George Floyd has been laid to rest and may he rest in peace. But his memories are sure to linger on forever, and not just be another hashtag #. He was not the first to die at the hands of the police, unfortunately nor will he be the last. Many have gone before him in similar circumstances across the world. Conventional wisdom has it that such a practice that personifies abject racism, has been propped, legitimised, condoned and blind sided by a system and a society that was founded on the backs of racial inequality. America was founded on the tenets of freedom as The Land of the Free. Sadly, this freedom does not appear to have filtered down to its minority groups, but for the privileged.
America and the world are not just waking up to racism and police brutality overnight. It has always been there, with such deaths and corresponding protests going hand in hand. One difference this time is that, it is filmed more. The other is that the most powerful man of the most powerful country has chosen to serve his country and the world as the Commander in Chief and agent provocateur for the racial divide. He didn’t invent racism, but has backed it with the ultimate power. Donald Trump has always boasted that he has done the most for the black community in America. May be, may be, this would be the watershed that the world, and especially America has been waiting to arrive at. But by an ill-fated twist of irony, you will be hard pressed to contradict Trump, if meaningful reforms and any good should come out of this whole saga.
George Floyd’s death was captured live on camera. The incident was one thing, but it is the nonchalant attitude of the police officer Derek Chauvin, with his knee on his neck, while keeping both hands in his pockets that many find repulsive. This was not helped by his enabling co-officers who treated the whole episode like a spectator sport. How can you rationalise that George was “resisting arrest” when you had the luxury of “restraining” him with both hands in your pockets; “hands free”? Let us for a minute visualise the sizes of George and Derek. Who would you put your money on, if both were in a boxing ring, and if Derek was not wearing the sacred uniform of law enforcement? George showed respect for the uniform, but Derek showed abject disdain for human life here.
The police, the world over is and should be a “force for good” to keep the equilibrium on law and order in our communities. We should not hide away from the fact that the American police force is unfortunately too militarised, and has been afflicted by the psychology of terror, cruelty and hate. Judging by the level of notoriety and criticisms recently, you will be forgiven to think that this law enforcement agency has become a crime enforcement one. The police unions in America have been largely pin pointed as a society for self preservation and one of the speed bumps for police reform over the years.
It goes without saying that the protests have been worldwide; as people clamour for lasting reforms. This has led to some historical monuments, and I used it loosely, depicting historical edifices of slavery and subjugation to be defaced and destroyed. They show the emotional attachments to the race issue. Others in especially America have called for their local police forces to be defunded, disbanded and so forth. Many, including me will see such actions as extreme and counter productive. The police need meaningful and long-lasting reforms. This cannot happen overnight, as it would require a systematic approach to dismantle a practice that has been legitimised by our spineless leaders. The failure of societies from all backgrounds to speak up has also given acquiescence to such an inhumane culture of silence. “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men (people) to do nothing”.
The statues of Belgian King Leopold 11, Cecil Rhodes, Robert Clive and Thomas Pickton in England, and many confederate statues and edifices are being targeted, defaced, destroyed or removed. There is no doubt that such is the emotional spill over from these structures. These figures are seen as divisive, as past and present glorifying reminders of slavery, subjugation, and crimes against humanity. But others see them as symbols of heritage. If truth be said, these symbols, as nauseating as they can be or represent, are part of our history; man’s history. Irrespective of their associated connotations, symbols or otherwise, they form the heritage and history of our societies. To destroy them will not make the history go away but will seem like destroying our very history from which we all have a story to tell. These statues don’t make for good memories, but we cannot deny our history; for doing so will be an act of self denial.
So how should we banish the raw emotions that these statues conjure but at the same time ensure that part of our history is not confined to the dustbins of memory? We can all agree that the status quos and modus operandi that these statues conjure have no place in present day communities. Instead of destroying them, which will be a vain attempt to re-write history, should we not keep them in designated museums for posterity? Keeping them in such museums would give others who may want to “learn” about the past, the option to do so. By removing them from public places will in effect demonstrate that although we acknowledge our horrific pasts, they are not a part of our history to be glorified.
Africa has neither received reparation, nor apology for the mother of all crimes against humanity. Perhaps the removal of these symbols could pass for an act of collective contrition. Perhaps, that could kill two birds with one stone. As painful as it is, as nauseating as it is and horrible and appealing forgettable these statues and edifices are, we would need a reference point to show how far we have come over time.
At such a critical point, the world is crying out for world leadership. After all this, the year 2020 will not be forgotten in a hurry. If anything, it will be remembered as the year of a rudderless world. Just when we thought that the COVID -19 was an unimaginable Armageddon to contend with, we are now facing a crisis in race relations. Notwithstanding all the restrictions, the hardship, the deaths and seeming pause to life as we know it, the emotions running high from the death of George Floyd, and in effect race relations were enough to throw all caution, health guidelines, common sense and every survival instinct out of the window. The protests have not only tested the efficacy of social distancing but have also endangered the lives of many people in the process. Was this an indication that the protesters regarded the police as more of a virulent virus, to be that oblivious of the Corona?
But just like the Corona virus, this looks like a wake-up call to all the four corners of the world, that the world needs a reset, a reboot, a recalibration and a rejig. The world may look to the likes of Donald Trump to provide such a leadership. Unfortunately, he has not given any inkling that he has returned from his alternative reality. Will he be ready to trade the peace, security and safety of his country for another four years at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue; sorry Black Lives Matter Street? While race relations are creaking at the seams, spear a thought for the threat the American constitution is under. Where are Mugabe and Idi Amin Dada when you need one?
Lest we forget, and to those clamouring Black Lives Matter, is it time for the small matter of decolonising the mind? Is it time to be black and proud, to keep the afro, avoid the bleach and skin lightening? Is time to stop the fratricidal-black on black violence? Is it time to speak your language to your children and leave the teaching of the English language to the teachers? To complete the Black Lives Matter, is it time to decolonise the mind? The media too must come along and remember that not everything that is black is bad; “black ice”, “black hole”, “black sheep”, “black list”, “black balled” etc. Try “dark” for a change. Hollywood, FIFA, UEFA, NFL, PREMIER LEAGUE, are you listening? Listen to Bob Marley’s “Babylon System” and take a knee before you go bed. Sleep well brother Floyd and all those that have gone before him.
Don’t forget to turn the lights off before you leave the room. (Photo:Abdulai Mansaray, author)