May 25 witnessed yet another episodic racially motivated killing in nottoosurprisingly a country, the United States of America. Humanity gave way to bestiality as the whole world watched via closed circuit television a police officer, Derek Chauvin press down his knee on the throat of unarmed handcuffed African American, Mr. George Floyd resulting in his untimely death. The demise of Floyd showcased the ingrained culture of racism in the power structure of United States’ imperialism. Unfortunately, the action of the police officer shows how humanity could be debased; even campaigners against animal cruelty frown upon strangulation of animals how much more human being.
I am in no doubt that the murder was premeditatedbecause, despite the fact that Floyd was harmless andstruggled to muffle “I can’t breathe” the officer was not bothered. Sadly, his colleagues goadedhim as they watched for almost nine minutes the torture of Floyd until he became lifeless. These officers,Thomas Lane, TouThau and Alexander Kuengcannot escape blame together with Chauvin who actually suffocated Floyd to death for the‘crime’ ofmere suspicion. The spontaneousoutpouring of solidarityby well-meaning global citizens across the racial divide over the coldblooded murder of Floyd is indicative of the existence of men and women solidly imbued with the principle of Ubuntu that no matter one’s pigmentation, we are all human with common destiny imposed by common habitation of the earth.Indeed, it was mind boggling how the neo-Ku Klax Klan police officers heartlessly ignoredFloyd’s pleading until he breathed his last. Floyd’s death is a blight on the image of our collective humanity. The spontaneous protestson the streets in Africa,Asia across Europe tothe Americasillustrate the extent of revulsion.
The United States is an irony of ironies.Over the years, she has prided herself as the citadel of human rights and arrogates onto herself the power of global policeman on human and people’s rights. And now, she has becomechampion of rights abuse and extra judicial killing comparable to Nazi Germany (1921-1945).Today, the US is in the dock and that should not raise eyebrows because over the years she has not been candid to the world as to whether she really subscribes to the collective principles of Human and Peoples Rights enshrined in the United NationsCharter. Unsurprisingly, the United States pulled out from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in June 2018 based on a flimsy excuse. The UNHRC head, Michelle Bachelet poured out her heart over the racial killing of Floyd, “This is the latest in a long line of killings of unarmed African-Americans by US police officers and members of the public…I am dismayed to have to add George Floyd’s name to that of Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Michael Brown and many other unarmed African-Americans who have died over the years at the hands of the police — as well as people such as AhmaudArbery and Trayvon Martin, who were killed by armed members of the public” for no apparent reason.
Honestly, Bachelet cannot be further away from the truth in attributing these macabrekillingAfricanson grounds of skin pigmentation (which they have no control) by the police force and white supremacists. A roll call of those Africans who unjustly suffered death in the hands of racist elements in America is worth remembering:Trayvon Martin, Keith Childress, Amadou Diallo, Sandra Bland Ezell Ford, Tanisha Anderson, Natasha McKenna, Ahmaud Aubrey just to mention but a few. In all these, the perpetrators were left off the hook. The untimely death of Mr. Floyd has offered an opportunity to open old wounds evident of the scar of American racism for reexamination. How did we (Africans) get here (America)? The presence of Africans in the Americas or the Western world was as a result of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade however, the historical presence of Africans in the Americas before Christopher Columbus is an unassailable assailable fact. The fiendish slave trade was an unprecedented collective trauma in human history where an entire race was rape, torture, dispossess and dismember. Africans whether at home or in foreign land suffered excruciating oppression from the hands of the Caucasians. Those at home were colonized and those in the so-called new world were also colonized (nay enslaved)and their backs broken to build America for it to be a super power.
The late C.L.R James in his epoch-defining book; The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouvertureand the Sand Domingo Revolution posits that, “The slave trade and slavery were the economic basis” for the socio-economic development of the West. The wealth created through slave labour, James noted gave the bourgeoisies the pride and, indeed,upliftmentfrom the squalid feudalism to capitalism. A condition which gave birth to libertarianism and emancipation.So, the political consciousness that brought about the idea of protection of individual freedom and liberty was as a result of production related activities engineered by enslaved Africans. The owners of the plantations nervous of possible expropriation by feudal lords influenced the passage of a series of laws to protect and safeguard their gains made under slave labour.
