It is very encouraging to see the overwhelming response to the brutal murder of George Floyd.
Quite rightly, people demand such killings by agents of the state must stop. However, I am
concerned that the righteous indignation about a racist murder in another country can also serve
as a kind of displacement activity to avoid confronting the racism, sexism and other forms of
oppression right in front of us in our everyday lives.
There will probably be people in the UK outraged by the death of George Floyd who will have
recently voted for a prime minister from a very privileged background who has a track record of
making racist comments. One very concrete thing we can all do against racism is not vote for
How many people who are expressing outrage at this one incident fail to see and accept how we
are all complicit in an institutionalised system of exploitation, which requires these ubiquitous acts
of violent oppression to maintain the many layers of privilege which sustain it? Political leaders talk
of “bad apples” as a way of isolating and belittling the problem, to divert attention from the reality
that the whole damned barrel of apples is rotten.
We live in a global economic and political system which has been built on the systematic
dispossession, enslavement and genocidal slaughter of countless millions of humans over the past
four centuries or so. How many people who decry institutional racism in the USA also glorify and
celebrate British history, our wonderful traditions, our beautiful cities, our constitutional
monarchy? How many turn a blind eye, or are ignorant of the monstrous crimes against humanity
perpetrated by our own country? We comfort ourselves that the government-sanctioned piracy of
the East India company, the slave-trade and opium-trade profits that built the beautiful cityscapes of
London, Bristol, Liverpool, are all in the past.
The reality is that the elite who profited from that trade in human misery – and who even now are
glorified in our obsequious deference to royalty, wealth and privilege – are still with us, and even
more powerful and genteely murderous. Their descendants who inherited that ill-gotten wealth
now own the banks, the financial institutions, the multinational corporations, as well as large chunks
of real estate in this country and around the world. Their wealth has been built on an ideology of
eugenics and racism that justified dispossessing the poor at home (and stealing their land and
birthright) and taking by force the land of other peoples across half the globe. They are inferior to
us, so the ideology says. Their relative poverty and “primitive” cultures are evidence of their
inferiority. It is the white man’s destiny to take the land and natural resources from them, because
we as the superior race and culture will make better use of them, so the justification has always
run. Nowadays, of course, it is not expressed so baldly. It is dressed up in with other justifications
and spin, but the inherent disregard, disdain and sense of entitlement over others less fortunate is
still at the root of it.
It’s that ideology which fuels racism. The policeman with his knee on the neck of the black man is
not the cause of the ideology of racism, he is simply a foot soldier, a follower. He could even be
seen as a victim of the ideology, having been indoctrinated with the ideology of racism in a culture
and economic system which tells him that although he may be low in the pecking order, at least he
is above the black man. He can vent his frustration and hate with impunity on those he has been
taught are even more lowly than he. Of course it is right that he is held to account. But the culture,
economic and political system – and those at the top of it must be held to account too. Until they
are held to account nothing will change, because to them, white police officers are almost as
expendable as black men.
The reality is that exploitation and destruction of other human beings and our planet is still
endemic in our economy and our political system. We ignore the vindictive and punitive welfare
system which drives poor and disabled people into poverty, homelessness and even starvation in
Britian – one of the wealthiest countries in the world. We ignore the extermination of indigenous
peoples in mining and logging operations. We ignore the Bangladeshi women who make our
clothes, locked inside death-trap sweat-shop factories. We ignore the effective enslavement of
millions of workers around the world who work for poverty wages in insecure work, with no
rights to challenge their employment conditions. We ignore the plight of Middle Eastern, Asian and
African people fleeing for their lives from British-made weapons indiscriminately used in our proxy
wars by so-called allies such as Saudi Arabia. And now the government is trying to ignore the fact
that BAME people are much more likely to die in the current COVID19 panedemic.
Until we challenge the whole structure of privilege, dehumanisation and oppression which is
inherent in our current political and economic system, there will be no change and many more
poor and oppressed people will die.