Ozcan Hidir is a faculty member at Istanbul Sabahattin Zaim University
“Racism has always existed and still does. Unfortunately, we have it [in Germany] too. First, we must clean up our doorstep. Racism is poison.”This was a candid confession by German Chancellor Angela Merkel admitting the existence of “ethnocultural racism” in the West, which has surfaced in the US more clearly after the killing of George Floyd, 46, in Minneapolis, by a racist police officer, who pressed down his knee on Floyd’s throat.
The “pandemic of racism” which already existed has just reemerged. This could be called “pandemic of the far-right” that relies on “the vanity and supremacy of the white race”, which is also known to have engulfed Europe in recent years.
Noted actor George Clooney summed up the situation: “This outrage on our streets is a reminder for us about the fact that we have not matured since slavery, our first sin, which is our pandemic; one that has not been cured in 400 years.”
Demonstrations triggered by the racist killing of Floyd seem to have caused one of the greatest shocks in recent times of the US, where people of over 200 ethnicities live. In this context, we could talk about an American paradox or two different faces of America. On one hand, there is innovation, multiculturalism, democracy, supervision of balance, rule of law and a seemingly well co-existing society where differences are welded together.
But on the other hand, it is an America where violence, inequality, exploitation, Christian-Evangelist fundamentalism are at the forefront. The novel coronavirus or Covid-19 process has served as a litmus test, revealing both faces of the US, as it is a known fact that two-thirds of the deaths resulting from the pandemic belong to “vulnerable groups”, meaning Blacks, Latin American Hispanic, and immigrant people.
Nearly 47 million Blacks that constitutes 14% of the total population have often been treated as second-class citizens in the US, where over 200 million are of European origin.We could say that Hispanics with approximately 45 million population and also Muslims have also suffered the same way.
Perception of the Black population
Indeed, research revealed a perception that Black people are violent. The fact that Black people are on the front lines of criminal activities such as looting and theft (70 %) has fueled this attitude. However, this labeling perspective is known to be caused mainly by racism. It is seen that precautions to prevent racist attitudes within the police force and despite that some are relieved of duty, lost their pay, and even received jail time, the virus of racism remains in minds and it has even become incorporated, surfacing intermittently.
First African-American President of the US Barack Obama stated: “The history of racial inequality in the US has paved the way to today’s police brutality, killings and injuries of Black people as a result of police violence.”
According to the Washington Post, 1,252 Black, 877 Hispanic people were murdered by police since January 1, 2015. This rate is twice that of police violence against White people. However, perhaps none of this caused the amount of anger as the death of Floyd at the hand of the racist police officer, Derek Chauvin. Also, it is conspicuous that Chauvin, the murderer of Floyd, shares the same last name as Nicolas Chauvin, one of Napoleon’s soldiers who kept fighting for France despite his 17 injuries, giving the etymological roots to the word “chauvinism”.
Despite having different definitions, “racism” which emphasizes “genetic-biological traits” of certain ethnic groups, drawing bold lines between them and the others relies on the belief that some are genetically superior to others. It also occurs as a new phenomenon in which cultural practices and religion are relatively more complexly involved. In this form of racism, “cultural and ethnoreligious” traits, norm-values are the basic determining factors.
As a sub-type of genetic-ethnic racism, this type of racism which is also known as “cultural racism” or “modern racism” is observed in the West and mainly in the US, against immigrant groups and foreigners living as minorities in the form of ostracism, discrimination, violence, and hate.However, the common features of both racism are stereotyping and labeling the groups.
In the end, people who are of the same ethnic, religious-cultural groups are considered “one of them” and others as “outsiders”, causing ostracism and alienation. Especially after 9/11, terrorism was linked to Muslims in the West, mainly in the US. The stereotyped judgment such as “not every Muslim is a terrorist but every terrorist is Muslim” and preconceptions are always the results of these labeled, prejudiced, cultural-racist attitudes.