One wonders where America would have been economically and politically if slaves did notrevolutionarise the socio-economic culture that engendered new thinking of protection of property rights and freedom?With all the contributions, there are some Europeans bent on deluding themselves that Africans have noequal rights and are mere possessions much the same wayas during chattels slaverywhenthey were of the whims and capricesof slave owners. This obnoxious notion and the dreaded Jim Crow system wereopposed vehemently by the civil rights movement in the past. Also, the slaves confronted the obstinacy of the plantation owners to set them free and this resulted in series of liberation warsin the so-called new world.For instance, the Haitian Revolution pitched poorly armed African slaves against the most formidablemilitary force at the time, Napoleon armyof France. Tactical discipline, valour and the spirit of the ancestors spurred them andthey mowed down the powerful French army which resulted in the onlysuccessful slave revolt(1791-1804) yieldingindependence. During the middle passage there were countless resistancesfrom slaves on boardslave ships which often led to loss of lives cumulatively affecting the profitability of thee trade.
The backdrop to the abolition of slavery was principally the unprofitability of the supposed business in human trafficking not the agitations by some mysterious group of people called Abolitionists. In fact, Sheikh Anta Diop in “Civilisation or Barbarism” gave an account of the unfavourable business climate for slave the trade and he noted thatevery one African slave captured between two to five people died in his/her defence before embarkation. The riveting story was told in films and books by MarcusRediker of the “Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey” (1839), is about a slave ship taken over by its captive Africans, the captain was killed and control of the ship taken over. They were caught by the US Navy before the ship could berth. They were thrown to jail in Connecticut but redeemed their freedom through a landmark ruling by Supreme Court. From all the hiccups, it became too expensive to continue plying the so-called trade. Experts of the Slave Route project under UNESCO estimated that fifteen to twenty million Africans were captured and shipped to North America of which the slain George Floyd was one of the descendants.
The irrefutable fact must be reechoed to the hearing of the White supremacists that Africanseither in USA or anywhere are not and will not be slaves. Indeed, African-Americans were not born as slaves rather, free humans with full rights as anyother beings. All over the world, in the past therehave been instances of enslavement of conquered people and none of those conquered remain in perpetual servitude. The Jews, Chinese, English, Italians and many other people have come under one form of subjugation or the other but,nonecontinued forever bonded at the beck and call of the European. The days of conquest and subjugation of victims are over. Slavery is not a badge of honour that must be bornethroughout generations.
Unarguably, the quandary which African-Americans find themselves in is a product of the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 and the reprehensible Thirteenth Amendment thereof. These legal instruments though gave Africans some sort of freedom,did not address the fundamental issue which is bread and butter, how do they survive and live normal acceptable live after centuries in captivity. The material conditions of the so-called freed slaves did not improveat the time Abraham Lincoln blurted out the emancipation proclamation. The mere declaration of freedom for fellow human beings (African-Americans) who had lived in penury, hopelessness and subjected to centuries of cruel treatment (that even animal rights activist would not condone), was as best cosmetic.
The sincerity of Lincoln is debatable in that, the slaves who were supposedly set free walked away from their mastersempty handed, penniless, no compensation and not even a square foot of land to settle. However, at that particular period, the European migrants were doled out acreages of land belonging to Arawak Indians (indigenous Americans) as compensation for losing their business (slave trade).Consequently, the freed slaves had no choice than to go back to the very masters who used them as beast ofburden to seek employment in order to eke out a living. Though the great ancestral icon, Martin Luther King Jr, referenced the 1863 proclamation in his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech, the proclamation made absolute nonsense of freedom and rights of Africans as evidenced in their material conditions of yesterday, today and tomorrow.
