The subsequent explosion is what we are witnessing in slow motion in the United States at the moment.
There have been dozens of sparks over the years, each one threatening a massive uprising, but eventually sputtering into nothingness.
The slow, agonising death of George Floyd under the brutal boots of a police officer seems to have become the spark that won’t be put out.
There are several reasons for this.
The most obvious is the fact that his death comes at a time of debilitating anxiety, where the Coronavirus is highlighting the great divide between the haves and the have-nots.
Add to that a callous leadership in the form of Donald Trump, who is out of touch with reality and with the feelings of interconnectedness permeating modern society; who is more concerned with being re-elected; with displaying his penchant for violent dictatorship; who is clearly unable to be a mediating statesman, and you have a spark that is in fact fuelled by his narcissistic and careless responses.
While less violent than Floyd’s death, another incident in the USA recently shed better light on the troublesome state the most powerful nation finds itself in at the moment.
A black man named Christian Cooper took a video of his altercation with a white woman, whom he confronted for not having her dog on a leash in New York’s Central Park, as is legally required.
The altercation gets out of hand and she can be heard calling the police and telling them in a dramatic, panicked voice that “an African-American man is threatening my life!”
Oh, when Karens take a walk with their dogs off leash in the famous Bramble in NY’s Central Park, where it is clearly posted on signs that dogs MUST be leashed at all times, and someone like my brother (an avid birder) politely asks her to put her dog on the leash. pic.twitter.com/3YnzuATsDm— Melody Cooper (@melodyMcooper) May 25, 2020
Trevor Noah had a very insightful take on this incident, commenting that it displays how black people’s relationship with the police can easily be weaponised.
His most thought-provoking comment was: “It doesn’t matter whether we believe that Trump is racist or not. It only matters that racists believe he is racist.”
Because that belief is what emboldens some and allows the hibernating ones to come creeping out of the woodwork, free to practice their prejudice openly, without fear of ramifications.
As can be expected, there have been numerous commentators adding their voices to the outrage that has followed Floyd’s senseless death.
Most of them are of high social, academic or political standing.
And most of them have said some deeply intelligent things about both the status quo and the future of race relations in the United States and the world.
The problem is, most of them are people of colour!
And if we follow the argument that racism is deeply systemic and part of some people’s core belief systems, then it naturally follows that they won’t believe a word that comes out of the mouth of a black person, no matter how super intelligent it may be.
If a black person’s life is worth less than that of a white person, then how much less worth are his words?
What is desperately needed and painfully missing from the narrative, are the deliberate, and considered voices of intellectual, respected and influential white people.
White people who can inform the thinking of their peers; white people with powers of persuasion; white people who care.
Their voices need to be heard in greater numbers in an ongoing and sustained way, so as to drown out their racist compatriots.
It doesn’t even matter if what they say isn’t quite the correct sensitive language, as long as they are prepared to stand up and show that they are willing to speak and most importantly, willing to learn.
I know that there are many white people who are sickened by racism; many who are intelligent enough to accept the science that race is an idiotic construct and many who are simply indifferent and waiting for leadership.
The time of silent support is long gone.
This issue needs the brave white voices of the modern-day Breyten Breytenbachs, Ruth Firsts, Bram Fischers, Nadine Gordimers, Neil Aggetts, Ingrid Jonkers, George Bizos’, Antjie Krogs and Joe Slovos.
While I am sure that they can be criticised for many things, what they possessed was an understanding of the value of their voices in a society that gives it more credibility.
In a world run by white people, when it comes to Black Lives Matter, supportive white voices will prove indispensable.