The world has taken notice that the United States of America is in crisis. In solidarity with the plight of Black Americans, protests have cropped up in many other countries. Black Americans and their allies are currently under assault by militarized police at the direction of the state. I am having a hard time articulating my thoughts because they are being pulled in a million different directions. This isn’t to say that I am ambivalent about the protests or think that state violence is excusable. Instead, I mean that I feel overwhelmed by the flood of violence being reported on by the state in the face of (justified) unrest. I wanted to share some of my thoughts on the events that are underway.
State Violence and Black Americans
I want to start to by talking about the murders that spurred this off the current acts of resistance. The first thing that I want to point out is that this is not some random event simply in response to the murder of George Floyd. While George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police is presented as a focal point, there has been continued resistance against state violence and police brutality in the USA by incredible activists. As with the Ferguson uprising, we are currently seeing a breaking point.
George Floyd has become the rallying point for the resistance but the protests are not about any one event. A lot of discussions of the protests seem to focus on individual events. The murder of Ahmaud Arbery, the murder of Breonna Taylor, the murder of George Floyd; but these protests are about a larger system of oppression and state violence directed towards Black Americans. It is these events that make state violence apparent to White America but Black Americans live with violence or the fear of violence every moment of their lives. The murder of Breonna Taylor illustrates the very real fact that Black Americans are not even safe in their own homes (there’s been no consequences for her murder at the time of writing this).
These protests are about a larger system of state violence directed at Black Americans that only become apparent to White Americans through public unrest and charismatic resistance. Hegemonic control of the narratives surrounding the murders and the legal protection of the murderers (police officers) renders the systematic violence against Black Americans invisible to White America. This isn’t to say that all White Americans would care. We are seeing White supremacist groups come out in droves to the protests with the goal of inciting violence and spawning a race war.
The Heart of Revolution
The next group that I want to talk about is the people that are braving a pandemic and armed White supremacists (police and otherwise) to publicly resist persistent state violence. During the protests police show up in riot gear, accost and assault protestors, and show little regard for the wellbeing of people protesting racist state violence. Even people that are not involved in the protests are at the mercy of police violence (woman shot while grocery shopping, man shot in wheelchair). A 75-year-old protestor was shoved to the ground and nearly killed by police (and didn’t even provide assistance as he bled from his ear), police are aiming rubber bullets at the faces of protestors (just Google it; there are too many examples to list).
This violence has been explicitly supported by President Trump and as such, White supremacists and those acting on behalf of the state have become emboldened. It is this state-supported violence that the protestors are up against and they should be commended as heroes.
Those resisting racist state violence over the past several days have been met with great violence. Even protests that begin “peacefully” are instigated into more aggressive forms of protest by police and White supremacists. One point that has been made several times is the comparison of police response to the current events protesting state violence against Black Americans and the people protesting against pandemic safety measures; people which showed up to and stormed government building while wearing assault rifles (see: here and here). Imagine the response to those protesting the murder of Black Americans it it looked anything like those protesting for haircuts.
White People and their Unease
The greatest privilege of being White is the ability to be completely ignorant of issues having to do with race and racism. These protests thus trouble the comfort brought about by this ignorance. White people are forced to face their role in a racist society and how they contribute to the maintenance of such a system. Many White people are fine with protests happening as long as they happen on White people’s terms (“peaceful” and out of the way). Others (White supremacists and fascists) see this as a watershed moment, the point in which the race war and subsequent purging of those they deem as undesirable can begin.
Active opposition of White supremacy is crucial to creating a society where we can all grow and prosper together; what Donna Haraway calls becoming-with. Whatever we become, it will be together. Protecting one another and ensuring the mutual benefit of all is necessary if we want to create a just world that works for everyone for generations. This means fighting against those that sow divisiveness and work to accumulate all of the power and wealth.
While I am distrustful of government officials (see the example of the police officer kneeling in solidarity one minute and pushing and nearly killing an elder the next) I do find some hope. For instance, Minneapolis city council is considering dismantling the police force and fundamentally rethink approaches to public safety (I’ll believe it when I see it but still…). The Mayor of Washington DC wrote a letter to President Trump requesting the removal of federal agents from the city and authorized the painting of “Black Lives Matter” on a street leading to the White House and changing the name of part of 16th Street to “Black Lives Matter Plaza”.
The last point I want to make is that it is important not to buy in to any of the propaganda machine. Police kneeling in “solidarity” is little more than a publicity stunt. If it wasn’t authorized by the very people ordering the violence against the protestors then those officers would be fired. In the age of cellphones and social media, optics is everything and the performance of solidarity by the oppressors is part of the scheme. Police kneeling which lured in protestors which were subsequently tear-gassed by the cops.
Cover photo taken by Daniel Slim