By P.K.Balachandran/Daily Mirror
The killing of a poor African American George Floyd (46) in the most beastly manner, and the unbridled rioting which the murder has triggered across the United States, show how deep-seated racism is in the US, a country which calls itself the world’s oldest democracy and portrays itself as the messiah of human rights across Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Jack Healy and Dionne Searcey writing in The New York Times (NYT) of May 30 described the situation succinctly: “America is now experiencing two plagues simultaneously, the coronavirus and the killing of Black men and women by the police.”
The ding dong battles going on between the State police and the National Guard on the one hand, and thousands of violent protesters on the other in over 75 cities across the US, have made the belligerent President Donald Trump even more so.
“What we are now seeing on the streets of our cities has nothing to do with justice or with peace,” Trump said. He described the White armed anti-lockdown protesters as “very good people”, and the multi-racial Minneapolis protesters as “thugs”. He then went on to tweet: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” The tweet drew a sanction from Twitter for “glorifying violence”.
Trump has put the military on standby to put down the Black rioters. Commenting on Trump’s response, the NYT said: “While other Presidents would seek to cool the situation in tinderbox moments like this, President Trump is playing with matches and whipping up tensions.”
Trump Blames Anti-Fascist Group
Trump has blamed the anti-fascist group Antifa for the violence and has threatened to designate it as a terrorist group. Antifa is short for Antifaschistische Aktion, a multi-party front initiated by the German Communist Party in 1932 to counter rising Nazism in Germany. In the US, Antifa is a loosely held organization drawing its members from other US movements like Black Lives Matter and Occupy. Though in the US from the 1980s, Antifa shot into prominence following the election of Donald Trump in 2016, using violence in some of its demonstrations. Antifa members typically dress in black and wear a mask at their demonstrations. They follow far-left ideologies such as anti-capitalism, and take up causes such as LGBTQ and the rights of the indigenous people of the US. Antifa members run websites that track White extremist and ultra-right groups.
While ultimately, the strong arm of the US government will quell the protests, the underlying causes of the George Floyd murder and the anomic reaction which followed will remain and will find expression in violence again and again, unless ethnic and racial inequalities and injustices are corrected.
Statistics cited by Healy and Searcey on the Black-White gap are revealing. “By one estimate, Black people accounted for at least 29% of known Covid-19 cases in Minnesota, despite making up only about 6% of the state’s population. African-Americans make up 35% of coronavirus cases in Minneapolis, though they are less than 20% of the city’s population.”
Martine Hackett and Shanequa Levin writing in Newsday dated January 19, say that despite Martin Luther King’s struggles, racism is entrenched in the US criminal justice system, housing patterns, and very importantly, health care. “Historically, in the US, the Black infant-mortality rate has been significantly higher than the White infant-mortality rate. Four times as many Black women die due to childbirth than White women,” Hackett and Shanequa say. They contend that racism, per se, has a “toxic effect” on Blacks, creating serious mental and physical health issues among them.
The Whites believe that Blacks are given to deviance, crimes and violence. But these alleged attributes stem from racism in US society. According to an American Community Survey, 64% of African American households are composed of single parents. Marriages are weak and the husband/father goes missing, making the wife/mother manage the household and parent the children singly. Such an abandoned and often destitute family can be intimidated, deceived, or outmaneuvered by police prosecutors and detectives, resulting in coerced confessions from their children.
Yawning Income Gap
There is a yawning gap between White and Black incomes. The median black wealth in 2016 was US$ 13,460—less than 10% of the US$ 142,180 median White wealth. The average Black wealth was 11% that of Whites. Slightly more than one-fourth of Blacks had nil or negative wealth, compared with only a little more than 10% of Whites.
During the Great Recession of 2007-2009, the Black-White wealth gap widened significantly. There’s an old saying that sums up disparities in the US: “When White America catches a cold, Black America gets pneumonia.” Equally importantly, the Black-White wealth gap has persisted for decades.
According to Pew Research Center, more than 150 years after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the US, 58% of the 6000-odd polled across America said that race relations in the US are bad. Few of these saw race relations improving. Some 56% thought Trump had made race relations worse. Just 15% said he had improved race relations and another 13% said he tried but failed. Roughly, two-thirds said it had become more common for people to express racist views since Trump became President.
Blacks are particularly gloomy. 78% of the Blacks polled said the US has not gone far enough when it comes to giving Black people equal rights with Whites, and half said it is unlikely that the country will eventually achieve racial equality. A majority of all Americans (56%) said being Black hurts people’s ability to get ahead in life.
65% of Americans, including majorities across racial and ethnic groups, said it has become more common for people to express racist or racially insensitive views since Trump was elected President. 45% said that racist slurs have become more acceptable.
Among Democrats, 84% said this is now more common and 64% said it is more acceptable. Fewer than half of Republicans said it has become more common (42%) and just 22% said it has become more acceptable for people to express these types of views.
Obama was Better
Views on Trump’s handling of race relations are far more negative than the views on how President Barack Obama handled the issue. 37% said Obama made progress on race relations when he was President, and 27% say he tried but failed. A quarter of Americans said Obama made race relations worse. These retrospective views of Obama’s handling of race relations are nearly identical to views expressed during Obama’s last year in office.
Not surprisingly, assessments of Trump’s and Obama’s handling of race relations differ considerably along partisan lines. Democrats overwhelmingly said that Trump has made race relations worse (84%), including large shares of Black (79%) and White (86%) Democrats.
Views are more divided among Republicans. About a third of Republicans (34%) said Trump has improved race relations and 25% say he has tried but failed to make progress; 19% of Republicans said he has not addressed the issue, while 20% said he has made race relations worse.
Clearly, racism is deeply rooted in the US. Rashawn Ray, a sociologist and a Fellow at The Brookings Institution, told Healy and Searcey that the coronavirus may recede with the coming of a vaccine, but racism is endemic in the US.
“We’ve never gotten to a place where racism is not a significant part of everyone’s life in the United States.”