"The upcoming presidential election is the most important
election in the nation’s history because it will determine
whether America will become a true progressive multiracial
democracy where Black people are regarded as human
beings, or sink even deeper into authoritarianism,
corruption and white supremacy."
following are remarks I gave at a Zoom conference entitled “Black
Lives Matter Movement: Democracy and Social Prejudices in the US and
India.” The talk was sponsored by the Centre for Study of
Society and Secularism (CSSS), based in Mumbai, India on June 28,
Black Lives Matter movement is only seven years old and in that
period of time, particularly this year, it has become the foremost
social justice movement in the U.S. What started in 2013 as a hashtag
in response to the murder of a 17-year-old Black teen named Trayvon
Martin by a vigilante named George Zimmerman has evolved into a
national and international force seeking to eliminate systemic racism
and dismantle oppressive institutions.
Lives Matter began as a campaign against police brutality, racial
abuses and human rights violations in the criminal justice system.
However, the dynamics of this movement changed this year, in 2020,
with the police murder of George Floyd and a convergence of events
that created somewhat of a national multiracial rebellion--a mini
brutality is by no means a new phenomenon in America. It dates back
to the times of slavery when armed white men patrolled the slave
plantations and had the power to capture and kill Black people. My
great-great grandfather fled a South Carolina plantation during the
Civil War, a baby tied to his mother’s back, running from the
plantation police. Had they been captured, the mother was prepared to
kill the baby and herself.
the 1960s, figures such as Malcolm X and groups such as the Black
Panthers fought against police violence. In the 1990s, as a human
rights activist I worked with the victims of police violence and
organized the first police brutality conference in the U.S. Countless
numbers of people, particularly people of color have been murdered by
police. But the May 25 strangulation murder of George Floyd by a
Minneapolis police officer will prove to be a pivotal moment in the
made this time different?
Floyd was not the first victim of police violence, nor will he be the
last, unfortunately. He was one of thousands of Black people who have
lost their lives in such a manner, choked, shot, beaten by police.
His death became a catalyst for potentially historic change because
of the timing and the circumstances. The murder was recorded on
video, at a time of viral social media. The incident took place in
the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, itself an event of historic
proportions, with millions of Americans infected, over 120,000 dead,
and millions of people unemployed during an economic collapse the
country has not witnessed in a century.
millions of people in quarantine, on lockdown, while millions of
others have been forced to risk their health and their
lives--everyone living in a time of uncertainty, fear and
trauma--people have had time to think about their lives and the
problems in society.
coronavirus exposed the inherent injustices, the contradictions and
moral blind spots of the so-called land of the free. Staggering and
worsening economic inequality, racism that the country never really
came to terms with, born from the genocide of Indigenous people and
the enslavement of African people. We never know when revolutions or
rebellions will come about. I believe George Floyd would not have
become a transformative moment without the pandemic. George Floyd had
survived illness from the coronavirus, only to meet his death from
the knee of a police officer on his neck.
living under a neofascist government under Trump have reached the
breaking point as people are dying from the coronavirus,
disproportionately Black, Brown and working people through the
policies of a white supremacist government led by incompetent and
greedy sociopaths who will send lambs to the slaughter for the sake
of the economy. Trump, I take it, is a fellow traveler with India’s
Prime Minister Modi--likeminded.
moment in which we find ourselves is both very American and
international. The George Floyd murder, and the aftermath, has become
a reckoning. The U.S. now is coming to terms with its Civil War,
which ended 155 years ago but was never really resolved. Racism and
white supremacy, a daily reality for people of color, have taken
center stage in the public discourse. Protests throughout the nation
have not been witnessed since the 1960s, and today’s protests
eclipse the movements of the past. America is having an awakening.
White people are realizing the need for change. A majority of the
U.S. population now supports Black Lives Matter according to polls,
and Black lives Matter protests are taking place in predominantly
white parts of the country, in small towns and rural areas, not just
these protests have led to change. On the federal, state and city
level, policing reforms are proposed, as people are calling for the
defunding and dismantling of law enforcement agencies, diversion of
resources from weapons of war to programs of social uplift, and
wealth redistribution. Violent police officers now face termination
and prosecution for their abuse.
payment of reparations for slavery has emerged as a serious national
issue. The symbols of white supremacy are being dismantled as the
country proceeds with a cultural shift. Statues of slave masters,
colonizers and white supremacists are being toppled, whether by
protesters or by government edict. Colleges and universities named
for racist U.S. presidents and other leaders are being renamed.
is a national conversation not just on police violence but the daily
affronts that Black and Brown people experience with racism, in
school, at work, and in their daily lives--the so-called
microaggressions we face, the daily indignities, traumatic,
the world stage, George Floyd and Black Lives Matter resonate with
people in the global community. BLM demonstrations were held all over
the world, reflecting international solidarity with African
Americans, but also calls for freedom and racial justice in places
such as London, Palestine and West Papua.
of this takes place as the U.S. experiences a seismic demographic
shift. It is a hopeful time and a potentially productive moment where
the country, if it chooses, can heal itself and become an antiracist
society. A majority of children born in America right now are Black
and Brown, they look like my children.
reality represents an existential threat to Donald Trump and his
supporters. I believe the white reactionaries will continue to rail
against the browning of America and do everything in their power to
maintain white power and white supremacy, whether through voter
suppression, continued detention of immigrants, physical violence
through armed far right groups, and genocide.
upcoming presidential election is the most important election in the
nation’s history because it will determine whether America will
become a true progressive multiracial democracy where Black people
are regarded as human beings, or sink even deeper into
authoritarianism, corruption and white supremacy. I’m
cautiously optimistic, and believe Black Lives Matter is shaping this
election and calls for an American transformation. History has shown
that progress doesn’t take place in a straight line, but rather
through advancements and regression, and there is much time for
things to get worse before they get better.