Challenging the foundations of racism and inequality
A fundamental tenet of the Christian religion, according to the Bible, is that only a foolish man builds his house upon the sand as opposed to building it soundly upon the rocks. Many western nations, including the most powerful, profess to be Christian, yet their history runs completely to the contrary.
Take the most advanced, financially endowed and technologically advanced of them all, the United States of America, once the standard-bearer of the anti-colonial struggle. This is a country which even before the French Revolution and its unforgettable slogan of “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity”, itself got rid of British colonial rule under its own slogan of “No taxation without representation” and declared itself a Republic as long ago as the year 1776. (Sadly, nearly 250 years later, we, avid admirers of the “free” Republic of the USA, are mortally afraid of becoming a Republic too).
This supposedly paragon of Christian virtue, not afraid to persecute those of other faiths, began building its house more than a century before its independence, but built it on an unsustainable foundation. What is now the USA was built in fact on native genocide, robbing the indigenous people of land and culture, and on slavery, elevating one racial group above all others and legally allocating the resources of the world to be at the disposal of that supposedly superior group.
The enslavement of people of African origin occurred side-by-side with native genocide for more than a century before the Declaration of Independence and, indeed, in spite of that Declaration proclaiming that “All men are created equal…..endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…….among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, those rights were never intended to apply to those not of European origin.
No house built on such sands, which were certain with the passage of time to be proven to be shifting ones, could forever withstand the test of time, and so it has proven to be in the USA. Among its founding fathers were slave-owners, men who exchanged slaves for barrels of Caribbean rum, forerunners of the murderous racists in the Klu Klux Klan and similar outfits, initiators of Jim Crowe laws designed to keep “Negro” people in their place and to deny them their human rights, and even to deny white women the democratic right to vote, not attained until 144 years after that noble Declaration of Independence.
That national basis of discrimination and exploitation of non-white peoples expanded as the new Republic not only took possession of the enormous natural resources with which the USA was endowed, but as it began to spread its expansionist wings abroad. American “exceptionalism” became a policy to be ruthlessly enforced globally especially when the European colonisers wore themselves out in two World Wars from which the USA profited mightily.
But no house built on those grounds can last forever. Steadily, in the face of tremendous odds, the civil rights movement and the demands for full rights for indigenous peoples overcame hitherto insurmountable odds and more and more confronted the oppressors. The resistance to this demand for equality is today led from the very top of the political establishment with the support of the likes of the right-wing evangelical movement and the National Rifle Association.
But not only are “times a changing” as the saying goes, but new generations of non-white people are demonstrating their refusal to put up with racism, discrimination and second-class citizenship. This year alone has been marked by the resistance of non-white peoples, supported crucially by whites of a conscience, to the wilful murder of blacks, the imprisonment and deportation of immigrants and the blatant attempts to deny voting rights in an election year.
The heavy toll that the Covid-19 virus has had, not just on American society as a whole but on Blacks, Indigenous and Latinos, as well as the continuous murders of blacks have sparked a rebellion. It is not only in impoverished black communities but even among more privileged sections of the black population, with sportspersons in the forefront. The gauntlet is being laid down.
The latest protests have come in the wake of the shooting in the back of an unarmed black man by police officers last Sunday night, right in front of his children. It reawakened anger both in black communities as well as in the wider US society about these systematic attacks, shootings and murder of black people continuing to go unchecked.
The situation had reached explosive stage in May after the images of the strangling to death of George Floyd flooded the world and sparked global protests. George Floyd’s murder was the spark which set off these protests, but it was not the only one. It was the failure for justice to be done as repeatedly innocent black people were killed without either redress, remorse or determined effort to stop this which brought about the eruption.
Black people had for centuries been suffering such racist and genocidal attacks which went unpunished. They have mobilized and marched peacefully in protest, only to be met with brutal repression at the hands of police, the military and white vigilantes.
This time though, thanks to the advent of modern communication, George Floyd’s murder evoked outrage even among white people who joined in the protests.
(Part 2 next week)
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.