I’ve spent most of this morning reading about or watching the race riots and protests currently in America (and I have CNN on in the background as I write this). Just to follow online is a torrid, traumatic experience. You can’t help but think that America now is at a critical juncture in its history. Regardless of how this resolves, you wonder if America is forever changed from our common perception of it. Trump changed everything, but in ways, all he did was to amplify and ultimately encourage, the divisions in society that are now coming apart. Terrible as he is, as he has been, there was always the civilised notion in the back of your mind that he was an aberration, and that sanity, common-sense, and decency would be restored once he was kicked out of office.
I question that now. We’re still months away from the election, and the way things are moving anything could happen before then. Even if in a best-case scenario and Trump is ultimately de-throned come November I have serious doubts that his rusted-on supporters – the MAGA crowd, the crazy libertarians, the white supremacists, and so on – would support such a result. He has emboldened them sufficiently that it would be no surprise if they resisted the democratic outcome.
There’s a horrible fascination in observing the events from so far away. I feel grateful to be free of that. I feel a little embarrassed as a white man horrified by what’s happening and wanting to understand. And I feel totally on the side of the black community that’s had enough of racism and violence and mistreatment. 100%.
I’ve watched different clips of black leaders speaking out, and I’m roused and moved and sad as well. It’s clear that even in the protesters there’s not a single common view, and that’s to be understood. With shops being trashed and looted and violence like wildfire, there are some that urge restraint, while others say, what do you expect?
There was a speech given by a rapper and activist in Atlanta called Killer Mike. He’s a fine, impassioned speaker. He was hard on the racist forces and political infrastructure that had oppressed black people for generations. He was angry and fierce, but his message was to “plot, plan, strategise, organise, and mobilise”. He urged people not to burn down their house but to fortify it as places of shelter. Behind him stood the mayor and the chief of police (who had earlier appeared speaking to the rioting crowd). His message, in short, was to keep fighting for your rights, but not to destroy.
Reading the comments on his speech, many were laudatory, but others thought the time had passed to be so reasonable. It had never worked before, why now?
There was another speech given by Tamika Mallory, which went off like a bomb. She was compelling. Angry, fluent, smart, bluntly telling the story of black oppression. Hardline as it was, it was hard to disagree with her. Why not burn Target if they are complicit in the system that oppresses black lives if they don’t step forward to defend them? She told the audience that looting was something they had learned from the whites, who had looted the Native-Americans first, and then the blacks. She made the point repeatedly, and with much justice, that “We learned racism from you!” It was heady stuff.
Another was a Princeton professor speaking to Anderson Cooper, Dr Cornel West. He expressed the state of frustration felt by black people very well. They have tried to protest peacefully, they have tried to affect change democratically, they have tried every way, but nothing ever changes, black lives are lost, people oppressed, racism continues. Listening to him, I thought of Colin Kaepernick and how he was excoriated and ultimately banished, for taking a knee during the national anthem in protest against racism.
His was the most peaceful of protests, but America couldn’t swallow it. What’s left to an African American when casual racism is an everyday event, and racist violence so common that it’s become a cliche? I read the comments of a black journalist explaining his life. This is an intelligent, educated man who related tales of how teachers were afraid of him when he was a kid because he was big and black. Of how, like many, he is commonly pulled over in his car by cops as if he was a suspicious character. Of white women recoiling from him as if he were about to rob them, and so on. How does that feel day after day, year after year? What does it feel like to know that so many consider you second-class and inferior all your life? And when a black man like George Floyd is murdered by police, what happens to you then?
What we’re seeing is the anger of people too long disenfranchised and abused. The violence and the riots are expressions of pent-up frustration busting loose. It’s gone on too long, their voices have been discounted and muted too long, and enough is enough. With Covid-19 as the backdrop, the tipping point has been reached, and seriously, what is there to lose now?
The next 48 hours will tell the tale. Cities are in curfew now. There’s no sign of things calming – in fact, the anger is spreading across the country. America has the worst possible leader for a situation like this, but he is a part of the reason, too. He’s not the man to de-escalate this. Even if he had the will, he doesn’t have the capability. In all honesty, he’s more likely to tip a bucket of fuel on the fire.
I feel so much for the millions of Americans, black and white, who are decent and reasonable, watching their country fracture before their eyes. They have been held hostage by Trump and his cronies while the values they believed in have been sold off cheap.
I don’t know how this will end, or if it will. The anger is well-founded, the president is incompetent (at best!), and racism is entrenched. There’s curious evidence that white supremacists are exploiting the situation to provoke more violence (much of the vandalism has been by whites, including deliberate acts by mysterious figures). You suspect this is a confrontation they relish.
There must be an answer to all this, and the answer must be equality and justice for all. You’re not going to eradicate racist thoughts and actions overnight. That takes education. What you can do is ensure that every racist action is met with the full force of the law. A huge part of this is that since forever white racists, particularly in law enforcement, have got away with misdemeanours. There has to be equality of opportunity and economic equity. Justice must prevail.
These are fine words, but not long ago there was a black president, and even then none of this came close. Trump aint going to do it. Biden isn’t capable. What happens? It won’t be pretty.