As history begs to repeat itself, the lack of knowledge about where we came from is an additional layer of horror in 2020. Yesterday saw an effort between large groups of the population to come together in solidarity to speak out against the systemic injustices that African Americans have been suffering from for centuries. They did so by posting black squares with the hashtag of #BlackoutTuesday to unify their voices in support for George Floyd, an African-American murdered a week ago by white police officer Derek Chauvin. Mr. Chauvin previously was involved in multiple violent confrontations, one where he shot a suspect, another where he was involved in another fatal shooting, and has received 17 complaints throughout his career. The two had possibly known each other from working at the El Nuevo Rodeo nightclub. Mr. Floyd worked security inside while Mr. Chauvin worked outside when he was off duty.
The reason for this article is because of the response to #BlackoutTuesday by many people who either are racists, or in some cases, lack any knowledge or context for what happened before them. Others parrot racist rhetoric out of a sheer lack of knowledge and intelligence and this unwavering imbecilic support for those who do not consider “other” people equal is dangerous. Not only is the current administration in the United States emboldening racists with over three years of explosive and inciting hateful language, but those without the intellectual wherewithal to understand the power of their words are also emboldening racists.
My goal is to empower those who get their news from one or two sources, and for those who only read headlines into doing more. I hope that by reading this article, these people will be empowered with a little more knowledge of history, be more aware of the power of language, and the backdrop of 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic which have combined to form this outburst of violence in the United States. After reading this article, I hope they will be seeking news past their usual sources, (established news sites, sites on the fringe of extremist groups, or sites such as Reddit) will not give in to conspiracies, and will read past the headlines.
Chicago’s Red Summer of 1919 & Today
On July 27, 1919, a 17-year-old black teenager named Eugene Williams was murdered for crossing the forced area where black people were not allowed to swim. He was stoned to death during the day in public, resulting in his drowning. When the police refused to arrest the white man who caused the stoning and Williams’ death, riots erupted in the South Side of Chicago resulting in 23 black and 15 white lives lost. Over 500 people were injured, and over 1000 black families lost their homes as they witnessed their homes being torched by rioters.
With white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan increasing their violence and lynching of African Americans after the end of the First World War, tensions were accelerating towards a conflict on a mass scale.
Today’s rising powder keg of tensions rest on inequality being widened by the COVID-19 virus and how it had disproportionately impacted communities of colour. While affluent citizens have the option of working from home, those in poorer neighbourhoods (which are more often than not ones of colour such as black and Hispanic communities in the United States), have been either fired, laid off/furloughed, or forced to go to work as essential workers and had to risk their health while doing so.
History is repeating itself, for lynching of African Americans in the past takes many forms today as in police brutality — endorsed violence towards blacks and people of colour with no fear of consequence. Even the systematic killings and a refusal to pursue justice in the oppression of the numerous Native communities in Canada mirrors the oppression seen in our neighbours down south. Yesterday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said that Canadians are different from Americans and that systemic racism is not as bad an issue here. The report by the Native Women’s Association of Canada on the murders and multiple cases of missing Native women proves that we here in Canada are not immune to racism nor special in any way that should be admired by others. Hold on to this thought for we will revisit this in the closing of this article.
Language and Disturbing Patterns in Behaviour
Language matters and is powerful. Where people choose to get informed fuels their use of language. This can be damaging. When replying that “All lives matter,” or “Haven’t black lives always mattered?”, some are unknowingly spreading the language and doctrine used by extremists to silence those fighting for equal rights and justice.
Many people hope that in times of emergency, people would come together and get past their prejudices. Unfortunately, there has been an increase of hate speech from the White House and multiple media outlets, thus emboldening white supremacists. Using contrasting terms such as “thugs” for those protesting for justice and equality and the continuous killings of black lives, while calling other groups “heroes” who were mainly white citizens protesting not being able to open their businesses and get hair cuts matters. It creates an environment where racists can feel free to act in impunity by taking the life of a black man, as they did in Minneapolis with George Floyd on May 25th, and as they did in taking Ahmaud Arbery’s life in Georgia on February 23rd.
