POPPIE MPHUTHING: How George Floyd’s killing matters to everyone
The US protests raging across the country against police brutality that targets black and brown people spotlight the fact that systemic white supremacy is real, not imagined.
Communities across the US are justifiably horrified and angry at the modern-day lynching of George Floyd and too many other black men, women and children.
For those who think #GeorgeFloyd #AmyCooper #ArmaudArbery #BreonnaTaylor #blacklivesmatter and countless other hashtags have nothing to do with you, nothing could be further from the truth.
The murder of Floyd, an unarmed black man, at the knee of Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, is a stark literal and metaphorical symbol that deadly anti-black racial oppression is alive and well.
Black people have been brutalised and dehumanised for centuries. It is 2020 and nothing has changed.
In 1994, hope was ignited globally when South Africa held its first democratic universal suffrage elections and elected its first-ever black president. In 2008, hope was reignited globally when the US elected its first-ever black president. But the ascent of Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama to the most powerful office in the land did not extinguish the disease of white supremacy. The ideal of a post-racial society remains imagined. It is not reality.
White supremacy emboldens some individuals to weaponise race against black people and brazenly get away with murder everyday . White supremacy underpins the mechanics of criminal justice systems across the globe. This information is not new. It is over 400 years old in the US. It is over 200 years old in South Africa. It is part of the fabric and legacy of European colonialism. Institutions created by white supremacy operate with impunity. It is why the US police killed Floyd. It is why the South African military killed Collins Khosa.
A white male friend of a friend - who is a prosecutor in Brooklyn, New York City - recently told me that he and his colleagues regularly see bodycam footage of police officers abusing the constitutional rights of black and brown people, especially in impoverished areas. He went on to say that his employer, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, chooses not to take action because it needs to maintain a cordial working relationship with the New York City Police Department and the police aren’t the real criminals.
This is the reality in New York City, a national and global symbol and beacon of diversity, liberty and opportunity. Judge for yourself whether the US criminal justice system in its current structure is broken beyond repair.
For those who believe that rebellions against white supremacy such as those happening across the US right now are an unjustified response to police brutality, I say to you that state-sponsored abuse of power against black people is wrong. The legacy of apartheid is a stark reminder of this. Anger and protests are a legitimate expression of hurt and pain amassed across centuries of racial oppression and racist subjugation. Peace, equity and justice for all are a human right.
For those who "protest" that violence is not the answer, you would do well to reframe and redirect your shock, indignation and outrage at systemic racial oppression. It is a system that unjustly inflicts intergenerational emotional, spiritual, economic and bodily violence on black and brown people. Violence begets violence. Moreover, beware the agent provocateurs and snatch squads in crowds and in police uniform that often instigate violence at peaceful protests, lighting the match of foment and continuing to stoke the literal fires of frustration, as we’ve seen in cities across the US. All this to legitimise silencing oppressed people when they rise up. This vicious cycle is only being reinforced by the aggressive militarisation of the US state over the last few days.
While property damage and vandalism may be unpalatable, the bullying response of the Trump administration to the unchecked state-sponsored racist killings of black people is morally repugnant.
Protesters and journalists have come under attack for speaking truth to power. This is a dangerous and slippery slope towards authoritarianism and fascism. Oppressed people are not to blame when tensions boil over: the system of oppression and those wielding its power are. US civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr noted more than 50 years ago that, “A riot is the language of the unheard.”
The father of our nation, Nelson Mandela, came to realise during that same period that without armed struggle, apartheid would not voluntarily dismantle itself in South Africa.
Even with the abolition of slavery in the US and the end of apartheid in South Africa, systemic white supremacy is still intact. Despite the gains of the Civil Rights Movement in the US and the creation of South Africa’s Rainbow Nation, political, economic and social apartheid is still intact. The US, the wealthiest nation globally, has the widest wealth gap in the economically developed world. South Africa ranks top as having the widest wealth gap in the world.
The racist killing, economic oppression and political disenfranchisement of black people is indefensible.
Floyd’s life and death have galvanised people across the world to stand up against the global pandemic of white supremacy and anti-black racist violence. Global protests in support of the “Fed-Up-rising” in the US are a testament that the tentacles of structural racial oppression reach near and far as a centuries-old legacy of anti-black racism.
White supremacy knowingly and disingenuously oppresses, silences and culturally erases black and indigenous populations in all corners of the world, including: African Americans, Native Americans (US), Aboriginals (Australia), Palestinians (Israel), First Nations (Canada). It is a disingenuous knee-jerk reaction for anyone to mute this reality in favour of deflecting and victim blaming. It is the system of oppression that must take stock, introspect and take responsibility.
Racism is not a matter of opinion. It is fundamentally wrong and unjust. The righteous indignation of those who uphold a white supremacist system that sanctions the subjugation and murder of black people is morally and spiritually bankrupt. Righteous indignation belongs to oppressed, abused and silenced black people who are fighting for survival. Righteous indignation belongs to social justice warriors and non-black allies who are committed to ensuring the sanctity and preservation of black life and dignity. No more abusive policing of black people. Every person across the racial and ethnic spectrum, rather, has a role to play in policing themselves and their own racial biases.
A luta continua. Black Lives Matter.
Poppie Mphuthing is a freelance journalist and editor. She has worked for The Times, eNCA and The Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter @PoppieMphuthing