I had hitherto lived in denial. My tutors wouldn’t persuade me on the deadly manifestations of racism; how it was raging in some parts of the world. The many literary works I read, the many discussions I had with my colleagues in class, the many articles that condemned racism to the core…none would have persuaded me. I simply couldn’t bring myself to believe racism existed in the 21st century.
I believed in humanity, in one human race, in togetherness so much that I did not want any tutor, writer or history to take this treasure away from me.
Then the George Floyd murder happened! I replayed the clip on my phone over and over again. The horror glared at me. The statement “ I can’t breathe” hit me hard! Before me, George Floyd, a black man, is pleading with one white officer Derek Chauvin who is kneeling on his neck for eight minutes. A few minutes later, George Floyd is dead! And America erupted!
The murder clip made me mourn. I could feel the agony, the desperation, the hopelessness. I could visualise life escaping from his body as he pleaded. All these in one voice, the voice of a black man. His blackness is flaunted as the emblem of criminality.
Apparently, Derek is 44 while Floyd was 46. In another culture, these men would honour each other as belonging to one age-set. The question that would constantly torment me is: What made one feel superior over the other? Was it the badge? Was it the police uniform? Or the colour? The colour, whiteness. And the literary classes come crushing!
One now remains as a “was” and the perpetrator “is”. I ask myself: What if it was a black policeman who had done this to a white? Would it have taken four days to arrest the perpetrator?
The camouflaged white supremacism springs to life in the actions of murderer Derek Chauvin. It carries with it a ticket to violate black people’s human rights. It denies black people their share of human dignity. As I mourn George Floyd, I recall Chinua Achebe’s words: “We cannot trample upon the humanity of others without devaluing our own.”
“I can’t breathe” depicts the choking that the blacks are going through in America and other racist spaces. This is an anthem sang by black people pleading for mercy. The anthem is directed at racist systems which show no signs of concern but continue to choke them with abandon.
The joy that reflects on his white face to have a black man under his mercy and hopeless even as the passersby call out for him to let go is evident. This is a replay of the lynching of black people.
Black people are always at fault, criminals. White people are always under threat thus must kill in self-defense. Black people always resist arrest even when they are pinned down on the ground, handcuffed.
For how long should black people endure racist oppression? What I see is the lack of respect for black lives. It’s usually in the wake of public outrage against such atrocities that authorities purport to pursue justice. Yet black people wallow in such racist attacks every day of their lives. These go unnoticed because they’re never filmed. Even cases with enough evidence get dismissed by racist courts. Black people in America have never known justice.
Africa, my homeland, mourn your son George Floyd. I want to grow old in your bosom, oh Africa, and feel your love. I want to narrate to my kids of your peaceful environment, loving people, and your beauty such that they will feel proud of you Africa. For you, Africa, will not let anyone degrade your black children. And your children will be confident in you, from generation to generation.
The “I can’t breathe” anthem shall be no more, for your breath of life shall be abundant. Africa, make your own feel safe in you that they will need no one else to reaffirm their worth.
Sylvia Karimi is a finalist student of Bachelor of Education (Arts) at South Eastern Kenya University, Kitui, Kenya.