The murder of George Floyd
What it has revealed about the internal and external nature of White Supremacy
1. White Supremacy is not personal - it’s business
White supremacy (and by extension racism) is not personal, it is about protecting and maintaining the self-interests of the dominant group. This is:
White Propertied-middle class cis-heterosexual men.
It’s not the individual black person that white supremacy hates, it’s the presence, occupation of space and proximity to black people that it deplores and seeks to minimise. One of the ways in which it is employed is through structural racism and it is through such means that we see the normalisation of prejudice and discrimination.
Remember, it’s not personal, its business.
The murder of our brother George Floyd did not occur because he was George Floyd. It occurred because people racialised as black and brown have a disproportionate rate of experiencing and dying as a result of police brutality. He died in the fashion that he did (asphyxiation through brute force - a modern day lynching) because he was black.
Another aspect of Floyd’s murder which must be explored is that it was filmed. His murder was recorded, shared and subsequently went viral. This reminded me of the ways in which slave masters would often make a point of torturing, humiliating, raping and brutality murdering ‘disobedient’ slaves, as a form of public spectacle. One of the reasons for this was to strike fear, submissiveness and impotency into the psyche of enslaved Africans; who often stood and watched in horror. Such cruel and callous tactics further sent the brutal warning; ‘This is what happens when you do not comply’.
When I reflect on my own thoughts and conversations with family and friends who have watched the footage of Floyd’s murder, the similarities between enslaved Africans and the global black community is disconcerting to say the least.
The following are some of the symptoms that have been experienced
Recounting of personal experiences of racism (a lot of generational trauma has been shared)
It is at this point I wish to remind the reader that these emotions have been experienced on a collective scale, despite having no immediate relation to Floyd or his family.
What happened to George Floyd was like trauma to the soul. It has truly impacted us all.
This is why many of us upon hearing what happened asked: ‘Who’s next? Am I next? Is my son, my daughter, my brother, my sister, my aunt, my uncle or my mum or dad next?
Floyd’s murder has reminded us of the many ways that the indiscriminate nature of white supremacy, often equates to black death.
When asked “Why it is that I think George Floyd’s death has galvanised this level of attention within Britain?”, my response is simple:
“Floyd’s death and indeed its response did not occur in a vacuum. Our response in many ways is not explicitly directed to this single event (despite it being a systematic and regular occurrence). The protesting, marches, kneeling, die-ins and tearing down of statues are also a response to the deep-seated anger that comes from living in an inherently racist society. This reality must be held in juxtaposition to the national pandemic. Although our global response to COVID has been one of unity and solidarity, the murder of George Floyd as a result of police brute force is a graphic reminder that even in the midst of such a crisis, it is still business as usual’.
2. Negrophobia and Negrophilia is becoming more explicit
I think there is a lot to be said about the media’s (including social media’s) obsession with posting pictures of dead/ dying black bodies, so frequently and flippantly. Not only does this act as a method of normalisation and desensitization of violence towards black bodies, it also acts as a clear indicator of the structural vulnerability that black people endure and continue to resist.
It must also be said that the ease with which some of the news outlets have shown George Floyd’s final moments, whilst failing to acknowledge his humanity; that he was a father, a partner and a son is incredibly disturbing and dehumanising.
These are also stark reminders that we live in a world dependent on negrophobia and negrophilia.
Negrophobia is the deep hatred and fear of black people. This is often made clear through black people being perpetually associated with crime, violence, low intelligence, inferior genetics and aggression.
Negrophilia in contrast, is an obsessive love and craze of black people. This is often expressed through the fixation, appropriation and exploitative consumption of black culture (our hair, music, language, physique etc).
The articulation of violence through both negrophobia and negrophilia has been displayed and made even more explicit within the lockdown period. There is a comfort and pleasure in knowing that despite the world residing in a state of unrest and uncertainty, violent domination of black bodies creates a sense of normality for some and 'at least it’s not us' for others.
Negrophobia and negrophilia reveal that feelings of anti-blackness is shared even when the expression is not. Such a contradiction is an eerie reminder of the irrational and contradictory enclaves of white supremacy (and racism).
