George Floyd’s murder recorded on camera seems to have exposed the brutality of racism to the world. I, like – almost – everyone, found the pictures absolutely horrifying and scandalous and I deeply hope that justice will be served. I see that everyone’s suddenly concerned and posting hashtags all over the place while this is still a trending topic.
I’m glad we’re having this conversation, but we need to go further. This isn’t just about police brutality, this isn’t just a USA problem either. This is about racism that is so deeply embedded in our world that it makes change extremely difficult. If we were to change things, we’d have to be willing to go to the root of this immense problem.
This form of racism comes straight out of colonialism and slavery. In the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries business-driven Europeans and dodgy scientists conveniently defined Africans as barbaric and inferior in order to justify enslaving them. Books were written and cartoons were drawn, making it official in people’s minds that melanined humans were lesser humans. We need to study and understand this in order to dismantle racism. This racism was designed to be profitable.
Then we need to understand where we stand today. And from my experiences in Africa, I don’t believe the colonial times are over. Colonialism has muted, it has soften its edges, but it’s still going very strong, driven by the same greed, and profiting the same western elite than centuries ago.
Niger’s uranium, Burkina Faso’s gold, Cameroon’s petrol, the Congo’s diamonds profit the same elite, while the Africans extracting those resources are paid just about enough to be kept alive. These modern slaves are no longer fed directly by their owners, they are given a tiny amount of money to buy food, giving an illusion of freedom. European powers no longer rule Africa officially, they now pick the heads of states of a number of countries who organise elections giving an illusion of democracy.
After centuries of domination and exploitation, the African continent, although wealthy in its soil and in its cultures, is the poorest economically. Its people and their troubles are largely ignored. No one sees the Africans dying in European-owned gold mines; no one sees the chaos going on in the Congo, profiting North American and European companies; no one realises the absurdity of the borders drawn by European leaders at the Berlin Conference in 1885, and the impact these borders have had.
It seems that no one sees or cares about what goes on in Africa, but since we care more about what goes on in the USA, we saw George Floyd’s death, the tip of a gigantic iceberg. Today, in post-slavery America, the absurd hierarchy based on the complexion of people’s skin remains. Slavery leaves scars for generations, both on how these populations are perceived by the rest of society, and on the opportunities given to the Afro-American population itself. The daughter or son of a freed slave hardly stands a chance of receiving top education, making it very hard to compete for positions of power with the rest of the population. Through segregation, and today through the social structure of the USA, Afro-Americans are on average economically poorer than the European-Americans. And on the whole, an Afro-American life is viewed as less valuable.
This form of racism which can make a US cop treat an Afro-American in such a way was born with colonialism and slavery, and I believe the first major step to dismantle racism is to end neo-colonialism, and to abolish slavery. But this time for real.