George Floyd Death Racism Wounds Opened – The Big Picture – RSTV IAS UPSC

  • IASbaba
  • July 10, 2020
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The Big Picture- RSTV, UPSC Articles
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George Floyd Death Racism Wounds Opened


TOPIC: General Studies 2

  • Social empowerment, communalism, regionalism & secularism. 
  • Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests

In News: George Floyd who was an African-American was killed by police during an arrest (neck restraining) in Minneapolis, USA on May 25th 2020. This led to widespread protest in US against Police brutality and systemic racism.

Protesters have marched in the US for a week over the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer. The incident once again brought to the fore concerns over the law enforcement’s bias against the African American minority, with Floyd’s death being cited as the most recent incident of racially-driven police brutality.

From North America to Australasia and Europe to Africa… people have taken to the streets. Demonstrators gathered in London, Berlin and Auckland, among other cities, to protest against police brutality in solidarity with the US crowds. 

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement

In 2013, after the acquittal of a civilian who fatally shot teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida the year before, the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter began trending on social media, and a movement against systemic violence against the African American community sprung up.

Black Lives Matter achieved national fame in 2014 during protests against the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown– the latter also being a case of fatal police shooting. 

Barack Obama winning the presidential election in November 2008 was a moment that was both a rupture and a healing. But it did not fundamentally change anything for the community – the execution of Troy Davis showed that nothing had changed.

The Black Lives Matter movement emerged under a black president, black attorney general, and black homeland security and they couldn’t deliver. Black faces in high places succumbed to the “capitalist economy” and “militarised nation-state”.

Decades back…

On March 7, 1965, civil rights activists, in response to the police killing of fellow-activist Jimmie Lee Jackson the previous month, were marching from Selma in Alabama to state capital Montgomery when they were attacked by state troopers. The crackdown came to be famously known as Bloody Sunday in US civil rights annals.

Undeterred, two days later, Martin Luther King Jr led another march along the same path. This time, when they encountered state troopers, the marchers took a knee. They knelt and prayed before turning back.

Sociological Aspect of Racism

Racism is a systematic ideology, a complex set of beliefs and practices that, on the presumed basis of biology, divides humanity into the ‘higher’ us and a lower ‘them’. 

  • Race is considered as a group with a common biological descent. 
    • Specific bodily features (colour, shape of nose, eye, lips) are permanently clumped together and human beings are classified in terms of these distinct biological clusters
    • Further, it is believed that these shared features are inter-generationally transmitted
  • Each race is then believed to be fundamentally and permanently different from others- differences that are innate and indestructible
  • Despite many attempts, particularly in the 1930s to demonstrate its scientific basis, race or racial classifications have virtually no scientific foundation.

Anatomy of Racism

The classification of humans into different races is the starting point of all racism. Racism depends on two additional, deeply troublesome features. 

First is linking Biology with Behaviour

  • A given set of biological characteristics is believed to be necessarily related to certain dispositions, traits of character and behaviour. 
  • Biological descent fixes a person’s culture and ethics. Racism thus naturalises a person’s belief, character and culture.
  • For example, being uneducated is seen not as socio-economic deprivation but a sign of inherited low IQ. In USA, blacks are seen as predatory and savagery, which unless kept down by brute force from time to time, might explode and destroy civilisation.

Second, these racial cultures and ethical systems are hierarchically arranged

  • Racism considers that those on top are intrinsically superior to those at the bottom. 
  • Racism not only sustains a permanent group hierarchy but deeply stigmatises those designated as inferior. This sense of hierarchy provides a motive for say, whites to treat blacks in cruel ways
  • Inferior races are either considered not worthy to live with (Ex: Anti-semitism in Nazi Germany that led to Holocost) or fit only to be controlled, subordinated and enslaves (Ex: Anti-Black racism, Caste System in India)

Racism in USA 

Despite the civil war in US over slavery, and the civil rights movement for dignity and equality, systemic discrimination and violence against blacks persist. Even though good education helps in dismantling racism but the fact remains that much of it lies hidden within the social structure, in habits, practices and institutions.