You hate us and yet you ‘love’ us.
3. We are starting to see another ugly face of internalised White supremacy - ‘African- American exceptionalism’
I recently came across this concept when I watched a clip from ABC news regarding growing disgruntlement within the Black American community. Ultimately, growing numbers of Black Americans who are ADOS (American descendants of slaves) felt resentful of Africans from the continent and the diaspora coming to America and enjoying the fruits of ‘their’ hard-won efforts. The clip focused on the example of British Black actress Cynthia Erivo who played Harriet Tubman, in the 2019 film Harriet. This was a contentious issue because Harriet was played by a Black British actress and the story of Harriet is of course centred on the black American experience.
Such members within the ADOS felt resentful of Black British, Black Africans and Black Caribbean’s coming to America and “taking the jobs and civil rights that they worked hard to attain”. Consequently, these members within the ADOS believed that their experience of racism was far worse and thus cannot be paralleled. As a result, they did not see their struggle against racism as collective and their rhetoric suggested that they thought of themselves as an ethnic group, distinct from other blacks.
They have subsumed themselves within the dominant narrative. The same forces they supposedly oppose.
Such sentiments have been present within dialogue between Black Americans and Black British born people regarding the killing of George Floyd. On multiple occasions there have been claims that ‘There is no racism in Britain’, ‘The racism in Britain is not as bad as over here’; and ‘Police brutality in America is worse because police officers carry guns’. What our Black American brothers and sisters who hold such views fail to realise is: not only are such statements factually incorrect, they also fail to understand that anti-black violence is not exclusive to America. Every black community whether it be on the continent or in the diaspora has a story to tell. It is true, our experiences are unique, but it should not be a competition.
By analysing white supremacy solely through the lens of the Black American experience such a position fails to realise that racism is a global-phenomena that manifests in different ways but shares in the upholding of white patriarchal supremacy. Furthermore, it fails to take into count that black struggles have never truly been fought in isolation. Black people on a global scale have always come together to support one another.
Some examples of this include;
Black British pan-African movements raising awareness and providing political and financial support against the evilness of Apartheid in South Africa over the course of 45 years.
Nelson Mandela personally coming to England and showed support to Doreen Lawrence and her family whilst putting pressure on the Metropolitan police to ensure that justice was served, for the murder of Stephen Lawrence
The UK section of the Black Lives Matter Movement standing in solidarity with their American counterparts over the murder of George Floyd whilst also speaking out and adding to the intellectual scholarship that seeks to call out and dismantle the insidious systematic racism that is incredibly prevalent in America.
In the face of our global struggle, time and time again black people have acted as their brother’s keeper.
Therefore, when returning to the concept of ‘African-American exceptionalism’, I believe it acts as a form of alienation and expression self- hatred, as it transforms black suffering and anti-blackness into badges of honour that warrant a sense of entitlement and privilege.
However, having engaged and witnessed many on-line conversations and reflected on my historic and current experience of the British Education curriculum, I began to truly grasp just how prevalent ‘African-American exceptionalism’ is. Many British schools’ black history month is in most instances framed around the presence, experience and contributions of the Black American narrative. Seldom do we learn about individuals and movements who fought for black liberation within the British context. Within our curriculum, the Black American experience takes centre stage and our history is silenced and thus rendered non-existent. Therefore, many students (and teachers) have, at worst, internalised the notion that ‘things are worse in America’ and, at best, lack a true awareness and understanding to the plight of anti-blackness within Britain.
The realisation of the gravity of this had led me to ask many questions, but the question that continues to persist is: If George Floyd was Black British, or Arab or European, would we, as a people, have responded in the ways that we have?
Alexandra Brown is a secondary school RE teacher with an academic background in Christian theologies of the non-western world (specialising in Womanist theology). Alexandra also specialises in Islam within the black American experience and social justice; with a particular focus on race, class, gender and education inequalities. She is a freelance writer, poet and academic. Alexandra is British born of African-Caribbean (Ghanaian and Jamaican) heritage. This article was written for www-theleftberlin.com