In The Spotlight
"I don’t know any city in America which does not have issues of police brutality or overaggressive policing against black people; who reflexively say their last prayers whenever they encounter white police officers; afraid they might not be alive after the encounter. Why do I have to feel this way? Why can't I just be black in America?" This statement by a Black Lives Matter activist encapsulates the black predicament in America. In this era of social distancing amid the Coronavirus pandemic, police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and sprayed chemical irritants to disperse demonstrators in Minneapolis, Minnesota, who were protesting the gruesome murder of George Floyd by four white police officers. Video of the incident showing white police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd's neck as the 46-year-old black man gasped for air, saying he couldn't breathe prompted the firing of Chauvin, and three other officers amid a national outcry and global shame. How many black deaths will it take until the racial profiling and undervaluing of black lives by white police officers finally ends in America?
Although the long anti-racism protests that trailed several other killings of blacks by white police officers seemed to have abated in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, these protests have unearthed deep-seated racial animosity that raises fundamental questions about all that America stands for. To the global black community, old scars of yesteryear’s atrocities against the Black-American community have resurfaced as fresh wounds, thereby imposing on Nigeria (the world’s most populous black nation) a burden of being the black man’s rallying platform. Nigeria cannot afford to be aloof to the predicament of blacks in America and elsewhere in the world. Nigeria must, therefore, rise and put its house in order because the black man’s burden has now become Nigeria’s burden.
As the world reacts to the gruesome murder in broad daylight of George Floyd, it is worth noting that similar killings of the Michael Browns, the Eric Garners, and others, betrays a curious hypocrisy on the part of white America which has seldom thought deeply about how the disturbing systemic racism underlies the social justice machinery of the fabled God’s Own Country, and how it affects the black community. It is hard to find a black man in America who doesn’t have a story to tell after encountering white police officers. However, racism is not restricted to black-white discrimination alone. The influx of Latin Americans into the US is expanding the latitude of racial discrimination. Although unreported by mainstream media, race relations between police officers and Latinos have also festered for decades.
Today’s America, as New York mayor Bill De Blasio, himself married to a black woman, and father of a bi-racial son, has publicly acknowledged; is a parenting challenge for bi-racial families. Speaking on ABC This Week by George Stephanopoulos, De Blasio courted police indignation when he said: “We have to retrain police force in how to work with communities differently. We have to work on things like body cameras that would provide different levels of transparency and accountability. This is something systemic. And we bluntly have to talk about the historic racial dynamics that underlie this.” In a country where the police have become an effective instrument of domestic terror, blacks and bi-racial people still need to grapple with the fact of whether or not they enjoy the same sense of inclusiveness in the American social system. It is indeed unfortunate that President Donald Trump’s tacit endorsement of white supremacists and his toxic brand of white grievance politics have further opened racial fault lines.
That one is white, black or brown does not make one less of a human being. Man’s intrinsic worth as being endowed with reason and freedom is not fundamentally devalued by being classified under one race or another, except a warped sense of ontology does so. And it is this dubious elevation of artificial boundaries to an immutable truth that the American dream proposed to negate, when the founding fathers of that nation evolved a land of the free.
By its own constitution, America is a bastion of freedom, where the infinite refinement of reason entrenches our common humanity through justice and equality. However, it is unfortunate and rather ominous that this symbol of mankind’s humanity is now pandering to the social cankerworm its founding fathers swore to eliminate. It is also hypocritical that the same prejudice, which the American government and people denounce with the blood and treasure lives of its young citizens in fighting Islamic terrorism and defending freedom in distant lands far from its shores, has become the unwritten code of its social and criminal justice system. This is disturbing and condemnable.
Whatever the boundaries created around humanity’s existential space and the constructs spelt out to represent them, the human community is fundamentally one. No group of people become superior by virtue of the nomenclature ascribed to their being. If race is a description of our facticity, that is, an existential situation we cannot change, it is by that fact a pointer to the diversity that makes our world beautiful. The United States of America, by its motto, E Pluribus Unum, (Out of many one) gives credence to this diversity by transcending narrow mundanities and stereotyping which racism promotes.
Theorists and scholars, in defence of the human diversity which America represents, have tended to discount any meaningful significance of race in the social experiences of bi-racial and multi-racial persons, for the simple reason that there is no universal objective principle by which race can be expressed. This argument is too puerile and simplistic. While not denying the social expediency of race, Africans have not forgotten that when videos of blacks being maltreated in Chine surfaced on social media, the world maintained a deafening silence; not a single white leader condemned China for the xenophobia against blacks. This is hypocrisy that stinks to the high Heavens.
America should not only pride itself as the land of the free and the last hope for mankind, it must be seen to be so. Besides preserving the rule of law, America must also properly educate its police and law enforcement officials in tandem with its national philosophy. In this regard, white America should bear in mind that despite the landmark 1954 US Supreme Court verdict in Brown vs Board of Education, and the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which banned racial segregation and affirmed the right to quality education for all its children, there is available overwhelming evidence that for blacks and non-white students, your destiny is defined by your zip code. This is an unbearable national shame to white America. If the dream of its founding fathers is to be sustained, white Americans must purge themselves of their ethnic prejudices and biases of their pre-American roots.
The ugly incident of police brutality against blacks in America is a major burden on the conscience of white America. As blacks the world over, watch as blacks are being killed like game by white police officers on America streets; as many blacks in America experience a new wave of racism in a land that reminds them of the unfortunate past of their forebears, they can only wish that things should change for the better. If in today’s world, oppressed blacks and freedom-loving people still look up to America for any succor, the nation, under whom the whole world could find a rallying shade, cannot afford to lose its own moral compass. America must rise up to the creed of its founding fathers who wrote the 14 majestic words in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence which changed the course of human history: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that ALL men are created equal…”