Sometimes you see the news and it makes you want to wash your hands of humanity. And the events in Minneapolis a fortnight ago and the response of the American leadership to the protests and the riots has once again shown that Donald Trump does not have a great agenda or policy programme to drive America forward into the new decade and beyond. He ran for President and occupies the White House simply for his own self-advancement. But his response also speaks of America’s straight up refusal to admit to itself that it is still a systemically, subconsciously racist society. America is not the land of free and opportunity for all. Not while these incidents keep happening. Americans often proclaim their belief that America is the greatest country in the world. Not while a citizen can be murdered by the police in the street. America has had a systemic racism ever since the Constitution of the United States was first ratified. No matter what anyone may tell you, the Civil War was fought largely to preserve the institution of slavery. Yes, it was also about the southern states wanting to preserve their rights, but the rights they wanted to protect the most were their rights to own slaves. There’s a clause enshrining slavery forever in the Confederate constitution. And America needs to come to terms with the fact that many of its institutions are habitually, institutionally, systemically racist. The opportunities are not equal between a white middle-class kid from the New York suburbs and a black child from the Detroit projects. The opportunities simply are not there for those growing up as a minority race in the inner cities.
But this is not merely an American problem. This systemic racism is a problem for countries around the world. Italy has been shown to have its problem tackling racist views and opinions. Its football supporters particularly seem to fall into the bad camp. Many racist banners have been unfurled at football games and players have sometimes taken to walking off the field in protest. France, Russia, Germany, they all have failed to eradicate racist ideology. Even here in the UK matters are far from perfect. The Watford striker Andre Gray gave an interview in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the ensuing protests and marches, where he gave an insight into his life and how he is looked at in Britain. He said ‘At the end of the day, I’m three people in this country. And that’s either a footballer, a rapper or a drug dealer. These are the facts.’ Andre Gray also pointed to how people act around him saying he had lost count of the number of times he had been turned away from a club, how many times he had been pulled over by police, how many times he had been followed around a shop by a security guard. And these are the facts for millions of black people around the world. Judged before they have even acted. The number of historical cases of murder cases where a black person was arrested and convicted on the flimsiest evidence is in the hundreds. To Kill A Mockingbird was not just a story dreamt up by Harper Lee. It is based on her experience as a child growing up in Alabama in the 1930s and the racist attitudes that were out in the open at the time.
Unfortunately, we have seen this before. Eric Garner was murdered in eerily similar fashion to George Floyd, even saying the same words as he died. I can’t breathe. And the movement gained attention and gained traction. But nothing changed. Now, six years later, another unarmed black man who was not threatening the officers who arrested and restrained him has been killed by those same officers. Some may argue that it is too harsh to paint all police officers with the same brush, but this isn’t about individual officers. This is about the institutions themselves, the law enforcement departments, the state judicial departments. The system needs to change. The officers who shot Breonna Taylor in her own home have not been arrested or charged with her murder. It’s the fact that white police officers are comfortable doing this, while being filmed no less, because they know the system will protect them.
As a white man, I will never know what it is like to suffer that form of prejudice every day. To have people telling to you to go back where you came from, to your face. To be living among those who may think you as beneath them, no better than dogs bred in a kennel, that you should still be bought and sold as property. To be in that bondage. I had children tease me on the school playground because I have ginger hair. That is all the discrimination I will ever suffer. Because of two aspects of my genetic makeup. I am male and I am white. But simply saying that you will look to listen, to educate yourself and all the rest isn’t enough. Not anymore. Everyone, regardless of race, of colour, of gender, of creed must come together and demand real change.
And if those in power will not deliver the change that is needed now, then we will vote them out of office and bring in those who will. For the public good. And for those who have been oppressed and downtrodden for far too long. For those who were taken from their homes, thrown into chains, sailed across an ocean and forced to work for no benefit of their own. For those murdered by the system supposed to protect them.
Doing the right thing is not easy sometimes. But we all have to make the right choice now; and do the right thing. To do otherwise would be a crime against human decency.