The racist speech and actions led by the extreme rightist televangelist-evangelists have become a source to lure voters in the US and Europe. Human rights organizations have often reported that institutions like the police, intelligence, some institutions are having created ethnic and religious-cultural profiles. It is to be noted whether Floyd incident, the racist attitude that followed and the human rights breaches will be included in the human rights reports submitted by the US every year.
Trump picture holding the Bible had a message
After Floyd’s killing, the photograph of the President of the US, Donald Trump with the Holy Bible in his hand in front of the Episcopalian St. John’s Episcopal Church which belongs to Episcopalians, a branch of Evangelists is worth looking into because of both the message it gave to White-supremacist Evangelists during the protests in the wake of the presidential elections scheduled on Nov. 3.
This photograph taken at the church which is also called “the Presidential Church” as almost every president joins the sermon at the beginning of their terms, has been viewed as a conscious push for Trump’s “aggressive politics” mentality, prioritizing the interests of the “white and cultural-racist” base and so recognizing the others, particularly Black people as second-class citizens.
With this move, Trump appealed to regions where people who consider America “the land of God” and conservative White-Evangelic along with Catholics who live in Texas, North-South Carolina, Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, which he considers the “soul of America”.
It is mentioned that Trump’s attitude is toward consolidating the traditional base of Christian-Evangelist votes which he partially lost during the pandemic, which is his most conspicuous geopolitical move during this period. He is also known to have tweeted: “You do not burn churches in America” and “silent minority” for the sake of the same base.Indeed, the number of people who observed the church photograph with tears of joy and Christian-Evangelists who made it their profile pictures are quite high. Once again some regarded him as “the one wearing God’s armor”; there were even those who compared his walk from the White House to the Church, to the “walk of Jericho” from the Book of Joshua with an apocalyptic interpretation in the Holy Bible. According to that, God ordered the Israelites to march seven times around the walled city of Jericho near Jerusalem, and the walls of the rebellious people’s city finally came down.
So, with the church photograph move which had ethnic-cultural racist hints, Trump who was considered to be relatively incompetent by his traditional base during the Covid-19 pandemic and lost a small number of votes, has boosted his popularity among his base. An analysis in the Washington Post suggested that Trump politically used the Bible to “give a message to the nationalist Evangelist-Christian base”.
Because, while the rate of Evangelists who approved of Trump’s handling of the Covid-19 situation in March was 84%, it was down to 77% by May. Most of his moves in the aftermath of the Floyd incident were aimed at regaining the traditional white-Evangelist votes he lost because of his failed handling of the Covid-19 process. Even 37% of the Catholics who voted for Trump disapprove of his attitude during the pandemic, which is reported to have been 57% in March.
Clergy who oppose Trump interpreted Trump’s posing in front of the church without even reading any passages during a time when people suffer from racist violence, “an abuse of religion”. Some compared this to Hitler’s use of the Lutheran church. A pastor named Frederick Douglass criticized Trump by saying: “There is a whole lot of difference between Christianity in this country and the Christianity of Jesus”.
Arguments about Trump’s religious awareness
Moreover, there were comments about members of the Ku Klux Klan, described as the American Nazi Party, posing with the Bible. It was also reported that Trump’s father was arrested as he had joined the demonstrations organized by this racist organization.
Apart from arguments about Trump using the Bible for political gain, his church photograph with the Bible in his hand also sparked arguments about him not being familiar with the contents of the Bible and so he is not religious. There is a book, The Faith of Donald J. Trump: A Spiritual Biography, authored by David Brody and Scott Lamb which talks about his religiousness and faith. It mentions that when Trump was sworn in with the two Bibles kept in his office, one of them was reported to be the Bible gifted to him by his mother Mary Anne in 1955, when he graduated from the Sunday church school. It is reported that it was the same copy of the Bible, that was seen in his hand in the photograph.
