supremacists, black and brown Americans are not real Americans. They are instead a threat to real Americans, white and proud Americans, and thereby dehumanised, demonised, and ultimately murdered with impunity as such.

With Trump’s election as president in 2016 the KKK and every card carrying white racist and white supremacist in America finally got their most precious wish; they finally got, in the White House, the first open racist and white supremacist since Andrew Jackson. And ever since it has been open season on black and brown people.

That said, let us not make the mistake of giving his predecessors a free pass. On the contrary, police brutality against black and brown people precedes Trump by decades. It was under Obama, for example, that Black Lives Matter was born in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012; and indeed under the first black president’s watch a veritable slew of police killings of disproportionately unarmed black people occurred.

We must avoid lapsing into a simplistic understanding of white supremacy as a purely racial construct. It is also a ideological construct. Thus Obama, unconsciously or not, bought into its ideological proclivities with his embrace of the role of CEO of a US empire founded on the premise of might (white) is right.

Other creeds share these white supremacist proclivities too. The longstanding and ongoing oppression by the Palestinians by Israel is an ideological function of the white supremacist character of Zionism. The oppression of Irish Catholics in the North of Ireland was an ideological function of Ulster loyalism. The factor cementing both is, of course, settler colonialism. Where Black Americans are concerned this dynamic reversed itself — that is, they were originally forced to settle in America as slaves, and thereafter condemned to exist as a colonised and entrenched underclass, which they remain to this day.

The issue of racial oppression in America is also hugely important for people of conscience and consciousness living outside America to grapple with too. For if the most powerful truths are the most simply expressed, then who better than Malcolm X to remind us that ‘You can’t understand what’s going on in Mississippi if you don’t understand what’s going on in the Congo’.

In other words, there exists a circular relationship between racial oppression at home in America and US imperialism abroad. As James Baldwin so eloquently put it: ‘A racist society can’t but fight a racist war. The assumptions acted on at home are the assumptions acted on abroad’.

Staying with Baldwin, when he averred that ‘To be a Negro (sic) in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time’, he gave voice to the rage behind the riots that have taken place, and continue at time of this writing to take place, in various cities across the US in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.

Another powerful black voice from the sixties was Huey Newton, founding member of the Black Panther Party. As with Malcolm X before him, Newton was not a man given to beating around the bush, and just like Malcolm articulated the problem rather less delicately than James Baldwin.

To wit:

The racist dog oppressors have no rights which oppressed Black people are bound to respect. As long as the racist dogs pollute the earth with the evil of their actions, they do not deserve any respect at all, and the “rules” of their game, written in the people’s blood, are beneath contempt.

The unfortunate insult to dogs notwithstanding, the militancy with which Newton was writing in 1967 was forged by racial oppression. As these words are being written a new generation of Malcom X’s and Huey Newton’s are likewise being forged.

And if they are not, they undeniably should be.


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