George Floyd’s death has caused outrage. The frustrations and anger of a generation at police brutality has exploded into life. His death is a watershed moment in uniting people behind the Black Lives Matter movement.
The scale and speed with which the BLM protests have developed have been remarkable. Public opinion has reached a zenith in calling for an end to racial inequality and injustice caused by systematic racism.
It’s often difficult to sustain the momentum and intensity triggered by events such as George Floyd’s death. The flames that spark protest go out as quickly as they set alight.
What makes these protests unique is they’re occurring during a social lockdown. The frustration resulting from lockdown was threatening to bubble over and George Floyd’s death was a trigger releasing that frustration.
America has become a hothouse of discontentment, disillusionment and disgruntlement.
The furnace is red hot and doesn’t look like cooling down any time soon. There has never been a better opportunity to push the agenda for radical social reform and rid America of the plague of systemic racism. But, are protests alone enough to transform America?
Or, might it take a second civil war to end systematic racism? The American Civil War reveals why protest alone might not be enough.
The American Civil War
Before civil war broke out in 1861 slavery was the economic engine of the confederacy. Slavery lay at the heart of the economy and provided the energy allowing the southern states to produce 75% of the worlds cotton.
We may view slavery with revulsion, but slavery was a bedrock of the economy of the South. A normalised fabric of society, and as important as the idea of democracy is today. It was inconceivable to imagine doing things another way.
The American Civil War was, in essence, a conflict of belief systems. Civil war broke out because the North disagreed with the enslavement of black people in the South.
The North’s eventual victory over the South signalled an end to the slave trade. But the North’s victory didn’t just result in the abolition of slavery. It destroyed the system giving it legitimacy.
The abolition of slavery meant the social apparatus that came with it evaporated overnight, but the beliefs feeding slavery remained.
The 13th Amendment abolished slavery but it couldn’t and didn’t destroy the ideas dominating in the South. In the eyes of the law, black people were free, in the eyes of white southerners they were slaves. An energy source that could be used for economic recovery.
The Southern states were able to take advantage of a loophole in the 13th Amendment, which granted freedom to everyone, ‘except as a punishment for a crime’. After the civil war Southern states exploited this loophole by arresting black people en masse. Thereby, enslaving them once again to help rebuild the economy in the south.
13th, a brilliant documentary, reveals the sordid history of America post-civil war. A concerted campaign has been enforced through the law system to ensure racism remains embedded in society. Black Americans are victims of a racist system designed to make inequality an inevitable outcome.
Racial inequality by design is in plain sight. Black people make up 13% of the American population, but 40% of all prisoners are black. Black people may be free in name, but the judicial system is used as a weapon to subvert this freedom.
This isn’t some convenient coincidence. It’s the result of a structure whose intention is to oppress black people. And it works.
41 per cent of black households own their own home, compared with more than 73 per cent of white households. The poverty rate for black people is nearly 21%, for whites, it’s 8%. 15% of black people have a bachelor’s degree, nearly 24% of white people do.
It’s the underlying belief systems that continue to feed racial inequalities. So, will protest alone be enough to push through reforms to radically change this dynamic?
A Second American Civil War
BLM is a movement demanding changes that are opposed to the beliefs of the current system. If BLM got their way American society would transform. The plague of racial inequality would be wiped out. That’s why they’re unlikely to get their way through protest alone.
The dominant belief system doesn’t want black people to have equal opportunity. Reforming the system to grant equal opportunity would result in the white stranglehold on power diluting. And, no one wants that now, do they.
This begs the question, if the current system is creating the problem, how can the same system offer the solution? It would be like the slaver loosening the shackle, providing slight relief to the slave.
The only way to emancipate slaves in the South was to destroy the system giving slavery legitimacy. In the same way, protesting can only take the cause so far. The only way to destroy systematic racism in America is to destroy the system giving it legitimacy.
Do you think a system giving Americans the option to vote for Donald Trump or Joe Biden in the next presidential election is one set up for, or desiring, radical reform? These two men represent the status quo, hardly symbols of progression and change.
A second American Civil War may be the only way to truly get rid of systematic racism in America. That’s not to say it will get rid of racism per se. But it could destroy the barriers and structure ensuring racial inequality is endemic. A civil war could bring a revolution of ideas and an opportunity to redesign the system so each person has equal opportunity.
A ticking time bomb
Now, civil war is rare because it leads to social breakdown. It’s not like you can snap your fingers and a country goes to war with itself. To spark civil war, you need conditions that make the outcome a possibility. America has lots of conditions that make the prospect of a civil war conceivable.
A broken democracy, deep mistrust of government, a breakdown of the social foundation, and a deeply divided society are all indicators of social instability.
Then there’s the small issue of the president. Donald Trump has made no secret of his desire to rule for life. In his mind, a great way to remain president for life is by inciting hostilities. He wants chaos because chaos would create uncertainty and provide a perfect environment for him to fulfil that ambition.
You’d be unwise to underestimate Donald Trump. Whatever you say about him, the fact is, he is the president of the most powerful country in the world. Only 44 other men can make that claim. That he was able to win the election with the odds stacked against him, means you shouldn’t be surprised if he does the unexpected.
When Trump first announced he was standing for president, everyone thought it was a joke. And during his presidency, his hints at ‘wanting to be president for life’ have been passed off with a rolling of the eyes. But, he’s not joking. The danger with Trump is, he’s being deadly serious.
A deeply divided society
Following Trump is a diehard, hardcore group of supporters who vehemently oppose the BLM movement.
BLM has overwhelming global support. They also have huge internal support. What makes this moment unique is how far public sentiment has shifted in favour of BLM. BLM has become the movement of its generation in uniting a section of America behind a common set of ideals.
But, its also working to cement division and embolden Trump supporters who feel threatened and fearful by this rise in a progressive movement.
Each group represents a different set of belief systems. As time goes on these beliefs become more hardened, which only works to increase pressure within society.
There is a clear divide between what BLM represents and the Donald Trump supporter. As I recently wrote:
The ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement and groups like ‘Resist’ represent the people. The heart of America that’s ignored by the government. They represent a broken system that no longer works. They represent compassion and solidarity between people. They represent the spirit of democracy that’s been ripped from the heart of America. They represent a desire to take back what is rightfully theirs to control — to make government accountable to the people it governs. They represent the change America needs.
On the other side, is the Donald Trump supporter. The Trump supporter represents the person who believes everything is just fine and dandy. The person whose blinded by the reality in front of their eyes. The person who feeds of hate and division. Who doesn’t believe in the inequality of opportunity, and celebrates the individual over the needs of society.
The means justify the end
It’s this division that makes America a ticking time bomb.
And with Donald Trump continually threatening to use the Insurrection Act to deploy the army things could escalate quickly. Deploying the army could incite protestors further, leaving America resembling a police state.
In this furnace, all it will take is one bad decision, one moment and it could descend into chaos. The growing frustration and resentment at an unjust system rife with corruption could boil over into violence.
This moment of solidarity in fighting racial injustice is unprecedented, which will help the BLM movement build support that justifies its means. BLM must take advantage of this moment, where if things go the right way an end to systematic racism in America is possible.
When we look back at history, we may well view this as the start of the great American emancipation. But only if the majority of Americans who embrace tolerance, love and cooperation unite and scream from the rooftops, enough is enough. As more people stand against intolerance, the pressure will build. Eventually, it will become overwhelming, and crush a system of racial inequality. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, so Americans of all races, stand together, and don’t let darkness prevail.