On May 25, 2020, people across America and the world were stunned as footage captured George Floyd pinned beneath three police officers, one of whom pressed his knee onto Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes. Despite calls for help from Floyd and startled onlookers, the officer pressed his knee deeper onto his neck until he lost consciousness and died.
Floyd’s death was aptly described as a heinous crime by people across the globe. The Black Lives Matter movement immediately mobilized the masses to protest against injustice and the systemic oppression plaguing blacks and other People of Color. Some protesters call for accountability tools to address the prolonged inequities in the society, while others petition the government for social and racial justice and police reform.
It is difficult to not place this atrocity into its rightful historical context – systemic oppression and injustice constructed and orchestrated by white supremacy culture. At the heart of this construct is the idea that a superior “white race” exists. This idea shapes the beliefs, values, standards, and practices that benefit whites. In America, the tyranny of white supremacy is manifested in myriad ways, including hiring, employment, housing, health care, education, mortgage lending, austere anti-immigration policies, racial profiling, policy brutality, and mass incarceration.
Unarmed black men are seven times more likely to die from police brutality than white men. Among the thousands of blacks who were killed by white police officers, few have been charged. And most were cleared or acquitted in the cases that have been tried. Unarmed Black Lives Matter protesters have often been tear-gassed or assaulted when protesting the murder of unarmed black men and women, while white protesters stroll into state offices with AR-style battlefield rifles, protected by state law, palpable privilege, and pure-bred compatriots. This pattern of injustice highlights the corruption in law enforcement, disguised manifestations of tyranny, and a justice system designed to serve and protect whites; not People of Color.
Racism and class oppression are not merely individual prejudices. They are manifested and continually reinforced at the interpersonal, institutional, and structural levels as well. It is often easy to discern oppression and injustice in the overt displays of discrimination that occur across America. Hence, it is easy to understand the reason behind the strident calls for fairness, justice, and equality.
Unlike the way it happens in America, it is not always easy to discern oppression in the islands of the Caribbean. It is not always easy to recognize the injustices that occur within our own systems of governance. However, when foreign influence matters more than the voices of the locals, it means that our political leaders are kneeling on the necks of our people. When corrupt back-room deals leave citizens indebted for many years, unknowingly; when economic gains from arable lands are overlooked in favor of foreign investments; when foreign property owners restrict public access to the beaches; when foreign investors are given preference and concessions over the natives; when local banks turn their backs on local small businesses in favor of foreign investors; when deforestation, land degradation and other environmental crimes are allowed to take place with impunity, and government fails to fulfill its obligation to protect human rights and natural resources; when a party’s support base reaps public benefits and non-supporters are treated with great disdain; and when election fraud, massive vote rigging, and manipulation disrupts democracy, it means that our leaders are pinning our people beneath the tyranny of oppression while pushing their knee deep onto our necks. We must all cry out, you are choking us, and we cannot breathe!
Together, we must stand up to oppression and injustice by “letting our voices be heard.” When they try to pin us down or push their knees deep onto our necks, we must say firmly, get your knee off our necks – or else…