The only way to give cogent and practical meaning to the 1863 Proclamation was to fashion out deliberate state policy that wouldyank them (Afro-Americans) from the favelas.In the context with the racism against Africans in the US, Frantz Fanon (1925-1961) would reckon that African-Americans are the ‘Wretched of the Earth’ where production relation is skewed and laws are implicitly framed to relegate them toeconomic backwaters. That the “new nation [America] was conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” is just musicin the ears of diasporanAfricans. The most brutal war fought on American soil was the civil war in which Africans participated in support of the unionists against the confederate south. Africans paid their dues in the course of the war which impregnated and gave birth to the democracy they (European-Americans) are so proud about. Alas, the dividend of democracy has eluded Africans even though they were partly, the architects.
There are obvious discriminations across board against people of dark skin. Today, the lowest paid jobs are strictly consignedto Africans no matter their educational status except highly skilledones. Board rooms are dominated by European who call the shots and the hand few of Africans among them have no autonomy(independence)to take decisions. In fact, they are tied to the apron string of their employers. Figures emanating from an American fiscal policy research group, Economic Policy Institute (EPI) painted a grim picture of unemployment among Africans. EPI indicated that while the total national unemployment rate dropped marginally, it rather appreciated among Africans from 6.8% to 8%. This certainly does not make sense of the 1863 proclamation which enunciatesequality and opportunities among citizenry. A particular ethnic group (Africans) and other minorities are constantlyat the base of the social ladder because of a designed policy inspired by superiority complex. What a paradox!Again, the current happenings in the US turned on its head a fine line in the preamble of the constitution, “All men are created equal”. Yet,callous and ludicrous incidents of racial violence is what one sees and hear on the streets of America daily. To make matters worse is the pedestrian conduct and utterances of the head of the regime, Mr. Donald Trump, a son of a German immigrant. Recently, instead of calming the tension on the charged racial waters, he rather made it turbulent at the lease opportunity. Often, he uses race-baiting rhetoric and post videos projecting the Ku Klux Klan (White supremacist) on his tweeter handle ostensibly to woo his fanatical supporters.
Historically, America has not conducted herself in such a way that one would be obliged to believe that the “original sin” committed by her forebears was a regrettable act and an anathema to the sacred belief and principles of herconstitution. The slave trade and colonialism (where Africans on the home soil and without)wrought unmatchable pogrom perpetrated by Caucasians have left permanent scar on the conscience of the Westand tainted their moral turpitude, if they have any. It is undebatable that the economic foundations of Europe and America were firmly anchored in the blood and sweat of enslaved and colonized Africans. Therefore, one would ask, where willthe West be without cheap labour and the ingenuity of enslaved Africansand their raw materials? There was even a story of expropriation of the intellectual property rights and inventions by slaves. Some of these inventions have made the West great, today. BBC radio once told a story of the formula for distilling whisky to have been invented by an enslaved African and yet never was he recognised.
Mr. Floyd’s death and the continued racist killing of Africans is a true reflection of the ingrained prejudiced attitudes of Caucasians which have been translated into discriminatory policies adversely affecting every facet of minority ethnic group, including the indigenous owners of America. It is extremely difficult, sad, though, for a European-American to extricate him/her self from narrow-minded racist views about people of Africa descent. Over centuries Africans in the USA have been depicted in American society as somewhat less human and this is portrayed in cinema, literature and even in the religious sphere where evil is black and good is white same as Jesus and Satan. In his assessment of the racial pathology in the American society, Robert Blauner opine that, “Race and racism are not figments of demented imaginations, but are central to the economics, politics, and culture of this nation”.
