Opinion Piece By Stembile Mpofu
The killing of George Floyd a continuation of a deeply entrenched white supremacist legacy By Stembile MpofuAfter spending two months in Australia during his around-the-world voyage of the HMS Beagle (1831-1836), Charles Darwin wrote the following:
“Wherever the European has trod, death seems to pursue the aboriginal. We may look to the wide extent of the America’s, Polynesia, the Cape of Good Hope and Australia, and we find the same result.”
What Darwin was witnessing was the laying of the foundation of the global system that we exist in today. Africa and the so-called developing countries of world have been laboring under this system from the time Europeans achieved global domination.
When we hear this reference to “the system” it may be a difficult concept to grasp. George Floyd’s murder has created an opportunity for us to take a quick look inside the machine so we can see how it works. It has opened a window shutter that is usually tightly closed. The shutter shall soon be secured again and it is imperative that we do not forget what we have seen once we go back to our “normal” lives.
I am going to take this opportunity to describe to you what it is you are seeing. This is important because once you see it, you will no longer be able to “unsee” it. We will look at the system’s founding tenets so that we can appreciate what it looks like today, how it works and why it works in the way that it does. We must then figure out how we will dismantle it.
The killing of black people in America is not an accident. It is nothing new. Indigenous black, brown and yellow people on all continents of the world have faced this genocide from the time the European expansionist/colonisation project began and it has NEVER stopped. Below is an overview of some of the genocide carried out by Europeans in the last 600 years in their quest for power and global dominance.
■ Did you know that when the British arrived in Australia in 1788 the estimated population of Australian Aborigines was about 1 million? By 1911, after 123 years, 90 percent of the population had been wiped out. In taking the land of the Aborigines and laying claim to various territories, different methods were used to “exterminate” the indigenous population. Firearms were used to kill and intimidate them. Multiple massacres were recorded where whole tribes and clans were eliminated after being hunted for sport like animals. Another strategy used was mass poisonings where toxic substances were put in foodstuffs and distributed to the clans or food laced with poison was left out in the open where it would be accessed and consumed. As a result mass poisonings of Aborigines took place across the continent. Some died from diseases acquired through contact with the white settlers.
■ Did you know that for 10000 years the indigenous population of Tasmania lived in isolation from the rest of the world? In 1803 British settlers came to Tasmania and 73 years later the last Tasmanian died. In 1828 a proclamation signed by British Governor Arthur allowed force to be used to remove Tasmanians from Van Diemen’s Land, the area where the white people wanted to settle. Patrol teams were sent out to enforce the order. Any Tasmanian found on this area of land was chased and killed. Soon a price was placed for native heads, five pounds for an adult, two pounds for a child caught alive. “Catching Blacks” as it was called became a business venture for private and official patrol teams. The patrols left a small group of Tasmanians alive. A missionary called George Augustus was appointed to collect all remaining natives and take them to Flinders Island that was 50 km away from Tasmania. Only 200 arrived alive. In 1876 the last Tasmanian, a woman named Truganini died. Her skeleton was displayed in the British Royal museum until 1947.
■ Did you know when European settlers arrived in the America’s in 1492 it is estimated that over 10 million Native Americans lived there. By 1900 the population had dwindled to a mere 300 000. This decrease was the result of a systematic “extermination” of the native population by European settlers. In the late 1800’s blankets from small pox patients were distributed to Native Americans to spread the disease. In the late 1800’s the settlers took up buffalo hunting, or more appropriately buffalo slaughter. The logic was to “kill every buffalo you can! Every buffalo dead is an Indian gone.” By killing Buffalo stocks, the Indians would starve because their food supply would diminish and they could then be moved into the land allocated to them. An estimated 30 million buffalo were slaughtered leaving only a few hundred in the wild. Bounties were put on the heads of Indians, later you could be paid for delivering their scalps.
■ Did you know that between 1492 and 1550 slavery, overwork and famine killed the Taino Indians of the Caribbean? Under Spanish conquest of the Americas an estimated 8 million indigenous people died as a result of the brutality meted on them. Hispaniola, a Spanish colony had its population reduced from an estimated 400 000 to 200 in a few decades. When Christopher Columbus first landed on the island he wrote that the Taino “traded with us and gave us everything they had, with good will….they took great delight in pleasing us..” On his second voyage he demanded that the Taino pay tribute. Every person over 14 years had to deliver a hawk’s bell full of gold or 25 pounds of spun cotton. If they failed they had their hands cut off and would be left to bleed to death.
■ Did you know that from 1885- 1908 the Congo was considered the private property of King Leopold II of Belgium? It is estimated that in the period the Congo was under his ownership over 10 million Congolese died. Their deaths were caused by the fact that they were forced to labour on the king’s rubber plantations under highly abusive conditions. The Congolese had to meet a daily quota of rubber sap. Failure to meet the quota meant that they would have their hands or feet cut off. The same fate met those who failed to deliver their ivory quotas. “Limb huts” were constructed all over the country to publicly display the severed body parts of Congolese people. These were constructed to terrorize the black people. King Leopold II amassed a huge fortune that has benefited the people of Belgium.
