Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.- Abraham Lincoln
The time in which we are living is a time of intolerance. A different kind of politics is in vogue which pits the majority against the minority, rich against the poor, natives against the immigrants and in worst of the cases castes against castes and religions against religions. The US is considered as the pioneer of modern democracy. One of the basic premises of modern democracy is mutual co-existence of people from various races and religions, government treating all of them as equal citizens. But of late US has failed to live up to its image as a democratic country that not only gives liberty to its citizens irrespective of the colour of their skin, but also equal opportunity before law and dignity in day-today life. The death of George Floyd, a black citizen due to brutality of a Minneapolis police officer, ignited protests in the US and elsewhere in the world under the banner of Black Lives Matter.
The Black Lives Matter movement returned to the US national headlines and gained fresh international attention during the global George Floyd protests in 2020 following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. An estimated 15 million to 26 million people participated (though not all are “members” of the organization) in the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests in the United States, making Black Lives Matter one of the largest movements in U.S. history. The movement has advocated defunding the police and investing directly into black communities and alternative emergency response models. The popularity of Black Lives Matter has rapidly shifted over time. Whereas public opinion on Black Lives Matter was net negative in 2018, it grew increasingly popular through 2019 and 2020.
This is not a new movement. It can be traced back to July 2013, when a movement began with the use of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on social media after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of African-American teen Trayvon Martin 17 months earlier, in February 2012. Later on the movement continued to protest each time black or coloured people were brutalized or met with injustice of the majority. The movement became nationally recognized for street demonstrations following the 2014 deaths of two African Americans: Michael Brown—resulting in protests and unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, a city near St. Louis—and Eric Garner in New York City. Since the Ferguson protests, participants in the movement have demonstrated against the deaths of numerous other African Americans by police actions or while in police custody. In the summer of 2015, Black Lives Matter activists became involved in the 2016 United States presidential election. The originators of the hashtag and call to action, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, expanded their project into a national network of over 30 local chapters between 2014 and 2016. The overall Black Lives Matter movement is a decentralized network of activists with no formal hierarchy.
This decentralized movement advocates for non-violent civil disobedience in protest against incidents of police brutality and all racially motivated violence against Black people. Black Lives Matter exists as a decentralized network with about 16 chapters in the United States and Canada. The broader movement and its related organizations typically advocate against police violence towards black people, as well as for various other policy changes considered to be related to black liberation.
Racialism in the US
Racism in the United States has existed since the colonial era, and it involved laws, practices and actions that discriminated against various groups or otherwise adversely impacted them based on their race or ethnicity, while most white Americans enjoyed legally or socially sanctioned privileges and rights which were denied to members of other races and minority groups.
European Americans—particularly affluent white Anglo-Saxon Protestants—enjoyed advantages in matters of education, immigration, voting rights, citizenship, land acquisition, and criminal procedure throughout American history. Groups which were especially impacted by racism included non-Protestant immigrants from Europe, including the Irish, Poles, and Italians, who were often subjected to xenophobic exclusion and other forms of ethnicity-based discrimination in American society until the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Historically, Hispanics have experienced continuous racism in the United States despite many having European ancestry. Middle Eastern groups such as Jews, Arabs, and Iranians have faced continuous discrimination in the United States, and as a result, some people who belong to these groups do not identify as, and are not perceived to be, white.
African Americans faced restrictions on their political, social, and economic freedoms throughout much of United States history. Native Americans have experienced genocide, forced removals, massacres, and discrimination. In addition, East, South, and Southeast Asians along with Pacific Islanders have been discriminated against.
Major racially and ethnically structured institutions
Major racially and ethnically structured institutions and manifestations of racism are observed in a variety of forms in the US. It includes genocide, slavery, segregation, Native American reservations, Native American boarding schools, immigration and naturalization laws, and internment camps. Formal racial discrimination was largely banned by the mid-20th century and over time, it came to be perceived as being socially and morally unacceptable. Racial politics remains a major phenomenon, and racism continues to be reflected in socioeconomic inequality. Research has found extensive evidence of racial discrimination in various sectors of modern U.S. society, including criminal justice, business, the economy, housing, health care, media, and politics in recent years in the United States. In the view of the United Nations and the U.S. Human Rights Network, “discrimination in the United States permeates all aspects of life and extends to all communities of color.”
A wind of change and recent backlash
Some Americans saw the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama, who served as president of the United States from 2009 to 2017 and was the nation’s first black president, as a sign that the nation had entered a new, post-racial era. The election of President Donald Trump in 2016, who was a chief proponent of the birther movement in the US (which argued that Obama was not born in the United States) and ran a racially tinged campaign, has been viewed by some commentators as a racist backlash against the election of Barack Obama. During the mid-2010s, American society has seen a resurgence of high levels of racism and discrimination. One new phenomenon has been the rise of the “alt-right” movement: a white nationalist coalition that seeks the expulsion of sexual and racial minorities from the United States. In August 2017, these groups attended a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, intended to unify various white nationalist factions. During the rally, a white supremacist demonstrator drove his car into a group of counter-protesters, killing one person and injuring 19.
Right wing nationalism and majoritarianism
We are living in the times of right wing nationalism when a majoritarian view of nationalism and patriotism has become order of the day. It seems that anger against positive discrimination guaranteed in the constitutions of modern democracies in favour of minorities and immigrants and even the poor has saturated and trying to ooze out. No doubt propaganda adopted in vote politics has played its role, but the primary reason seems to be flattened growth curves and loss of employment after the sub-prime crisis of the US and the Sovereign debt crisis of Europe, which have ripple effects across the globe that continues even till date. Another reason is that the liberal political parties have disappointed the people because their promises did not match their performance, especially the fact that during their governance inequality increased to an intolerable level. This disillusionment has also its share in disenchantment with classical democratic values.
Present of democracy is different from past
Democratic governments are formed by majority vote. And once government is constituted, majority backed government starts enjoying unbridled privileges and political power endangering liberty of all those who are in minority or who express dissent and disagreement with their policies, especially who speak against their excesses. This thesis has been expounded by Fareed Zakaria in his thought provoking book, The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad. Majoritarian governments violate the classical democratic values of individual liberty and freedom. He also says that the principles underlying democracy and individual liberty are different and may be contradictory. It depends on the benevolence of the majority that minority rights are recognized and safeguarded in democracy as democracy is the government of majority. At the extreme levels democratic governments can establish slavery, discrimination, and political repression. It is not unusual to see these phenomena in today’s democracy. Many observers feel that it is high time democratic governments of today need to introspect how to resolve this dilemma. The ways things are happening today in the world in the name of democracy are retrograde and regressive in the context of progress of human society. And the Biblical dream….. for the meek shall inherit the earth… is fast becoming an unrealizable goal, which democracy was intended to do.