The anti-Trump media led by Democrats, possibly to lower him in the eyes of Christians, claimed that he uses Christian-Evangelists for his political agenda, and in fact, he does not know about the Bible’s content talking about protecting the weak and the powerless. As evidence, they reminded that when Trump was asked “to recite a passage from the Bible”, he refused to do so. Trump does have some conflicting statements about this. For instance, he said: “Nobody reads more Bible than I do”. However, it was revealed that in other speeches he said he does not know about the contents of the Bible; and he even paraphrased false passages.
After Floyd was killed by police in cold blood, protests in many cities sparked arguments like the state of emergency, declaration of martial law, putting troops on the field, postponement of the elections, and even division of the US. Some white racists were seen to reenact the killing of Floyd in their posts on social media under the tag “George Floyd challenge”.
Protests also fueled racist footage
Beatrice King, daughter of the legendary Black rights advocate Martin Luther King told her followers on social media about this racist footage and commented that racism is not over but on the rise with the protests. Some commentators talk about the effects of the attitude by Trump during the protests which almost encourages security and cultural racism, which is described to be a “political pandemic” by his opponents.
So, while he has announced that he has withdrawn the National Guard in Washington and he has partially softened, Trump’s often harsh attitude could be said to trigger the racist view. Some similar cases were reported on media. It could be the reason why the pro-Trump media led by Fox TV often airs footage of Black people looting.After all, it is a fact that the killing of Floyd has caused a widespread increase in protests against racism and violence around the World, as much as in the US. Despite the pandemic and the efforts by local administrations to prevent, the large crowds in European cities like London, Berlin, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Paris, Brussels, and Rome. One of the most striking scenes was from Bristol, England when protesters brought down the statue of slave trader Edward Colston and dumped it into the sea, shouting “England is not innocent”.
The movement needs a leader
Perhaps what protests lack is the absence of a “leader”. As you can remember, the negative discrimination of the Black people in the US in schools, public places, and business hiring was banned by The Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed by the then-President, Lyndon Johnson. He did so after the “March to Washington for Work and Freedom” in 1963 led by Martin Luther King.
At this point, this act seems to have mostly remained on paper while not being able to provide the expected change of mind. This reminds us of Balzac’s words: “Laws are spider-webs through which the big flies pass and the little ones get caught.”
With this, and the killing of Floyd after his last words saying “I can’t breathe”; these words have become the primary slogan of the protests, which can also be sound advice. It advises the protesters to fight without looting, without burning, without hating. And it says “Another world is possible”; against inequality, exploitation, income distribution gap, injustice, and especially the structured racism within police.
Possibly, during the memorial service in Houston where Floyd spent most of his life, large crowds will shout this, especially in the US, and to the whole world. Just like Martin Luther King who began the “1964 Civil Rights Act” movement and fight against racism by saying: “We want human rights as your brothers and sisters”. He was assassinated in 1965. Essentially, the words “I am on the side of all who are threatened by racist spite and hate” are one of the leading, hopeful outcries by an authority during this process.
Should we call US events Black Revolution?
On the other hand, the US has always been skilled at finding names for revolutions and events in the world (especially in the Islamic world). Just like when they call certain protests around the world as velvet, orange revolutions, or when they call the Arabic revolutions like the Arab Spring and the street protests of May 2013 in Turkey as the Gezi revolution.
We could add the yellow vests movement of France, which started in 2018, to this list. The incidents in the US remain to be named. In this context, some talk about a US Spring. However, perhaps a “Breathing Revolution” inspired by Floyd’s last words “I can’t breathe”, or a “Black Revolution” after Black Lives Matter which became a civil society movement in 2013 could be more suitable.
Our closing words are from the anti-racist statements of the Farewell Sermon by Prophet Muhammad, which was quoted by even Christian theologians such as Craig Considine after the Floyd incident: “O people, your Lord is One; and your father is one; all of you are from Adam, and Adam was from the ground. Arabs have no merit over non-Arab; White has none over Black; Black has none over White. In Allah’s sight, the noblest of you is the most God-fearing…”
* Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.
Translated by Dilan Pamuk in Ankara
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