“All lives cannot matter if black lives don’t matter.” (David Abdulah, political leader, Movement for Social Justice)
“To be silent is to be complicit. Black lives matter. We have a duty to speak up.” (Netflix, on Twitter)
“Silence is consent to racism and murder of Afro-Americans.” (Poster at a protest in US.)
The genesis of police brutality and murders against black Americans is grounded in the enslavement and atrocious post-slavery treatment of the George Floyds in today’s America.
The Bible was used as the rationale for the enslavement of Africans in America: “And He said cursed be Canaan, a servant he shall be to his brethren” (Genesis 9: 23). Africans were conveniently deemed to be the descendants of Ham (or Canaan), the rebellious son of Noah. Thus a so-called justification could be found in the Bible for enslaving the Africans.
Several pieces of legislation during the period of the slave trade and slavery made African slavery legal in the American colonies. Slavery became justifiable through religion and was recognised as legal.
CLR James in his celebrated book The Black Jacobins stated, “During slavery the slaves received the whip with more certainty and regularity than they received their meagre food. It was the incentive to work and guardian of discipline. Irons were placed on the hands and feet. Blocks of wood that the slaves had to drag behind them wherever they went. Mutilations were common, limbs, ears and sometimes the private parts were cut off. Many were burned alive, roasted on slow fire; fill them up with gunpowder and blow them up with a match. The blowing up of a slave had its own name – to burn a little powder in the arse of a nigger.”
After the abolition of slavery in America, the Black Codes (1865-1866) were enacted. The legislature had given the former slave masters the right to whip servants under 18 years of age. Blacks were punished for making insulting gestures, seditious speeches and the crime of walking off their jobs. Armed bands of white men murdered hundreds of black men, women and children in the various American colonies. Hundreds of freed men were massacred in riots staged and directed by policemen and other government officials.
Emancipation of the Africans did not put an end to the issue of equality in the 19th century. The white American could not conceive of the free black man as an equal human being. To kill a black man in cold blood, they do not deem murder; to ravish a black woman, they do not think of as rape; to take what little property a black man may possess, they do not consider it robbery.
But during the post-emancipation period, black leaders started to emerge from the masses. And the emancipated black Africans were slowly adjusting themselves as freed people.
As time went by, black American demands for political and civil equality were quickly becoming ubiquitous. Consequently in April 1866, the Civil Rights Act was enacted. All rights accorded to citizens applied to “Negroes”. The South answered them in April of 1867 by organising the infamous Ku Klux Klan. The Klan’s plan was to reduce black American to political and economic impotence.
The Klan did this by the boldest and most ruthless operation in American history, by stealth and brutal murder, by economic intimidation and political assassinations, by whippings and maiming, cuttings and shootings, by the knife, by rape, by the whip, by the political use of terror, by the branding of the baby in the mother’s arms, the slaying of the husband at his wife’s feet, by raping the wife before the husband’s eyes. This was a systematic and institutionalised pattern of brutality which continued for years.
As the decades wore on, the Klan increased its membership by millions, and lynchings became more prevalent. Approximately 100 blacks were lynched annually. Black baiting became more violent and the crowds more cruel. WK Vardman told the cheering crowds at a lynching, “The way to control the nigger is to whip him when he does not obey, and another is never to pay him more wages than is necessary to buy food and clothing.” But they became more emboldened and more sadistic. As an example, in 1912, a black man named Wyatt was murdered in Belleville, Illinois, the New York Times reported:
“…the negro, still half-alive was cut down, and after being covered with coal and oil was tossed into the fire. Moans of pain were heard from the half dead victim of the mob and these served further to infuriate his torturers. They fell upon him with clubs and knives and cut and beat the burning body to pieces, and not until every sign of life had departed did they desist and permit the flames to devour the body.”
It is quite true that the barbaric murder of Wyatt was a very extreme case, but it was not an isolated one. The Mary Turner lynching of 1918 was undoubtedly one of the most barbaric acts ever committed in a so-called civilised society.
“Though pregnant, the negro woman was lynched in Valdosta, Georgia. She was hanged from a tree, doused with gasoline and motor oil, and burned. As she dangled from the rope, a man stepped forward with a pocket knife and ripped open her abdomen in a crude Caesarean operation. Out tumbled the premature born child, two feeble cries it gave—and received for an answer the heel of a stalwart man, as life was ground out of the tiny form,” wrote Walter White.
These heinous crimes were carried out by white society outside the framework of the legal set-up. But imagine such barbaric, savage, wicked, evil and atrocious crimes occurring in the 20th century.
And what about the judiciary? As far back as July 1847 the Supreme Court, in handing down the decision of the infamous Dred Scott, case declared that: “People of African descent are not and cannot be citizens of the United States.”
After 1899, Jim Crow legislation was enacted to keep blacks in their place. But blacks never gave up. Aided by the small minority of white liberals who had sincerely embraced the doctrine of egalitarianism, Afro-Americans now enjoy certain basic rights.
But the US congress can only legislate laws—not attitudes. The forces of white racism are still overwhelming in America.
After 400 years of slavery and caste oppression, unmitigated terror and torture, physical and mental, white racism continues today though opposed by every means possible. Afro-Americans are still being taunted, ridiculed, insulted, abused and discriminated against by white Americans. The police killings (murders) of Afro-Americans continue today.
The recent vicious murder of George Floyd by white policemen demonstrates that there is a definite cleavage between white racist Americans (not all whites) and Afro-Americans, but it is so embedded in the society as to easily socialise the majority of white individuals into its malaise.
What is now being demanded of all white racist Americans is not only some basic changes in the structure of American society and its laws; (the unwritten, economic unspoken social conventions and as well as legal codes) but most of all more urgently some fundamental and definite changes in their concept of and attitudes toward Afro-Americans.
White racist Americans must be made to understand that they must stop practising racism against Afro-Americans because Afro-Americans in today’s USA are going to use any means necessary—and this includes violence—to achieve true equality, justice and freedom. There can be no social order without social justice.
It is astounding and amazing to witness the spontaneous support of the concept that Black Lives Matter by people of all racial backgrounds in the US and throughout the Western world. Police brutality and murder of Afro-Americans must stop.
To be silent is to be complicit. To bury the historic racism and atrocities as outlined in this commentary is complicity in hiding the truth of racist America’s brutality and murder against Afro-Americans.
We too in T&T have a duty to speak up.