Tuesday, July 14, 2020
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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 06-06-2020 08:45

Another long hot summer on the way

Whether or not Trump’s attempt to make political capital out of the mayhem works will not be known for some time.

Recent events have confirmed what everybody already knew: the United States is a disgracefully racist country in which white policemen enjoy hunting down and killing innocent blacks. But, we are assured, change is in the air; as the demonstrations that followed the death in Minneapolis of George Floyd have shown us, with the exception of that fascist brute Donald Trump and his deplorable supporters, white North Americans are so ashamed of the way they have treated their black compatriots that many are willing to kneel before them and beg forgiveness for doing whatever it was to keep so many of them poor, uneducated and liable to end up in prison.

While some who approve of the demos admit that a few protestors really did go a bit too far by looting stores and beating up old ladies and other passers-by, they say that, given the circumstances – which have been aggravated by the coronavirus plague which unfairly picks on blacks and the economic meltdown it brought with it, which does the same – their behaviour was understandable.

This version of events has been warmly embraced by a significant part of the US political establishment and, with relish, by much of the rest of the world, but it does not reflect the facts, for what these are worth. Cases like the one which last week set off nationwide riots are extremely rare; cops are reluctant to use deadly force against people who do not belong to their own ethnic group, presumably because they are aware that it would put an end to their career. It is also indisputable that black-on-white crimes are far more common than the reverse and that the number of blacks murdered by their “brothers” is many times higher than those slain by outsiders. 

What is more, ever since the early 1960s, racist behaviour by whites – but not by members of what are called “minorities” – has been sternly condemned by just about everyone. While prejudices against people of different ethnic or social origins are common enough in the US, as they are everywhere else, in few countries have the authorities and influential individuals done more to atone for the abuses that took place in the past.     

Many seem to believe that the riots that followed the death of Floyd, at the hand of a white police officer who asphyxiated him, in some way proved that North American blacks continue to be victims of an ongoing campaign of genocide which is as remorseless as any recorded in the bleak annals of human history. Nonetheless, optimists among them think it could help bring about a much-needed period of “racial healing” in which, after flagellating themselves in public, chastened whites would vow to do better in the future. 

This is most unlikely to happen. Instead of convincing worried men and women of mainly European ancestry that they have been unfairly blessed with “white privilege” and deserve to grovel for a few years, the protests and the riots which left many buildings in flames and small businesses in ruins could well lead to a powerful backlash as people of all descriptions come to the conclusion that it would be senseless to continue trying to appease “the black community.”

Trump understands this very well, which is why, after condemning the way Floyd died in trenchant terms, he threatened to call in the military to restore “law and order” in cities that were getting torn apart Whether or not his attempt to make political capital out of the mayhem works will not be known for some time, but there must be a great many white, black, brown or olive-skinned people out there who are more alarmed by the violence that has erupted than by the evidence that on occasion policemen behave very badly, as indeed they do not only in the United States but also in other countries, including Argentina. 

If there is a difference, it is that in the US any violation of the rules that can possibly be attributed to racism is immediately seized upon by political activists determined to see blacks as the eternal victims of whitey’s innate wickedness. Among these are demagogic spokesmen for the “black community” – such as the reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, or the fiercely anti-Semitic Louis Farrakhan of “the Nation of Islam” – that progressives pretend to take seriously, as well as a large number of Democrat politicians who have come to rely on the votes of “people of colour,” left-leaning academics and their camp followers who have adopted “identity politics.”

Needless to say, all these individuals are dyed-in-the-wool racists; for them a person’s ethnic identity is what matters most. The last thing any of them want to see come true is Martin Luther King’s dream of a society in which what counts is the quality of a person’s character rather than the colour of his or her skin. Were that to happen, the highly lucrative “race relations industry” would become bankrupt overnight.

If you move in guilt-ridden circles, belonging to a group, even a newly invented one, which can persuasively claim to have been persecuted in former times, it may have its advantages, but for most North American blacks it has surely been demoralising. From childhood on, they are told they are victims and the world is against them. However, unlike others such as Jews and East Asians who, if they wanted, could demand reparations for what their forefathers had to put up with, but are taught that to overcome the prejudices of those who despise them they should study and work much harder than anyone else, many young blacks, whose peers warn them against “acting white” by behaving well at school, do the precise opposite.

As a few brave black intellectuals have argued, the problems affecting their “community” are largely of cultural origin. While in the first half of the 20th century many blacks made a cult of the work ethic, after governments decided they needed a helping hand, an increasing number simply threw in the towel and saw personal achievement as a form of treachery. Their defeatist approach to the challenges of the times contrasts not only with that of recent immigrants from East Asia who manage to leap over whatever barriers they encounter, but also with that of people coming from Africa, like Barack Obama’s father, or the Caribbean, as did Colin Powell’s parents, who are just as black or brown as they are, but never thought their skin colour would make it impossible for them to reach their personal goals.

 

James Neilson

James Neilson

Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1979-1986).

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