The streets of Washington, New York, Philadelphia and Seattle were flooded with people demanding much-needed, fundamental change. Once again, we have been reminded of the power of free speech, of the art of demonstrating and the right to freedom of expression. But how long until we realize that we needn’t protest for such things anymore? Isn’t it high time when, for once, society embraced rather than ostracised its seemingly different members? In some ideal world, such social issues would have been solved ex ante, yet this isn’t the reality embracing us.
Audre Lorde, feminist and civil rights activist, once argued that it is exactly these differences that unite us and enrich our societies with the elements that make them stand out. But why is America taking rapid steps backwards? What is this driving force that prevents unity and enhances racial separation, highlights injustice and praises racism?
The past week reminded us, violently and rather unexpectedly, that unfortunately, though our calendars are tuned in to the dates of the 21st century, our decision-making systems have been stuck at a time when the notions of justice, equality, respect and open-mindedness have been seriously diluted. As if the waves of 21st century progress come to a sudden halt when it comes to topics about society and human affairs. Proudly wearing the badge of one of the most technologically developed nations, the US continues to disappoint the members of its marginalized communities on topics regarding respect and human rights.
For centuries, protests and demonstrations have achieved a significant purpose: to shake the existing, rusty foundations of society and introduce change. The American and French revolutions were the first examples of what massive mobilization against the status quo can do. Despite being directed against different purposes, these were considered the first attempts by the people to demand change in government and ruling. Yet nowadays, people consider the order of things as unchangeable, thinking that it is more difficult to redefine our political and social structures than it was some centuries ago.
The killing, or murder as many have termed it, of George Floyd by the police in Minneapolis exposes the backwardness that still defines America today. Without overgeneralizing and keeping in mind that there are also aspects of the US that don’t represent such realization, it becomes evident that America has once again failed its citizens. The domestic political situation in the US represented a powder keg, ready to explode at any instant and cause profound change. Though the spark was the killing of George Floyd, soon the spectrum of the situation embraced a wider context; it became a movement against the bestiality, the brutality and the lack of humanity that this incident represented. And at the centre of it all is anger.
Anger over feeling powerless and debased and ostracised. Anger at reading about similar incidents time and again. Anger at realizing that some of the people in power – the local and state government, the federal government, officers, authorities – are completely unresponsive to and unobservant of people’s calls for radical change and respect to the rule of law. And anger at realizing that nothing will change anytime soon. White journalists and newspaper contributors, including the author of this piece, will never really grasp the full extent of this emotion, will never experience the immensity of such situations. And it is because of such fact that actions speak louder than words.
How can a nation, that embeds in its constitution the notions of inclusivity and justice, carry out an ignorant behaviour towards social groups that have systematically been denied inclusivity and access to society? The immensity of the immorality behind years of injustice is now fully blossoming into waves of necessary social action, with America experiencing some of the most intense forms of public demonstrations it has experienced in the last 50 years.
What the world is experiencing now is far from illogical; it is the attempt to reverse centuries of systematic injustice and violence, disrespect and marginalization. Members of generations that feel unheard, separated and denied access to their basic human rights are finally awakening and with them, whole movements are emerging and re-appearing. No-one should be subjected to a life of constant threat and daily, constant and unending discrimination simply because of the colour of their skin.
The Civil Rights Movement, with Martin Luther King as its main figure, was characterized by nonviolence, by silent, peaceful and respectful protests that were met with violence. It was exactly this violence that spurred action and opened the eyes of the great majority. The Movement was then followed by more radical plans of action, such as Malcolm X’s call from Black Nationalism, that boldly highlighted that enough is enough, that the phrase “wait, it will be okay” had completely lost its meaning.
America, it seems, is unresponsive during peacetime. If you want change, you have to resort to violence, that’s what the general rule is. But why should it be that way? Why should people pay attention only when violence becomes intense, when the ears perk up and when the news crew finally start appearing? It seems that if America wanted change, it would be responsive during peacetime. But every behaviour, every form of government response in the face of this crisis has sadly uncovered the fact that America deeply resents change. No form of protest has been effective in the eradication of systematic injustice and the foundations that express it are precisely the ones being used to reverse it.
You simply cannot dismantle the house, using the same tools that the master employed in the first place, as Audre Lorde famously argued.
You can’t shake up the existing order by being quiet, by experiencing a tranquil pain and suffering, by undergoing silent and continuous injustice. Because by doing so, you will continue living in a country and inside a context that conveniently likes to forget and remembers details only when the stakes are too high. When your government fails you, when those in power disappoint you and when the world is placing you under a microscope for observation, you need to wake up and take matters into your own hands. Otherwise you will have to learn to be content with the current situation of injustice, that has no end and no beginning.
The time has come for the world to open its eyes, to fully grasp the extent and immensity of the need for change. What better time to achieve this, when so much is being called into question already.