Posers for the world from the Afro-American unrest


US President Donald Trump is on record as threatening to send in the army to put down the current countrywide Afro-American unrest and this measure is bound to compound the US centre’s worries rather than help in resolving any. The contemplated move smacks of a knee-jerk reaction which may be regretted.

The Trump administration would do well to take cognizance of the well known lesson from the history of ethnic unrest world wide before making this drastic move. Because it ought to be plain to see that state coercion is no durable remedial measure to an ethnic minority’s disaffection stemming from deep-seated socio-economic factors.

True, the immediate trigger to the unrest was the killing by the police of US Afro-American citizen George Floyd in Minneapolis on June 25 but, as such disaffection in the US has driven home time and again, it is lingering socio-economic grievances among the group concerned, compounded by police excesses, that eventually precipitate mass unrest and related law and order questions for the country. In the current case, the killing ignited an unresolved, long-standing sense of grievance, that has its roots in entrenched inequalities.

Accordingly, President Trump could make a fatal blunder by sending in the troops to resolve questions that ought to be primarily managed by political and peaceful means. That is, by remedying the average Afro-American’s socio-economic discontents.

Besides, Trump ought to have given ear to Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden’s insightful comment on hearing of the President’s threat to use the military to bring the unrest under control: ‘Mr. Trump is using the American military against the American people.’ After all, Afro-Americans too are US citizens and ought to be seen as being on par with the rest of American citizens, whatever the ethnicity and other identity markers of the latter.

Needless to say, Biden’s stricture holds good for the rest of the world as well, since societies everywhere are diverse in terms of ethnicity, religion, language and other cultural characteristics. That is, almost all societies are pluralistic in nature and call for democratic, people-based management and not top-down military control, as epitomised by military dictatorships. And Southern governments in particular would be blundering badly by believing that the application of military coercion alone would resolve the problem of minority unrest stemming essentially from social and economic inequalities. There could be spells of ‘peace’ through the application of military measures but such contentment could be merely the proverbial ‘peace of the grave yard’.

Besides, lo and behold, the US President could be said to have put in the shade many a ruler of South Asia by visiting a religious site at the height of the unrest and by reportedly displaying a book that is sacred to the US’s majority religion. The message that he sought to convey, apparently, was that the US state and the holder of the highest office in the country were rigidly loyal to the majority ethnic group and the majority faith.

This action amounted to a violation of the US Constitution, a cornerstone of which is secularism. Besides, the US President sought to convey that Afro-Americans are a species of ‘heathen’ and outside the pale of mainstream culture. Trump seems to be beating Southern ruling religious chauvinists at their own game.

Interestingly, it was no less a cataclysm than the COVID-19 pandemic that helped to disclose the socio-economic inequalities afflicting Afro-Americans. At the height of the health crisis in April, for instance, Health Commissioner of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Dr. Jeannette Kowalik was quoted by BBC as saying that, ‘Structural racism is to blame’ for the majority of COVID-19 patients in her area of supervision being of Afro-American origin. During the first week of the pandemic, ‘There were may be 80 cases in the city and 70 per cent of them were black, she said.

Explaining the vulnerabilities of the African Americans in the pandemic context Kowalik explained: ‘African Americans have more of the underlying health conditions associated with fatality: heart disease, diabetes, asthma, obesity.’ A subsequent observation by Kowalik was most revealing: ‘Studies suggest that prolonged raising of stress hormone levels like cortisol lead to premature ageing of body and that some of that "weathering" has been tied to encountering racism.’

Meanwhile, the US Centres for Disease Control were quoted saying that African Americans were 50 percent more likely to have heart disease than whites. They are also 40 percent more likely to die at an early stage from any cause and 19 per cent of Afro-Americans cannot afford to see a doctor.

There is enormous food for thought in these statistics. While the evidence is strong that racism is rendering Afro-Americans more prone to weakness, death and disease, we also know for a fact that substantial and persistent poverty among the community deprives them of an opportunity of leading a wholesome life. Accordingly, the current riots could be described as a tragedy that was waiting to happen, considering the socio-economic disabilities that the community has been subjected to over the decades.

However, the US also needs to be alerted to the growing urgency for police and law and order reform. It is plain to see that police excesses are a strong factor in these bouts of unrest and that the attitudes and methods of the law and order authorities need to change for the better. It needs to be shown, above all, that racism does not pay at all.

While the US needs to travel fast on the road to social reform, the rest of the world would be naive to adopt ‘a holier than thou’ attitude with regard to the US. What goes for the US goes for the rest of the world since the majority of countries are pluralistic in character. This is particularly true of the global South. Socio-economic equality is waiting to happen in the majority of countries and the world will stand or fall to the degree to which equality in all its dimensions takes root in it or does not materialize in it. Progressives with a vision of equality, clearly, need to be in the forefront of decision-making everywhere.

animated gif
Processing Request
Please Wait...