Sunday, October 17

George Floyd’s death sparked a fire, but the firewood had been piling up for years | Kojo Koram

IEverything was supposed to disappear in a few days. Thomas Jefferson once said of black Americans that “her pains are temporary”. They were people who lived life with a duller emotional palette than everyone else. Because their pain was fickle and their depth of feeling shallow, their lives were more expendable than anyone else’s. An unemployed black American in his 40s with a criminal record, George Floyd’s life wasn’t supposed to mean much, especially in our age of mass distraction. Maybe his name is trending on Twitter for a while. Maybe there would be a handful of gears. But inevitably soon we would all move on to more important matters. We always do.

After all, it’s hard to imagine a more mundane police encounter than the one faced by officers who confronted Floyd for apparently buying cigarettes with a counterfeit $ 20 bill a year ago. This is not a scenario that should produce a world-changing event. And it wouldn’t have worked if things had played out a little differently. With Derek Chauvin’s conviction last month that led commentators to argue that the system ultimately works, it’s worth remembering the direction this case was taking before it sparked a global movement.

On May 26, 2020, a Minneapolis Police spokesman, John Elder, issued a press release titled, “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Interaction with Police.” That I declare that this man had “physical resistance officers” who were finally able to “handcuff the suspect” before they “noticed that he appeared to be suffering from medical problems.” They called an ambulance. The suspect went to the hospital. He died. The end.

No mention of “I can’t breathe.” There is no mention of Floyd calling his “mom” while begging for his life. There is no mention of an officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine atrocious minutes. I had the 17-year-old passerby Darnella Frazier If he hadn’t recorded a video of the incident on his phone, if that video hadn’t spread across the internet like wildfire, and there hadn’t been masses of angry protesters on the streets around the world, it’s very possible that Chauvin would still be patrolling the streets. from Minneapolis right now.

Does this mean that, if it weren’t for a twist of fate, we might never have seen the massive rallies for racial justice that marked last year? In truth, George Floyd’s death sparked the Black Lives Matter worldwide protests last summer in much the same way that Franz Ferdinand’s death sparked the outbreak of World War I. This was the spark, but the firewood had been building up for years. If it hadn’t been Floyd, it might have been Breonna Taylor. OR Ahmaud Arbery. OR Daunte wright. Was here fire next time that James Baldwin had prophesied.

In its wake, there was a remarkable change in the atmosphere, even on the distant island of Great Britain. There was a rush to unless it was seen that he was doing the right thing. Suddenly, ‘kneeling’ in protest against racial injustice, an action that cost American footballer Colin Kaepernick his career just a few years ago, became the standard way to start every English Premier League and Premier League match. football. Established bodies such as the BBC and the National Trust faced the ire of government ministers, high-profile journalists, and even some of their own supporters by publicly taking action to take their racial legacy into account. Eventually, even the most enduring of institutions, the monarchy, faced accusations of racism from members of its own family.

The government had to respond. He launched another commission to look at racial disparity in the UK. A curious step, considering multiple revisions It had already been carried out on the subject in recent years, and the recommendations of these investigations continued to be ignored. However, once the figures who would lead the commission were unveiled, questions arose. The prime minister’s policy advisor, Munira Mirza, famous for arguing that institutional racism was “a perception more than a reality”, He was tasked with leading the commission and Tony Sewell, who spent years questioning the idea of ​​institutional racism, was appointed as its chairman.

So when what became known as the Sewell report was delivered and the commission declared that “I was especially concerned about the way the term ‘institutional racism’ is being applied in current discourse,” few readers were surprised. The Black Lives Matter protests had, for many, begun to expand a common understanding of what constitutes racism. That was dangerous and he needed to shut it down.

Institutional racism was a phrase coined in the 1960s by a civil rights organizer Stokely carmichael (also known as Kwame Ture) to illustrate how racism had more to do with institutional power than individual prejudice. Carmichael stated that “if a white man wants to lynch me, that is his problem. If he has the power to lynch me, that’s my problem. “Racism is not about what you want to do, but what you can do and who you can do it. What will the institutions of society (the police, the courts, prison system) that certain classes of people resist? Racism was a question of whose lives mattered to the state.

Half a century later, those who watched the aftermath of the Windrush scandal and the Grenfell Tower fire were still wondering this question. Would Windrush have happened if the people involved had been from Canada instead of the Caribbean? If Grenfell Tower had been home to some of Kensington and Chelsea’s wealthiest residents rather than poor immigrant families, Arguments in favor of fire retardant coatings have they been cared for? As much as the Sewell report claimed that current perceptions of racism rested on the memory of “historical incidents“A 500-year-old social system did not collapse with the passing of some equality laws at the end of the 20th century.

Yet despite government opposition and a broader cultural backlash against the movement, Black Lives Matter retains great appeal in the UK. In October last year, more than half of the British public continued to support Black Lives Matter, and that number rises to seven out of 10 for youth.

At the center of criticism of the movement is the presumption that the increased focus on racial issues makes innocent whites feel bad about themselves. It leads to a spiral of blame and self-recrimination that is not good for anyone. In reality, much of the response to Floyd’s murder and the movement that followed was not about putting blame and making people feel guilty. It was about making people, of all backgrounds, feel angry about things as they are. It was a fit of anger against the institutions that continue to bring violence from the past to the present. It was justified and constructive anger, which resonated not only in London, Birmingham and Manchester, but also in Buckinghamshire, St Ives and the Shetland Islands. And it is this wave of sentiment, set in motion by a man in Minneapolis, that is perhaps most troubling to those investing in preserving the status quo.

  • Dr Kojo Koram teaches at the University of London Birkbeck College School of Law and writes on issues of law, race and empire.

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