Furthermore, as the White House blames left-wing extremists for inciting violence, US intelligence found no evidence supporting this claim. They found that many white supremacist groups online were trying to increase tensions between protestors and law enforcement, but there was no evidence that they were doing so on the streets. Thankfully US Defence Secretary Mark Esper did not give in to the inflammatory language used by the White House to use military force on protestors and those opportunists and criminals using the blanket of the protests to incite violence against businesses and law enforcement agencies.
The choice of language from frequently sourced people and sites can result in damaging mental outlooks that have far-reaching implications. While both the United States and Iran were busy trying to avoid going to war over the assassination of General Soleimani, many Americans flooded comment sections on news sites. They wrote about destroying Iran and bombing them into oblivion. This sort of language was used by country’s leadership during the previous three years regarding any conflict. There was no concern about the grotesque loss of lives. There was only a desire to dehumanise an entire country of millions of people in order to comfort their fragile perceived state of dominance.
Patterns of how people who support those who use hate speech on their platforms of office and various forms of media sadly are mirrored in the same people denying the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. These groups also sought out conspiracies that were fuelled by the White House and gave the pandemic a racist spin by calling it the “China Virus.”
This language has seen an increase, as has nationalism, over the last couple of years as a result. Nationalism is different than patriotism. Nationalism is the extreme notion of superiority of one’s nation over those of others. This can be found in repeated and seemingly benign language as “the best country in the world”, or as the Ontario Premier stated above, Canadians are somehow innately better than our neighbours down south. No one group of millions of people in one nation is better than another.
The response to the COVID-19 pandemic by an ever-increasing nationalistic America, and that of a European Union constructed to combat destructive nationalism has been uncanny. How Europe tackled the COVID-19 crisis with unity under German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron has shown that there is hope for globalism after all. Unlike nationalist rhetoric and actions seen in the United States and China, the European Central Bank put forth 440 billion Euros in funding to nations in desperate need. Instead of focusing on covering up the pandemic’s data, or downplaying its severity, European states are moving forward in rebuilding their economies and eradicating the virus from the continent.
One only needs to look at how Brazil failed to respond to the COVID-19 threat by making light of the issue to see disturbing patterns in behaviour, language, and the loss of human life. Thus the results seen over the weekend of May 30-31 show the horror that ensued. On Saturday, 33,274 new cases were recorded in Brazil along with 956 deaths, bringing the grand total to 28,834 deaths. There is also the topic of how the minority group of Natives are being disproportionately targeted by the virus, and having aid refused under the guise of logistical challenges.
All of this is happening while Libya continues its civil war, the war in Yemen rages on, those in refugee camps continue to suffer, another Ebola outbreak is taking place in Congo, Israel’s experiment with opening schools is resulting in a second wave of COVID-19 infections, China is continuing to silence those reporting on the COVID-19 response by arresting and collecting journalists while tightening its grasp over Hong Kong, and Iran and Israel are increasing their cyber-warfare against each other. Lastly, millions of Canadians are facing a mental health crisis stuck at home with lost incomes and having to face losing their homes, as some have had to sell their homes only to face hefty fines and penalties from their banks due to getting out of their mortgage contract early.
Conclusion: the fragility that comes with being the dominant force
As thousands in other countries including Canada support the protests in America by staging their own peaceful protests, the disturbing use of language such as Canada First and connecting unrelated discussions about the Black Lives Matter movement to “protecting our country no matter the cost” has been deeply troubling. This is the same language used by extremist groups in the United States who have been targeting African Americans for generations. It has also been seen in India in the past few years. On December 11th of last year, The Citizen Amendment Act gave the Indian government the power to refuse and to take away citizenships of those who were not Hindu. Those who were targeted had loose connections with family members from Pakistan and were Muslims. Such an act would have been seen as unthinkable in the proudly secular state of India a few years ago. This should sound the alarm for various countries seeing the increase of extremist nationalistic values. These nationalistic values are usually tied to identifying with a particular race or religion.
It is not enough to be the dominant force in one’s country or region. As the world expands, globalism takes place, and minorities start to outnumber the traditional majority in certain countries. The status quo and the privileges the majority enjoys are under threat. We in Canada are only a few elections away from potentially having an elected government, as they have in India, that can revoke the citizenship of anyone they choose if we continue down this path. The language used by extremists, who by dehumanising other groups, would have no issue removing them from their country, is now commonplace. Just like the looters, rioters, and criminals using the blanket of the protests to harm and kill others, this use of language by those in power is using the cover of the cognitively indolent and to spread harmful views of the world.
