“I can’t breathe…Please, Please, Please”. Repeated in a series of iterative cries, these were the last words urged by George Floyd as he pleaded for survival after being forced to the ground by white police officer Derek Chauvin who kneeled on Floyd’s neck, thereby asphyxiating him to death. Floyd’s pleadings were not only a call to help him breathe.
Seen through the prism of black racial suffering in America, they represent extreme helplessness over the pervasively terrifying environment of racial discrimination against the black Americans who continue to suffer in their quest for survival. His cries should be seen as a call for urgency of action. A call mandating to hear him out, since he deserved justice. He deserved a life. He may have been black, but he was just like any other white American who had a family back home that loved him and awaited his safe return.
America’s greatest paradox
While Floyd’s unfortunate demise has enveloped America in a series of protests led by the members of the Black community, it is disheartening to witness that since centuries Black Americans have had to proclaim their rights and equal posturing as America’s citizens through protests and resistance. Despite being human, they have to fight for the recognition of their humanity. They have to announce categorically, that ‘Black Lives Matter’. Racial inequality has shaped America`s political and social course, right from its inception. Despite the founding father’s quest for freedom that encompassed social, religious and political liberty, American society concurrently came to be formed on the basis of violence, discrimination and bigotry, which culminated in an outright denial of independence and autonomy of slaves. This qualifies as the greatest paradoxes in American history, a truth till date defining the status quo.
Back in the very beginning of the 17th century, the Africans kidnapped from their homelands in Africa came to be brought to America to be sold as slaves. A large number of them held influential and literate positions back in Africa. However, now as slaves, they were stripped off their previous social identities and impelled to subservience by their white masters. History is witness to the untold stories of mob violence, lynching, beatings that these slaves had to bear the brunt of. Such violence and bigotry on the slaves was a means by which the whites extended and maintained their control over vast properties as well as land. Black familial bondings came to be crippled through the painful separations of their family members. While not all Africans were relegated to a slavish posturing that pertinently defined the South, the ones who were free were subjected to discriminatory laws. This bias stemmed from the perception of their darker complexions, highlighting their supposed intrinsic inferiority. Lacking the privileged “white appeal”, it was considered only justifiable that they were barred from being treated as equal citizens. Although slavery came to be ultimately outlawed, its remnants continue to define American society, maturing itself in structural and institutional racialism.
The stigma of being different
In the horrific case of George Floyd, the racial bias defining the justice and policing department in America comes to the fore. Due to the legislative and executive policy decisions commanding Black verdicts and sentences, it is estimated that the imprisonment rates for the Black Americans are 5 to 7 % higher than white Americans. In “Between the World and Me” ,Ta Nehisi Coates does not make an exaggerative claim when he says that the police departments of the US have been “ endowed” with an unchallenging “authority” to “destroy” the Black bodies. This destruction emanates either from an “unfortunate overreaction”, “a misunderstanding” or “a foolish policy”. It is a fact that this is a “common” occurrence for the Black people since no one comes to be held culpable for the violent policing that they are subjected to.
Besides the attribution of convenient criminality to the Black Americans, they also experience discrimination at work places .In a survey conducted by the Washington, DC Fair Employment Practices Commission it was revealed that blacks come to be discriminated against in about every one out of five job interviews. Substantiating this finding, the The American Sociological Association maintains that the hiring process in some of the American Companies tends to “discriminate against minorities” and prefer white Americans for higher paying jobs and vocational perks. Other than this, Racism also extends to the health sector in the US where the Covid- 19 situation has exacerbated it. Generally being vulnerable and marginalised, with discriminated health care access, they stand at a greater risk of complications arising from Covid- 19.
The terse environment of racial subjugation in the US has ingrained pain in the hearts of the Black Americans. It is a major cause of trans-generational trauma , exhibiting racial wounding and psychic scarring of the Blacks. This has also framed a “double consciousness” of the Black Americans, which according to W.E.B. Du Bois is the practice of looking at yourself through the “eyes of others” who look at you in “contempt and pity”. As a consequence of this, shame has qualified as a cultural phenomena. The stigma of being different and inadequate in contrast to the white Americans has paved path for an internalisation of that judgement by the Black Americans.
Floyd’s unfortunate demise and the consequent protests in support of Black Americans is a crucial moment of 2020. It has brought us to a standstill of realisation, of contemplation with regards to countering racism in the US. It has very rightfully adduced the idea that racism can only be eliminated by accepting the humanity of the Blacks. By affirming the fact that they are as much as humans as the whites are. It can be curbed by breeding a culture of tolerance and amity and by realising that real growth entails an inclusive burgeoning of all segments of the society. It is high time it is understood that sustainable success of the American society lies in its diversity, provided that diversity gets to be cherished and celebrated instead of being abhorred.