■ Did you know that in 1904 and 1905 the Herero and Nama people of Namibia rose up against their German colonisers resisting colonial rule? The uprising was crushed. Some of the Herero and Nama who survived the shootings were put into concentration camps where they died of starvation, thirst and overwork. Other survivors were driven into the Omaheke desert where they died of thirst. By 1908, 75 000 Namibians had died. This number made up 80% of the Herero population and 50% of the Nama people. This genocide took place 40 years before the Holocaust.
■ Did you know that the Bengal famine of 1943 that resulted in the death of an estimated three million Indians was not caused by drought? It was caused by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s policies. At the time India was a British colony and Churchill ordered food produced in India to be exported to Britain to top up stockpiles. Imports of food into India were not allowed. When informed that millions were dying, Churchill’s response was that the famine was the fault of the Indians because they were “breeding like rabbits”.
As we can see Charles Darwin’s words could not have described the European legacy more accurately. To understand it we must start at its beginning. The current global system has been informed by race classification. The writings of European philosophers like Voltaire, Kant and Locke put in place the foundational concept of white supremacy during the European period of Enlightenment (16th – 17th Century). Basing their theory on the classic concept of the “Great Chain of Being” they classified races according to God’s “hierarchy”. The tiered classification had Black Africans at the lowest level of development, slightly above primates and white Europeans at the pinnacle, with the highest level of cerebral development. Other races fell somewhere in between. This thinking is what was used to justify enslavement and killing of black and brown people. This thinking forms the foundation on which the global social, political and economic system has been built.
Quite telling is the fact that it was during the period of Enlightenment that the concept of human rights and equality emerged. These principles were however, not seen as being applicable to black people. By the 20th Century this thinking had not change. This is confirmed by the fact that when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948, many African countries were still under brutal colonial rule and black people in America did not have equal rights. Human rights were for humans; black and brown people did not qualify because they were sub human. Rules and regulations were put in place by the various global organizations to institutionalise this concept of white supremacy.
No African country has a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. The UN’s own court, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) was set up so that on joining the UN a country can make a reservation to bar specific legal action being brought against it. As a result no former British colony can bring a case against Britain in the International Court of Justice. So the ICJ will not entertain any case against Britain based on any of the atrocities we have listed above. The WHO reaction to the Madagascan corona virus remedy is indicative of this institutional bias. The same bias will be found in the global financial system, it will be reflected in how the media reports on issues affecting black people or issues about black people. The system is designed to exclude blacks and ensure that as a group and as nations they do not rise above a certain social, political and economic level.
The philosophical concept established during the Age of Enlightenment remains and its pervasiveness influences the worldview of both Blacks and whites. With Blacks invested in their inferiority and whites equally invested in their superiority.
The bottom line is that black people can protest for the next one hundred years but that will not change the system. The difference is that now oppression, subjugation and killing is done through more sophisticated methods that are different from the bludgeoning that was carried out to “civilise” the primitive race. The killing of black people will continue. Black people will continue to be poisoned, as has been done through black hair products that affect the reproductive systems of black women. Black people will continue to be infected with diseases specifically designed to kill black people as the South African Dr. Wouter Basson (Dr. Death) has shown us. Black people will continue to be discriminated against financially by being forced to pay higher interest rates than white people because they are considered to be “high risk “ clients.
If black people are going to change their lot, we must do the following:
1. Recognise what we have control over and what we do not. We have no control over how the system has classified us and treats us. But we have control over how we engage with it and respond to it. It is therefore crucial that we invest in understanding the system. We must know what it looks like and how it works so we can recognise how we are complicit in perpetuating white supremacy.
2. Build the courage to break the rules that have been set up by the system. The system has now been set up so that there is no longer any need to carry out direct oppression. Through the education system, entertainment sector and the media black people are taught the rules that perpetuate white supremacy and convince us of our inferiority. Once learnt, it is us black people who become the enforcers of those rules. We strive to fit in and be accepted into the jobs and positions that keep the white supremacist ideology intact. Have you noticed that the immigration personnel at UK’s Heathrow airport is mostly made up of Indian people?
3. Once the rules have been broken we must have the courage to innovate and come up with ways of running our lives and our countries in ways that benefit us as black people. It is not impossible, China has done it and within a period of 40 years has found themselves as the second largest economy in the world. In America other minority groups have created wealth and influence. To achieve this there is a need to think strategically and be able to plan for a life beyond this generation.
4. To regain our place in the world the most important thing we need is pride and confidence in ourselves and everything that we are as black or brown people. The events that I have written about tell stories of death destruction and subjugation. What I did not highlight is how valiantly all these black and brown people from across the continents fought and resisted. They did so because they knew who they were and knew their worth.
We cannot let them down; we must continue the war against white supremacy. We have, over time lost our pride and confidence and been co-opted into a system that was put in place to keep as fifth class citizens. The time has come for us to break out of this system. We must honour the life of George Floyd and those of our ancestors, millions of who were brutalized in the creation of this system.