The other day, I saw a video circulating on social media where a small girl sitting on her uncle’s shoulder was chanting a slogan with an innocent smile on her face: “My dad changed the world.” She was the six-year-old daughter of George Floyd, who became a victim of state-sanctioned violence directed towards Black Americans. Destiny chose him to become a symbol of the oppressed exploited by systematic racism in America. His last words “I can’t breathe” have become the slogan of this historical moment and the protests in Minneapolis against the unceasing brutality by police since the murder took place. The outraged caused by the murder encouraged many people to come out in other parts of the world to make their voices heard. These people have also experienced inequality and injustice by the state. In the words of the anti-colonial revolutionary Franz Fanon, “When we revolt, it is not for a particular culture. We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe.”
The prevalent racism among whites in the West, America in particular, is not new. It has a history of almost 400 years. History might be presented to us today in a distorted manner, but the fact is that slavery played a major role in building the economy of the United States. Slaves mainly worked in farms, cultivating tobacco, rice and mostly huge plantations of cotton. In the 19th century, the United States was producing 75 percent of the world’s cotton whose plantation was done by slaves. These African-Americans had also served in the American Revolution. Over the course of 18th and 19th century, several revolts have been seen by slave owners, which resulted in many killings of the latter. In the mid-19th century, the Congress passed 13th Amendment to the constitution of the United States that abolished slavery. Even after years of abolition of slavery, tendencies of the slave-master mentally can still be seen practiced, covertly, if not overtly. This has now has taken the face of white supremacy. There was an entire economy that was built on exploitation and occupational segregation of the people of colour, whose labour has persisted in chronically undervalued occupation, institutionalized racial disparities in wages and perpetuated employment discrimination including other socio-economic well-being. What is more appalling: the state-sanctioned violence. Blacks become victims of the lethal use of force by police. In the past they became victims of the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist hate group in the past. Blacks people are now coming out in huge numbers with the cumulative expression of years of pleas to eliminate this institutionalized racism. All those other immigrants (South Asians, Latinx) in the United States, who too have faced the discrimination must join hands with Blacks for the better cause, for they owe this to the civil rights movement in 1960s, which brought attention to the racial oppression in the US including to shift the immigrant policies, through the Hart-Celler Act. Before that no one from the non-white countries were generally allowed citizenship.
What George Floyd’s death has exposed and ignited worldwide is something incredible. May his legacy become the voice of all the oppressed people across the world.