BLACK LIVES MATTER
RACISM: THE OTHER PANDEMIC
Sandesh Bartlett notes the global ripple effect of George Floyd’s murder
Racism has always been an inescapable part of the American story. With a legacy of the slave trade, a civil war and persistent systemised racism, American civil strife has often been dominated by themes of ethnicity and colour.
However, in spite of this largely ‘American’ problem, few could have imagined how the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin would become a catalyst for a global struggle towards racial and political equity.
Questions in the US regarding the brutal policing of blacks, black-white wage disparities, diversity across blue-chip C-suites, and illusions of corporate and political meritocracy soon fuelled an international clarion call by beleaguered communities, against persistent systems and legacies of oppression.
In much of the Western world, marches of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement challenged old imperial legacies of the slave trade; Belgian protesters demanded the removal of statues of King Leopold II for his brutal role in the Congo and protesters in Bristol threw the statue of Edward Colston into the harbour for his role in the Atlantic slave trade.
Elsewhere in the world, the growing impetus of the BLM movement brought not only solidarity movements with the black community to the fore but also the struggles of other oppressed groups.
The Atlantic Council reports that Floyd has become a rallying martyr against oppression across the world, from São Paulo in Brazil where protesters challenged the right-wing and ‘race tinged’ policies of President Jair Bolsonaro, to Idlib in Syria where an artist painted Floyd’s portrait on the bombed out husk of a building to symbolise the plight of the Syrian people under the Bashar Al-Assad regime.
With 114 countries dealing with political protests in 2019 alone, there is great potential for the Black Lives Matter protests thrust by the death of Floyd to resonate through global media and help usher in equitable reforms for legitimate causes whether socioeconomic, corporate or political.
But in some cases, BLM has been ironically twisted by certain parties to win sentiments for their own status quo. Responding to a tweet by the United States Department of State spokesperson in relation to concern for Beijing’s iron fist over Hong Kong, China’s own Foreign Ministry spokesperson goaded and criticised the US with a mock in retort, tweeting “I can’t breathe.”
Similarly, the response to Floyd’s murder has been twofold in Sri Lanka. On one side of the divide, the impetus has been used to draw attention to the state’s troubled relationship with its minorities while others have relished the chance to criticise the US for hypocrisy and its alleged interference in Sri Lankan postwar sovereignty, ignoring the history of ethnic division and systemised racism such as by way of the Sinhala Only Act.
However, regardless of how it is spun by those who might exploit it, Floyd’s death is catalytic in bringing in legitimate and equitable changes across the globe, just as the US has been the epicentre of the struggle against the tumour of inequity, it could possibly introduce best practices and policies to cauterise it.
The Economist Radio notes that between the point of Floyd’s death and mid-June, a total of US$ 1.6 billion was donated to organisations fighting inequality by the 100 largest US companies alone.
Companies will likely soon be held accountable if their managers are prone to an ‘affinity bias’ whereby the best opportunities and assignments are granted to people of the same skin colour and cultural background, resulting in a facade of meritocracy under which performance and advancement in corporates are indirectly linked to a white boss.
In a surprising U-turn on its previous stance with regard to Colin Kaepernick who first knelt in protest against police brutality on the black community, the NFL admitted it was wrong and has since pledged to donate 250 million dollars over 10 years to combat systemic racism.
So effective was Floyd’s death in demonstrating the need to address pronounced political, corporate and ethnic inequities across the globe, that it made the world forget the virus in the room.
There is a strong case to be made for the vigour of global protests and its relationship with disgruntled civilians isolated at home due to the coronavirus. In a year packed with breaking news, the BLM protests stole the headlines from COVID-19.
If any country hoped for a guarded reopening of the economy, Black Lives Matter protests have flattened the curve of their hopes. With the fear of a second wave, some have rightly feared BLM protests could become a catalyst.
However, as the United States of America grapples with anti-racism demonstrations and a seemingly insurmountable COVID-19 infection rate, at the end of the day, racism remains its own malignant force in dire need of a vaccine.