George Floyd is not the first George to lose his life due to systemic racism in the United States. On June 16, 1944, then 14-year-old George Junius Stinney Jr. died on an electric chair after controversial sentencing. It turned out as a false accusation of murdering two neighbors 76 years later. His sin? He was African-American. To make matters worse, the jury was comprised solely of white men who made the decision in only 10 minutes. Here’s a video depicting what happened:
Fast-forward to 2020, this problem still persists. On 13th March, police killed Breonna Taylor, a black woman, when they stormed her Louisville home, searching for a suspect already in custody. They shot her 8 times. The list of unfortunate, inexcusable killings swells as you search through Google or tune your television to a news channel.
The killing of George Floyd has sparked an anti-racism protest, bigger than during the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The late George Floyd was killed on May 25th 2020 in Minneapolis. The protest quickly spread across the country with people demanding justice. In a flash, the world literally forgot about COVID-19 and social distancing pleas. For the first time in history, different countries across the globe are uniting their voices to speak out against racism.
How Africa is reacting to George Floyd’s death
In solidarity with the global protests, there were sizable protests in Nigeria, Kenya, and other countries. US embassies in Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Zimbabwe also issued statements expressing concern over the happening. The African Union, through its Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, has sent out a statement condemning the act.
“The Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat strongly condemns the murder of George Floyd that occurred in the United States of America at the hands of law enforcement officers and wishes to extend his deepest condolences to his family and loved ones. The African Union Commission firmly reaffirms and reiterates the African Union’s rejection of the continuing discriminatory practices against Black citizens of the United States of America.
In Africa, citizens have stood in solidarity to protest against systemic racism. The continent has its own share of police brutality. Suspects are tortured using ancient methods before being killed in cold blood. Senior officers responsible ironically get promoted.
The African literally community is not keeping quiet either. The group’s powerful statement listed about 70 African-Americans and African immigrants who have been killed by US police officers. The statement bore signatures from prominent African writers, including Lola Shoneyin (Nigeria), Mona Eltahawy (Egypt), NoViolet Bulawayo (Zimbabwe), and Scottish/Sierra Leonean writer, Aminatta Forna.
In the past, African writers have shaped history through their voice on civic issues. Some have lost their lives. Some have spent time in prison for their involvement. Kenyan Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o was imprisoned in the 1970s and had to seek exile for 22 years upon release.
Racism in Africa
Racism is not just an issue that affects black people in America and Europe. It is also alive and well in Africa.
Renowned Kenyan publicist Anyiko Owoko recently opened up on how she allegedly experienced racism at a high-end hospitality facility in Nairobi. Owoko, a seldom critical entertainment practitioner, tore into Giraffe Manor, a luxury hotel. Anyiko said,
“For the longest time, your policy has been to have this type of pricing that only benefits non-Kenyans and tourists coming from outside Kenya. I wonder why all over sudden you are welcoming Kenyans into your establishment. Is it because you now need us for your business to survive?”
The brand has since come out to defend itself, blaming the agent on ‘miscommunication’. However, the conversation online shows that many other Kenyans have had similar experiences.
Giraffe manor is the tip of the iceberg. There are so many white owned conservancies, lodges in Kenya that only allow foreign visitors, and are usually "fully booked" 2 years in advance, even Airbnbs that cancel if they find out you're Kenyan…
Lakini Covid-19 ni nani? 😂
— BK 👣 (@1briankimani) June 7, 2020
Y'all who don't want people to speak about the racism/discrimination at The Giraffe Manor because we can't afford visiting there or we might never set foot there are the same people who don't relate to systematic oppression because it's not affecting them. SMH
— Edzil Saliba (@ednahjacksons) June 7, 2020
Giraffe Manor is a symbol of racism, imperialism, & internalised racism. The current owners Mikey & Tanya Carr-Hartley are 4th generation Kenyans. Their great-grandparents came to Kenya to colonize Kenyans & colonize our great-grandparents sufficiently. pic.twitter.com/k8fGT2XwOM
— Lollita. (@that_lollita) June 7, 2020
The charge on the ex-police officer responsible for Floyd’s death has been revised several times. Now, he is facing second-degree manslaughter. The mass protest by the US black community is against age-old police brutality against black people. RnB star, Beyonce, used her social media to deliver a powerful message.
