By Jenny Baboolal
Like millions of people in the United States and around the world, I was deeply disturbed as I looked at the George Floyd video. Watching another person pleading for his life and die, after being slow choked under the knee of someone whose job is to protect and serve others, was nightmarish. The lack of concern on the faces of the perpetrator and his colleagues was deeply unsettling. This was a manifestation of systemic racism playing out in full view of the public.
Protesters took to the streets across all 50 states in the US and after more than three weeks are still there. In solidarity and extreme discomfort about the event, people around the world have been protesting as this disturbing evidence of inhumanity was brought to everyone’s television screen.
With a camera in everyone’s hands it is easier to zoom into the injustices that people face every day and now as they place those images on the internet and in the media, the rest of us cannot avoid seeing. We saw a black man die under the knee of a white man who obviously did what he felt he was entitled to do without punishment. This is a scenario that has played out countless times in different variations on a theme of deeply offensive racist behaviour.
We know that of oppression of Blacks in America has been going on for hundreds of years. What is not well reported and understood, however, is that it was Black people who provided the free labour that enabled the oppressors to become rich. Similarly, today, the one per cent at the top keep accumulating wealth by underpaying the people at the bottom who do the work that create the profits that the ones at the top keep for themselves.
People everywhere are tired of injustice and inequality of all kinds and uprisings will continue to spring up. This affliction is like a human Corona virus that is everywhere and has multiple extensions that inject us with the disease of persistent racism and of not caring for the oppressed and unfortunate among us.
We are of the jungle and still feel discomfort about the unknowns in the other tribe and view them as a threat. Even the people in our tribe who are very disfigured, mentally ill or disabled are shunned and ill-treated. The reality of humans wanting to keep others at a distance because they are not like us, is universal. Although we left the jungle a long time ago, we still instinctively, fear others who are different. This behaviour harms the perpetrator as much as the victim and we are all caught in the backlash as we continue to hear their cries of hurt.
Demanding that “This Must Stop” will not make it stop but the current situation is an opportunity to begin to pave the road to healing and resolution. Unfortunately, since we are all so absorbed in our own lives, we often ignore problems which we feel do not affect us directly. But we need to contribute in whatever way they can to help solve the major problems now facing us.
I am no conflict resolution expert nor authority on American history, but I know that although the journey will be a long one, we can get beyond this, using all the levers of power available, including that of individuals. If we do not, the disease of man’s inhumanity to man will be like the knee on our necks.
We can do big things. Let’s take the example of the US. Do we recall President John Kennedy’s proclamation of the unbelievable goal that the country would send a man to the moon? And they did it. The government can make a declaration its commitment to reform and reconciliation, organize its implementation and guide the rest of society through the process. They could require corporations to state their policies that would contribute to that goal. One example of how a company did this was in 2018 when after an embarrassing racist incident in one of its stores, it closed all their stores for a day in order to provide anti-bias sensitivity training to their employees. It is not difficult for companies that have resources and power to step up.
An integral part of every society is its police force which should all be thoroughly examined and reformed. Many police unions are notoriously powerful and the types of protection that are built into their contracts allow police officers to remain in the force even after they have been found guilty of henious crimes. These indefensible policies and systemic racism need to be dismantled. High profile court cases involving racism could be livestreamed so that there is transparency and people can see how the legal system works and how justice is administered.
People need to have their concerns heard. An ombudsman can be appointed by every local government to hear citizens’ complaints. Monthly televised town hall meetings can be held with a moderator and with people covering the socioeconomic spectrum sitting across the table from each other to present and discuss their views.
Talking with each other about intractable problems in society is crucial. There are many stories of individuals who started talking with their opponents and ending up having a much better appreciation of the other person’s position and in some cases becoming close friends. Citizens can help create the society they want by getting involved in their community, by letting their leaders know their opinions and by voting.
Quick fixes will not happen. The longstanding oppression by the rich and powerful has always been with us and injustice and inequality will not be erased easily. Racism is everywhere. Justifiable grievances are everywhere. The Indigenous peoples who were there before the settlers pillaged their inheritance and subjugated them are still underprivileged and still looking to be treated equally. People who through no fault of their own are thrown into poverty and dangerous situations ask only for a fair deal. We can no longer deny nor “unsee” man’s inhumanity to man and it is in our enlightened self-interest to contribute to change.
The whole world is now in the midst of a pandemic that requires everyone to be involved to keep one another safe. The pandemic has given us time to think about our ways and the challenges that face us. It has also given people everywhere time to join the protests against systemic injustice. No one can say how the effects of this pandemic will unfold and although there is great uncertainty, we know we will get beyond it.
Pandemics, wars, the holocaust, great depressions and tsunami type events of all kinds have come and gone. Some have been avoidable and others not.There are long standing wounds still to be healed but with everyone’s commitment to contribute to the healing, we will overcome.