- There is more to the protests than Floyd’s murder.
- They are about structural racism, enduring white domination and heightened bigotry in the age of Trump.
As a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University in the City of New York a security guard stopped me at the door of the Low Memorial Library, where former Vice President Al Gore was just about to speak on the global climate crisis. The security guard imagined that no black man would be in such esteemed company. The look on his face was priceless when he saw my staff identity.
A store security guard trailed me while shopping at a Macy’s store in New York City. He grinned sheepishly when I picked a pricey suitcase. At the same store on another occasion a retail clerk asked for my residential address. I said 435 West 119th at Amsterdam Avenue. The black lady looked up at me in consternation. One evening while walking on the edge of Morningside park a police squad car slowed down so the police could check me out.
President Obama has written about white couples tossing him their car keys as he waited for the valet. Michelle Obama recalls Obama wearing a tuxedo at a black-tie dinner and a white man still asked him to get coffee. Although Obama was raised by his white mother and two white grandparents, he knew “men who looked like him could inspire their rawest fears”.
I believed the election of Barack Obama, the first black president, ushered a post-racial America. Black people had proved once more that we were as good as any other human being. After all we had given Nelson Mandela to the world; a man who was prepared to die for a “democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities”.
Eight months before Mandela’s immortal words at the Rivonia trial, a King had a dream that “his four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”.
Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Announcing King’s death at a campaign rally in Indianapolis, Senator Robert F Kennedy recognised that black people would be “filled with bitterness, with hatred, and a desire for revenge”.
Nearly 60 years after the march on Washington, Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes 46 seconds. He cried “Mama, mama, I can’t breathe”, as he drew his last breath. The death of Floyd touched off the largest sustained protests in 50 years. Confederate monuments have been toppled. Americans; black, white, Latino, Asian and Jewish, are calling for police reforms.
There is more to the protests than Floyd’s murder. They are about structural racism, enduring white domination and heightened bigotry in the age of Trump. The Covid-19 pandemic has also exposed how the lives of African Americans are shaped by shameful and deep racial inequality that leaves black people disproportionately vulnerable to chronic morbidity and early death.
We can and must end the savagery of racism and make gentle our momentary existence on earth.