“We cannot normalize this pain. I’m not only speaking to people of color. If you’re white, black, brown and anything in between, I’m sure you feel hopeless by the racism going on in America right now. No more senseless killings of human beings. No more seeing people of color as less than human. We can no longer look away. George is all of our family and humanity. He is our family because he is a fellow American.”
As a black actor, speaking up against social ills can have dire consequences on your career. However, some actors are damning the odds to speak against racism. In London, Star Wars actor John Boyega attended London’s Black Lives Matter rally on June 3rd. The star gave a speech over a megaphone, notably saying he did not care if his career ends.
“I don’t know if I’m going to have a career after this, but f**k that.”
The Hollywood film industry has been called out several times for racism. Since the inception of the Academy Awards in 1929, only 19 have gone to black actors, compared to a total of 352. Several times, the show has been tagged all-white Oscars.
To his defence…
However, Oscar award-winning filmmaker Matthew Cherry says he will work with Boyega. He took to Twitter to urge others to do so. He got an overwhelming response, with the likes of Olivia Wilde, Jordan Peele, J.J Abrams, and Elizabeth Banks committing to working with Boyega too. In a subsequent interview, Cherry said,
I would work with John Boyega and I urge other Non-Black creators to affirm that they have his back as well. https://t.co/SqXgmIS5aR
— Matthew A. Cherry (@MatthewACherry) June 3, 2020
“As black creatives, you want to work, you want to continue to use your instrument to make the world a better place and put out great depictions of people that look like you. But a lot of times when you want to speak your mind, there’s always a question: ‘Am I going to get blackballed for this?’ John just said it plainly, for me, I wanted people to speak up and say they got his back.”
Other black creatives, including Keke Palmer and Gabrielle Union have spoken out, damning the consequence on their career. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) partnered with Hollywood stars for the “I Take Responsibility” PSA which addresses racism. The project has “the goal of encouraging white people to call out racism and commit to supporting Black Lives.”
In a clip shared by the organization, a lot of white actors spoke against ‘turning a blind eye’ on atrocities against black people. They include Justin Theroux, Kristen Bell, Julianne Moore, Stanley Tucci, Aaron Paul, Sarah Paulson, and Mark Duplass. The campaign is hosted at itakeresponsibility.org—and you can take part.
Taking down Neocolonialism
In many European cities, statues of colonial and slave traders still beautify the streets. Following the global outcry, cities are reviewing their monuments. In Belgium, the country removed the statue of King Leopold II unceremoniously. He is said to have caused the death of more than 10 million Congolese men, women, and children during his reign between the years 1885 and 1908.
In London, the statue of 17th-century slave trader was Robert Milligan was removed from the front of the Museum of London Docklands where it ‘stood uncomfortably…for a long time’. A statement from the museum read,
“The Museum of London recognizes that the monument is part of the ongoing problematic regime of white-washing history, which disregards the pain of those who are still wrestling with the remnants of the crimes Milligan committed against humanity.”
The statue of Robert Milligan has stood uncomfortably outside the Museum of London Docklands for a long time, one of only three museums in the UK to address the history of the transatlantic slave trade. (thread) pic.twitter.com/GNAbmU5aPv
— Museum of London (@MuseumofLondon) June 9, 2020
In Briston, the statue of another slave trader Edward Colston was torn down and ditched in a river by Black Lives Matter protesters. The leadership system has also been shaken as the United States appointed its first black chief of military service, Gen. Charles Q. Brown. Reddit Co-Founder Alex Ohanian resigned from the company’s all-white board. Consequently, Y Combinator CEO Michael Seibel replaced him. Fashion brands, Fortune 500 companies, celebrities, and influencers are donating millions of dollars to organizations, campaigns, and movements championing anti-racism.
George Floyd’s death, in its complexity, has given the black community more reasons to push for equality, respect, and prosperity. However, while Africans march in solidarity with their compatriots abroad, it is important to take a break and look inward. Most countries across the continent have failing systems that are long overdue for an overhaul. Also, it is time to revisit the communal culture that preach caring for your neighbor rather than the self-centered capitalism borrowed from western culture. If African governments strive to improve the economy and make life better, most youths won’t flee to western countries in the first place. Thus, if Africans rise in solidarity and protest against the ills going on in the continent—like they are currently doing for George Floyd—things will surely get better.