Open discrimination of blacks has been replaced by another system of hidden & systemic discrimination. There now persists a racialized criminal system – one that awards unfair advantage and privilege to whites, while inflicting unmerited and unjust disadvantages on blacks

For example, in a number of southern States in America, once declared a felon, a person is disqualified from voting. In several States of USA, Blacks are 10 times more likely to go to prison than whites. In U.S., between 1976-2019, black defendants sentenced to death for killing whites numbered 291, while white defendants killing blacks were only 21.

Criticisms against the recent event

Civil rights movement in American history led by leaders like Martin Luther king Jr. preferred nonviolent civil disobedience methods of Mahatma Gandhi to end legalised racial discrimination, disenfranchisement and racial segregation in United States. 

There is popular argument that response of masses against extraordinary injustices cannot be expected as measured. But, one injustice cannot be reason for committing another injustice. Burning and looting of property is like protesting injustice by doing another.

George Floyd and India

Racial discrimination in United States has shown that economic development not necessarily removes forms of discrimination in the society. That’s why there in need of fresh thinking to bring social equality in India as well along with efforts of economic equality.  

Like United States, India has also many fault lines like religious discrimination, caste system, regionalism and linguistic issues; which often erupt into protests in India. Many people across the world expressed the solidarity with protesters including Indians tweeted with hash tag of ‘black lives matter’ and sporadic street protests outside American embassy in Kolkata. Idea of collective resistance is taking root in India as injustice anywhere is threat to justice everywhere. 

But it is a bit difficult in India – WHY?

The ‘George Floyd’ moment is not merely about outrage over an act of injustice – keeps happening every day, or every two days in India. 

It is about 

  • Comprehending the urgency of aligning with the victim
  • Realising systemic bias against the marginalised
  • Crossing the threshold of “we” and “them”
  • Above all, it is a moment of citizen initiative. 

Take the case of our very own Migrant Workers – The Paravasis

India has lost that urge to consistently relate to injustice as an assault on democracy.

There was no public outcry over this human tragedy and the victims themselves chose to mostly suffer in silence. They may have grumbled, or cursed under their breath, but our democracy does not seem to have encouraged them to really assert or demand their rights. Not just migrants, minorities too have been subjected to the untold misery of being excluded from the idea of the public. And more routinely, women, rural poor, Dalits and Adivasis have been objects of humiliation.

The Way Forward:

People cannot just flip ‘off’ the switch and forget about structural racism, discrimination and violence. It takes generations to evolve beyond that, and a commitment to do so. Hiring more Blacks, Hispanics and women into law enforcement will certainly help, but it’s not the sole fix for systematic racism in policing. A more multi-pronged approach is needed.

What is different about the murder of George Floyd is how quickly the police officer, Derek Chauvin, who kneeled on his neck, was charged with third-degree murder. (The charge has since been upgraded to second degree murder. The other officers who were present but did not intervene when Mr Floyd was killed have also been charged) Whether Mr Chauvin will ultimately be convicted… we’ll see. But the swift arrest and issuing of a charge – that’s important, and unusual.

The opportunity to build a better, more equitable world, lies in leveraging the numerous fluid identities of its people, resolving any discrepancies in group aspirations as they emerge on the way to achieving higher ideals. The need of the hour is to take tools of oppression and turn them into resistance.

  • Acknowledgement that the origins of American policing (slave patrols, enforcers of Jim Crow laws) still echo today
  • Agreement that there cannot be another murder like what happened to George Floyd
  • Continued hiring of more officers of colour & women, including in supervisory positions
  • Have officers live in the communities they police
  • Consequences for bad behaviour (arrest, charging)
  • Proper training emphasising techniques to use and not use force, when to stop using force (i.e., when a citizen is adequately subdued and no longer a threat)
  • Police unions should take ownership of this issue

Sometimes in the wake of a terrible event, such as Martin Luther King’s assassination, change can happen. We just hope that the way it did, does not get repeated again. 

Connecting the Dots:

  1. Do you think sudden protests in America after the death of George Floyd are right? How can it effect the social condition in India?
  2. Impact of racism on Indian diaspora in US
  3. How does India’s democracy afford to victimise large sections and manage to ensure that victims will remain docile? Discuss.

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