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OP-ED: It’s never too late to stop racism

  • Published at 07:38 am June 27th, 2020
black lives matter protests
Are things finally changing? / REUTERS

This is no longer an issue only for the United States of America, it touches us all

Are Americans born racist or is racism learned? Racism seems to be at its peak in the US in recent years. It seems like racism and America are closely tied. Is it even possible to get rid of this problem or is it too late to deal with this issue? 

If you follow the news, you must have watched Black Lives Matter protests being held in the US and elsewhere, centred around George Floyd’s tragic death on May 25 in Minneapolis. 

Regrettably, racism has existed in the US since its founding. The Civil War ended 155 years ago,  but there is some segment of the US population that could be forgiven for seeming to pretend it’s still ongoing. 

Ironically, racism still remains woven into the fabric of the country. Floyd’s death is just the most graphic in recent memory. 

In 2014, Eric Garner was placed in a chokehold by white New York police officer Daniel Pantaleo after being arrested on suspicion of illegally selling loose cigarettes. His dying words were: “I can’t breathe.”

“I can only describe the continued viewing of racial violence, torture, murder, and disregard for the humanity of black bodies as repetitive trauma,” said Danielle Jackson, a psychiatry board member of the American Psychiatric Association’s Caucus of Black Psychiatrists. 

If not all the American people, then who should take the blame for this institutional discrimination in the US? Experts point out three major foundations for the repeated atrocity: Police brutality, the presence of white supremacy and white privilege and US government’s negligence, and structural inequality. 

These are all complex matters, not simple ones, and the answer is unlikely to lie in ‘black and white thinking, pardon the pun, and absolutist statements that, however heartfelt, however well-meaning, do not address the data or the real underlying issues, whatever they may be. 

It seems a logical step for the US to mandate anti-racism training as part of the US police’s entry, because the US police in a majority of cases appear to be irrational when it comes to interacting with people of colour. But does it seem rational to expect defunding the police will improve their performance?  

Orlando Patterson, a scholar of slavery and issues of race, notes: “The immediate issue we’re dealing with right now is police brutality; there will have to be profound rethinking about the organization of police departments around the country.” 

In addition to police, some white Americans, not all, seem to thrive on racism. Racism is no different from any other chronic societal problem. It recurs as long as it goes unchecked.  

Furthermore, the US government seems uninterested or even antagonistic in addressing racial animosities. Findings from the latest NBC News poll suggest that 64% of people said racism remains a major problem in the US. 

Plus, myriads of incidents associated with racial polarization are reported every day in the country. We cannot trust the media to show us the way forward, that much seems fairly obvious.  

Given enough talks and graphic evidence, how can the US government be so oblivious to this issue? It is conspicuous that little attention was paid by the government to address this issue. So, how can the American people, and, in particular, its minorities, trust the government’s motives? 

It is true that racial polarization has been America’s silent killer for decades, but it is also expected that a massive anti-racism movement like Black Lives Matter, in an attempt to express outrage police brutality and stop racial discrimination, can turn things around. 

Or, perhaps, by making obviously unreasonable demands that the police force should be disbanded, that violent black criminals be freed summarily from prison, they are only fueling a mandate to re-elect Trump whose record shows at best that he is ambivalent to sensitive topics, like diversity and cultural difference, like discrimination. 

The ongoing movement, stepping into its fifth week, has now reached all levels of American life.  From coasts to suburbs, this movement has spread all over the US. According to CBS News, there have been more than 700 peaceful protests in all 50 states of the US. 

Every other Western country has also been consumed by Black Lives Matter. This is no longer an issue only for the United States of America, it touches us all. 

Imagine the setting and context of the protests. Americans have been disproportionately affected by the global pandemic coronavirus, losing more than 120,000 lives. Nevertheless, these revolutionary protests are persistently and profoundly taking place. Hence, the prospect for the long-awaited change might appear to be on its way.  

“It’s not clear how far the politics will go, but the shifts so far are significant. Never before in the history of modern polling has the country expressed such widespread agreement on racism’s pervasiveness in policing, and in society at large,” the New York Times reported a couple of weeks ago. And we can see that this is absolutely true.   

The protests have already brought about some remarkable positive changes and, thus, I reckon, racial inequalities in the country could be headed off to a large extent. Four days after killing George Floyd by kneeling on his neck during an arrest, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder. This was later updated to second-degree murder.

More noticeably, nine city council members announced their support to dismantle the city’s police force at a community rally last week. Minneapolis city council president Lisa Bender said: “We are here because here in Minneapolis and in cities across the United States it is clear that our existing system of policing and public safety is not keeping our communities safe.” 

But how? Surely there need to be formal policies in order to achieve such an extraordinary and unprecedented feat. There needs to be real, honest discussion. Feelings are not facts and they are not solutions either. 

Apart from this, California, Nevada, Texas, and Washington DC (among others) have banned chokeholds and reviewed police reforms. More than a dozen police departments in California have said they will ban chokeholds -- a move that has also been supported by California Governor Gavin Newsom, according to the Los Angeles Times. 

Notably, the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, which was introduced on Monday, also eliminates unannounced police raids as “no-knock warrants” and makes it easier to prosecute police for misconduct, according to the BBC.

As it stands now, the unprecedented response from the policy-makers combined with the government’s response and changes in laws in some states of the country unequivocally reflect that it’s never too late to get rid of racism in the US. Let’s be optimistic that humanity will win over brutality, and that this huge and complex nation country will continue to work to mend its troubled past for all. 

Mahde Hassan works for the British Council of Bangladesh as an invigilator. He can be reached at [email protected]

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