I have had to delete many comments on my Instagram account that dehumanised people of certain political parties, dehumanised those in regions covered in my book reviews, and dehumanised women who suffered unimaginable horrors. Recently I had to turn off comments for some of my posts as some people knowingly and unknowingly used racist rhetoric in regards to the Black Lives Matter and the 24-hour #BlackOutTuesday movements. I hope that by reading this article that they will not leap into disagreement in order to reinforce their world view, but try to grow as a person. I hope that they would expand their sources for news and history and work on their writing and use of language. I hope that this article reaches some and changes their inherent nature rooted in bigotry. I fear that as we are heading towards repeating Chicago’s Red Summer 101 years ago, that we will be revisiting the horrors of 2020 in only a few years’ time.
Written on June 3rd 2020
Officer charged in George Floyd’s death used fatal force before and had history of complaints, Washington Post, Derek Hawkins, May 29th 2020
Indigenous women’s organization gives Ottawa failing grade on its MMIWG response, CBC, Olivia Stefanovich, June 3rd 2020
TD Bank charges $30,000 mortgage penalty to woman forced to sell home due to pandemic, CBC, Erica Johnson, June 1st 2020
First person: Exile in the age of Modi, The Atlantic, Aatish Taseer, May 2020
A stormy future under Xi’s watch, Financial Times, Tom Mitchell, Nicole Liu, Xinning Liu, June 1st 2020
Israel and Iran raise stakes in secret cyber war, Financial Times, Mehul Srivastava and Najmeh Bozorghmehr, June 1st 2020
China rounds up Wuhan citizen journalists and activists who document COVID19 fallout, Financial Times, Don Weinland and Christian Shepherd, June 1st 2020
Grief under Lockdown, Financial Times, Emma Jacobs, June 1st 2020
America’s inequalities burst into the open in worst uprisings for 50 years, Financial Times, Joshua Chaffin and James Fontanella-Khan, June 2nd 2020
Outsiders accused of inciting violent protests, Financial Times, Claire Bushey, June 2nd 2020
Businesses join outrage over police killings of black people, Financial Times, Andrew Edgecliff-Johnson, June 2nd 2020
A rust-belt in revival in reverse, Financial Times, Patti Waldmeir, June 2nd 2020
EU foreign policy is in a muddle over Libya, Financial Times, June 2nd 2020
Content responsibility amounts to prohibition for social media, Financial Times, June 2nd 2020
Second wave of infections forces Israeli school closures, Financial Times, Mehul Srivastava
New York City widens curfew to combat violence, Financial Times, Joshua Chaffin, Mamta Badkar, and Laura Noonan
Bolsonaro blamed for unnerving Brazil investors, Financial Times, Andres Schipani and Jonathan Whealtey, June 3rd 2020
Libyan rivals restart ceasefire talks, Financial Times, Heba Saleh, June 3rd 2020
Congo hit by new outbreak, Financial Times, June 3rd 2020
George Floyd and the story of Two Americas, Financial Times, June 3rd 2020
EU rises to meet the COVID19 crisis, Financial Times, Martin Wolf, June 3rd 2020
Thousands defy pandemic ban to join Stockholm protest over U.S. police violence, Reuters, Niklas Pollard, June 3rd 2020
Two more people infected with Ebola in new Congo outbreak, WHO says, Reuters, Emma Farge and Hereward Holland, June 3rd 2020
Libya’s government retakes Tripoli airport ahead of possible truce talks, Reuters, Tuvan Gumrukcu, Maria Kiselyova, Aiden Lewis and Angus McDowall, June 3rd 2020
U.S. defense chief opposes deploying troops to quell protests, despite Trump threats, Reuters, Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali and Steve Holland, June 3rd 2020
Red Summer of 1919: How Black WWI Vets Fought Back Against Racist Mobs, https://www.history.com/news/red-summer-1919-riots-chicago-dc-great-migration, Abigail Higgins