“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character,” Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
What MLK stated during his historic speech on August 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC, gave a powerful message to the entire world about the apartheid which prevailed in the United States, where centuries of exploitation, racial discrimination and segregation had relegated blacks as second class citizens. One hundred and fifty-seven years after slavery was banned by president Abraham Lincoln and 55 years after laws of segregation were repealed by the US Congress, African Americans are still unable to get proper social justice and equality. The lynching of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis by four white police officers triggered widespread protests all over America and in different parts of the world condemning racism and exposing so-called democracy in the US.
On June 20, President Donald Trump addressed his first election rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where on May 31 and June 1, 1921, hundreds of blacks were massacred by white racist groups. Hundreds and thousands of people protested against Trump and his racist mindset when he was delivering his speech in Tulsa. Racism is not only reflected in his behaviour and approach, but has permeated his family where his son Eric, while speaking in his father’s election campaign rally, called Black Lives Matter protestors “animals”. Earlier, Trump had warned that those attempting to protest ahead of his rally in Tulsa won’t be treated gently.
Facing a two-pronged crisis composed of coronavirus and a surge of anti-racist demonstrations, the US is grappling with the worst situation in its history which has exposed its leadership and racial fault-lines. If America is called the epicentre of racism because of its killings and lynching of blacks by the police, white supremacists having tacit support of Trump administration see this as their last chance to salvage what they call “white America”. While statutes of slave owners and racial oppressors are being pulled down and dismantled by anti-racism crowds in the US including the one of Albert Pike, an officer of the Confederate Army, President Trump expressed his anger by commenting, “The DC police are not doing their job as they watched a statue be ripped down and burn. These people should be immediately arrested. A disgrace to our country.” White supremacists rightly believe that Trump is their last hope to protect the white population from the surge of black and coloured people who are now around 40% of their country’s population.
Internal contradictions of the American society are being exposed here. Year 2020 is an election year and the crises have augmented the predicament of the Republican Party as it feels that power is slipping from its hands and the election campaign will not only diminish the chances of Trump’s re-election but will shatter what white supremacist call the “last chance” to reclaim the glory of white Christian America. If the world’s only superpower is finding it hard to maintain its tutelage in global affairs, its main issues are internal in nature. Ironically, an imprudent leadership of the Republican Party, including members of the Senate and House representing the right-wing political force, has put all its eggs in one basket by supporting Trump’s racist and divisive policies.
Had the US got over its racial baggage and transformed the country as a role model of multiculturalism, it would have retained its edge in the global economy, research, science, education and democracy and played a leadership role during the pandemic. Because of three reasons the “racial time bomb” in America will be sufficient to marginalise the US in the global affairs.
First, the US is not an ordinary country but still holds the position as the world’s only superpower. The pandemic has already taken a toll on American economy and the racial polarisation will add to the US predicament. If majority American states are in political turmoil, it will cast a very bad impression at the international level about a country which is supposed to lead the world. Protests in the UK, France, Germany, Australia and other countries condemning the lynching of Floyd and the surge of racism in the US is not a positive sign for America. If the US has not been able to sort out its racial issues despite 244 years of independence, it means there are powerful groups in that country who want to keep the issue of racism alive for political purposes. Despite eight years of president Barack Obama’s tenure, he was not able to effectively counter white supremacists. And, is it not a misfortune that the most enlightened and tolerant president having African roots was succeeded by a president who felt no shame in expressing his racial biases and supporting white racism in his country?
Second, the more the economy of the US goes down, the more racial tension will augment. The economic disparity between the black and white population is still quite huge and with the surge in unemployment one can expect the escalation in political and racial polarisation. At stake will be democracy and the power status of America as domestic chaos will take a toll on its prosperity and clout in global affairs. Racial segregation in the US was legally abolished in 1965 and blacks got voting rights, yet things have not changed for the better. General Colin Powell, an African American and former secretary of state during the tenure of George Bush, in his book My American Journey narrates an incident in 1963 when as a captain in the US army he was driving on a highway in Alabama, a deep southern and racially polarised state, where he stopped before a restaurant for lunch. When he entered the restaurant and took a seat to order his meal, the waitress refused to take his order stating that the restaurant cannot entertain non-whites. Powell argued that he was serving in the US military and cannot be refused; but he had to eventually leave without a meal. Such was the reality of racial segregation before apartheid laws were repealed in 1965. Although, in the last 55 years blacks cannot be openly segregated but the mindset remains filled with prejudice and hate against the black population.
Third, the “racial time bomb” in the US will explode if Trump is re-elected in November. Although, Trump’s rating has plummeted because of the pandemic and its severe economic fallout along with the anti-racism movement, the ultra-right wing and white supremacist forces can use all sorts of methods to re-elect him. If white supremacists, who have the covert support from Trump’s administration try to prevent anti-racism protesters and target immigrants, it may lead to a bloodbath in America.
If the US has the capacity and capability to withstand the impending outbreak of racial violence, one can hope to save America from internal chaos and instability. It will be a test for American democracy and its institutions, including the judiciary to manage the racial crisis with courage and wisdom so that the US is seen as a role model of democracy, political pluralism, multiculturalism, and ethnic and religious harmony.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 26th, 2020.
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