Historically, America is a class based society owing to the fact that her socio-cultural underpinning is deeply rooted in slavery and slave trade. The ace Pan African ancestor, W.E.B. Du Bois foresaw the cancer of racism hundred and over years ago and warned of its debilitating effects insofar as the European in America uses colour as prism to view people of Africa descent. As such, America will continually witness challenges owing to “the problem of the colour line”. Du Bois’s prophesy has come to pass over a hundredof years on, America is battling with racial bigotry in the face of clear cut legal and constitutional provisions proscribing acts of racial profiling, discrimination and prejudice. The consequence of being discriminated and powerless in itself creates psycho disequilibrium leading to sense of rejection which, sometimes, translate to occasional deviant behaviour by some Africans in America. Sadly, American policy makers do not recongnise that the race problem is a national quandary bobblingand could threaten the very democracy America prides itself on.
Racial challenges remain detrimental to the progress of Africans and hinders human dignityas well. This has, certainly, impacted negatively on the socio-economic activities of the African community in particular and US in general. Deliberately placing social and economic limitation on a significant segment of the population will unavoidably have a strain on the health of the economy as a whole. The ‘colour bar’ is not likely to go any time soon. The situation has been exacerbated by the outlandish and unsavory rhetoric constantly gushing out from the mouth of Mr. Trump. Undoubtedly, the fight against racism will be a drawn-out struggle as voices of moderation are not on the side of the American political leadership influenced by the neo-con agenda of Pax Americana. The racial malaise which afflicts America is not necessarily about the reticent posture of the so-called silent majority of European-Americans refusing tospeak against racism,but is largely as a result of the conscious stratification of the American society along ethnic line much to the advantage of Caucasians.
The triumph ofcapitalism has made America,undeniably, great and wealthy albeit under slave labour, given that capitalism by its nature is patentlyruthless and bereft of conscience to the detriment of labour (largely Africans)one should not be bemusedof the European-American callousness towards Africans. EzeAkani (2010) observed that capitalism in its au naturel is a near ‘zero-sum game’ and mostly, labour(Africans)is exploited without recompense.Akani further exposed the heartlessness of the productive system which forms the foundation of the socio-economic system in the West, “The rabid thirst for profits and the outrageous wickedness visited on Africansby European… glaringly demonstrate the extent capitalist mode of production can go in creating private wealth” at the expense of Africans. Alphonso Pinkney (1984) proffered a solution to the deep-rooted problem of racism in America which, he said,emanates from production system, “…the eradication of capitalism is seen as a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for the elimination of both prejudiced attitudes and discriminatory behavior”.
The Cold War rivalry in the past century projected America as the midwife of the libertarian world, a position that should motivate her to be highly intolerable to racial oppression and pauperization of Africans simply on the basis of the colour of their skin. Alas, the very segment of the society that broke its back in the freezing cold weather to build America to an enviable status continuously agonize in quiet as they are socially and economically alienated to the fringes. Survival and quality of life among Africans is predetermined by the existing social construct engineered and influenced by racial considerations; hence Africans, the majority, bank their hope on the crumbs that fall from the tables of the master (European-Americans).
Irrespective of the bars deliberately erected to prevent Africans from climbing on top of the social ladder, it is irrefutable that the African has tremendous patience, endurance and in the face of open physical abuses, lynching, clubbing and the horrendous crime (chattel slavery) committed against them, he or she is unperturbed and hold the head high never to give up but struggle and break into the ceiling to be part of the mainstream American life which they have toiled to build.
The composition of members of the Black Lives Matter protest in America and other parts of the world is the surest sign of hope. Thus, there is an emerging generation that believes that “all men are created equal” and that there is absolute need to extend equal rights, opportunities and respect to Africans and other minorities. Surely, seeing Europeans, Asians and other ethnic groups solidarising with Africans in the face of blatant abuse gives hope that one day America’s history will be rewritten to reflect the true reality of how America was made and who made America great among the comity of nations.To Floyd and those who preceded him by having their lives equally snuffed by racist bigotswe say aluta continua! The struggle for social justice, equity, and respect for human dignity must be won at all cost devoid of bloodletting and destruction.However, Knelling on the neck and subsequent death of Floyd, was the height of racial barbarity in the 21st century.
By Granfadaa Ayitomeka