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framework Demichelis, researcher of Institute for Culture and Society. University of Navarra

Racism, poverty and violence

Tue, 23 Jun 2020 09:35:00 +0000 Published in News Journal

For two weeks, the death of George Floyd has been a major news story, over which rivers of ink have been spilled. Now that it has begun to fade from the news, we have begun to forget the terrible images of a police officer on the body of this American citizen.

There have been many statements and demonstrations, some violent, and suddenly people have realized that some Hollywood movies had racist overtones - whether based on real events or not - and that some statues of historical figures depicted figures related to slavery and have been torn down, dunked in water or smeared with paint.

It is difficult to establish clarity and serious debate in the midst of information bulimia. Once again, we are missing the opportunity to talk about the roots of this violence, this civil and cultural poverty that always lies at the foundation of racism.

First, there is racist violence based on the concept of racial, cultural, religious supremacism... Second, there is the violence of poverty, which occurs in a nation incapable of providing a decent work - not a subsidy - to its citizens, together with a free and adequate welfare state for all. Finally, there is the "violence of violence", which impacts a country where the free circulation of arms establishes a difficult relationship between citizens and police forces, who do not trust each other.

Supremacism takes place in the Anglo-Saxon world, as well as in the Latin, Semitic or Chinese world, in relation to other ethnic or religious groups. The internship to keep African slaves physically strong but psychologically weak in the American South was achieved by destroying the family unit, dispersing and reselling relatives and children, raping women... But it is not new: it has been going on since Antiquity.

Another more contemporary internship is lynching, an "innovation" related to the Quaker brothers Charles and William Lynch in the 18th century to make black subordinates more fearful and submissive to their masters. It has been employee in many colonies of European empires, but also in the USA against people of non-African origin, such as Italians.

The violence of the masters and settlers is the origin, in the following centuries, of economic and cultural poverty, high rates of alcoholism among Native Americans and Australian Aborigines, and a profound difficulty of integration of many minorities in the State as citizens of the international and local economic system. Although in the U.S. the black collective has been able to create a lobby (NAACP), prestigious universities and its own cultural intelligence, from W.E.B. Du Bois and Frederick Douglass to Thurgood Marshall and Cornel West, the data still indicate that the black population is in the majority in prisons and among the poorest classes.

Along with this, it is important to remember the American peculiarity of excessive freedom in the purchase and sale of automatic weapons. This is guaranteed by the second amendment to the constitution, written at the end of the 18th century, when guns were carry guide. In 2019, gun deaths (excluding suicides) amounted to 15,208; in 2018 it was 14,789 and in 2017, 15,679 (data from the Gun Violence Archive); a sad continuity in the numbers. A state that considers itself democratic cannot allow these massacres per year.

It is the country with the most powerful and best armed army in the world; with the issue highest number of police and security forces (800,000 in 2000-2006, according to the department American Justice); and the issue highest number of prisoners in jails in democratic countries, 698 people per 100,000 inhabitants (2018), a total of 2.2 million citizens in 2016. In 2010, per 100,000 population there were 2,306 black, 831 Latino, and 450 white prisoners.

The other side of discussion is the historical inability of the supremacist and colonialist world - and this trait is not exclusive to the West - to admit and reconsider the mistakes of the past. It is not a question of removing statues, but of changing the mentality of people who, hiding behind a presumed cultural, ethnic or religious superiority, feed an unequal and unjust system, linked to a historical narrative based on a colonial and post-colonial mentality.

If the media discussion on these issues is not enriched with the cultural and academic perspective, George Floyd's death will have been in vain.