DR. IBRAHIM ALLADIN
The recent images coming from the United States of America are frightening and scary. The death toll from the coronavirus has surpassed 100,000 in a few months. Then came the riots last week after the death of George Floyd, a black American. America is now in flames. Many are asking for answers, and others wondering when the death and violence will cease. The answers are not hard to find. The system has failed progressively over the years. The problem is endemic.
I have travelled across this great country, from New York to San Francisco, to Texas and Louisiana to Michigan and Hawaii. It’s fascinating, the landscapes, rolling plains and the mountains. A myriad of colours, architecture and shapes. Then, the people: a diverse population, rich culture and amazing cuisine – a society that has given so much to the modern generation. I have met some wonderful Americans in my travels. My best friend for over thirty years, lives in Marblehead, just outside Boston. He was also my doctoral supervisor when I was at the university. A retired white American, he lives in a quiet neighbourhood with his wife. He laments what is going in his country. He simply cannot believe what he sees: some billionaires using the coronavirus to loot the country, a society characterised by extreme social and economic inequalities, a highly militarised country terrorising the rest of the world and a failed president, who is unable to keep the country together. The end product: hell in America. Chaos.
A glimpse at history
American society is built on violence, wars and extreme policies. Before the black slaves arrived from Africa to build the economy, the native Americans were the target. Apartheid was not invented in South Africa, it was born in America and practised on the natives, who were closed off in “reserves”. The western movies depicted how these people were perceived and dealt with. The fight between the “cowboys” and “Indians” trivialised the extermination of a population rich in culture and knowledge. The “cowboy”, always played by a white actor was the hero and saviour, while the “Indian” was portrayed as the savage, violent and unworthy. In the end, the “cowboy” wins. The natives are still confined in reserves. They don’t have a place in America. The images of the western movies still prevail.
From the civil war, to the war of Independence, to the wars in Vietnam, the Middle East, Central America and the Gulf, the American regime has shown that conflict is best resolved by military means. Not really. History is the witness. American foreign policy has been a disaster. The Middle East is just an example. This “war-like” mentality seemed to be embedded in American politics, even within the country. Historically, it has exterminated its own people, and continues to deny rights to the “non-whites”. There was a time, some parts of the country were designated as “for whites only”. There were separate schools and churches for blacks and whites. This is still evident in some areas even today. The Civil Rights movement brought racism into the limelight but could not wipe it out. In America, there is institutionalised racism and the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week is but an example. This is not a case of police brutality but the murder of an innocent black man by a white police officer, in a place that is considered widely racist.
Hell is broken loose
The death of George Floyd has triggered anger across the United States. The black community seems to have had enough. George was not the first black American to be killed by white police officers. The protests have spread across the country like wildfire, with curfew imposed in over forty cities, which are mostly being ignored. It seems the protestors are ready for a stand-off. Former President Barack Obama and celebrities like Michael Jordan are pained to see what is happening. Even in London, the voices of racism are being heard. People don’t seem to care about the virus, although there is a scare that it will spread as the protests grow in strength, but they want freedom and justice for all. Many white Americans love black culture and music, they applaud black athletes, but fail to recognise that black people have the right to live in peace.
President Donald Trump called the protesters “thugs”. A president who says “… when the looting starts, the shooting starts…”, and is sending the National Guards to curb the protests, seem to sum up the war-like sentiments. Tweeter accused him of “glorying violence”. History repeats itself. It is even harder to believe that President Trump does not think there is racism in the American police force. There are numerous incidents of racism and ample research to argue that the death of George Floyd is a result of racism. Just like he denied there is global warming and the severity of the coronavirus, he now denies racism. If one does not recognise the problem, then how does one find a solution? In this case, do you simply ignore it and hope that it will go away for a while? Dr. Martin Luther King fought to bring the extreme inequalities into the political arena. Five decades later, his dream is still a dream. The system has failed the black people, and they feel that justice is denied to them.
Anger and frustration
The Black Lives Matter group has rekindled the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Racial discrimination is back on the agenda. Former President Barack Obama, the first black president, has lent his support and is aware that racism in America is poisoning the society. What he tried to do as President, is being undone by President Trump. The Democrat/Republican partisan politics has divided the country and its people. As long as one group denies the problem exists, there will be others who will fall victim of racism in modern America, where we are told democracy thrives.
When a population is marginalised and pushed back into the fringes of society, sooner or later, people will retaliate. In the case of the native Americans and the black people, their living standard is ten times lower than the average white American. The inner cities and the slums of New York, Chicago, Detroit and others, show how American society is segregated along racial and ethnic line. Even the coronavirus is not sparing the non-whites, with more deaths in this group, resulting from years of deprivation in health care and other social services. How could Donald Trump say that there is no racism in modern America. He should take a drive in the slums and experience hell in America.
What is happening in the United States is a reminder of what extreme policies and social inequalities can do to a society. When people are marginalised and their right to existence is ignored, it will result in what is being witnessed across America today. The lack of leadership and a failure to address broader issues will leave people frustrated and angry. They are not thugs but crying out of despair. George Floyd was killed and Michael Jordan summed it up: “We have had enough”.