Reflection on the Death of George Floyd

Trump is a fool and a clown and not worthy of our time except for the way he has poisoned our national spirit.  He is killing in the abstract with his policies, and that is horrifying and inexcusable.  But I am now drawn to a more immediate, more real killing that took place on the streets of my old hometown, the town of my birth – Minneapolis.

If you have not watched the video showing George Floyd die in real time before your eyes, you should.  It is not easy; it is not pleasant.  It is different from watching shootings, which have a surreal immediacy that seems distant from our lives.  Those are about killing.  This is about dying.

This is watching the life ebb out of a man who is begging for his life and calling for his mother – a grown man in his 40’s.  And an indifferent police officer – the embodiment of all our nightmares about uncaring authority, and the absolute embodiment of every Black person’s fears – kneeling on the man’s his neck with almost disinterest, as if waiting for him to die so he could get back to the business of going out to get a burger or getting home to watch his favorite tv show.  If there is anything at all in his gaze, it is a distant satisfaction.

I know these streets of Minneapolis.  I know this place.  I know this corner.  What I cannot know, and what I cannot even imagine, is what it is to be a Black person or any minority in America right now, facing the reality that America only cares in the abstract, and sorts out anger into “good” protests and “bad” protests, just like it sorts out minorities into “good” Black men or “good” feminists or “good” Indians and the “bad” ones who are not expressing their anger in “acceptable” ways.

I’m sorry, and this is where we return to the poisonous origin.  This comes down on Donald Trump.  He did not cause this, he unleashed this.  His bullying, demeaning, mocking, and morally defective behavior have legitimized behavior of division and hate, and allowed this poisonous strain to rise to the surface in the American character.

Perhaps it is good that this is coming to a head.  Perhaps something can change, though I don’t know what the change is that we should seek, at least not in practical terms.  All I know is that when these things take place it means that something deeply sick is being unleashed in the country.  It is the oozing of cultural pus, and the stench is unendurable.

If you want to light candles and think beautiful thoughts, that’s fine.  If you want to hold hands and sing “We shall overcome,” that’s fine. We need people to do those things.  We need calmer heads and dreamers of great dreams. But I’m not going there, any more than I am going to go down to the corner Target to break a window and steal a television set.

What I am going to do is bear witness, with such tools as I have, to a grown man having his life snuffed out while pleading for mercy and crying out for his mother, and a police officer snuffing out that life with an expression on his face more appropriate to someone waiting for a sandwich at a drive-through than someone taking the life of some mother’s child.

And here is the truth, and you can cut it anyway you want.  Even as this is on all of us, and even as this is just the dark eruption of something that has always been in the American character, this murder is on Donald Trump.

We have heard his rhetoric.  We have heard his dog whistles.  We have seen his tendency to turn everything – even a killing disease – into self-aggrandizing political fodder.  We have seen his lack of empathy and gleeful cruelty and pathological narcissism.

But here’s the deal, Donald.  You can say what you want.  You can blow all the dog whistles you want.  You can mouth all the empty platitudes any speechwriter can write for you.  But you can’t change the simple truth that anyone of good heart anywhere in America knows.  There are not good people on either side of that officer’s knee.

 

 

Posted on: May 28, 2020knerburn

37 thoughts on “Reflection on the Death of George Floyd

  1. I have a really hard time watching it, but trying to understand what the officer was doing with his left hand while killing Mr. Floyd. Is it just in my mind?..Thank you SO much Mr. Nerburn for your caring.

  2. Very well stated, but how do we deal with this and still remember
    “Where there is injury,let me sow pardon “

  3. Yes, Kent, it brings tears to my eyes seeing my birthplace burning. I can’t understand how these people can say it’s because of Floyd’s death, it isn’t. One woman said “white woman” don’t understand corporate harm done to them. It’s done to us all, not black, Asian, Indian, every race! This outrage is taking it out on many poor Americans of all races who depended on those burnt shells left behind for food, clothing, housing, etc. This hate is what trump wants, so why succumb to him? You rioters are doing trumps bidding, you are making him gloat and smile. You are being his tools!
    shame on you!!

  4. I do not have a good answer. Jesus said to turn the other cheek, yet knocked over the tables of the money changers in the temple. You have raised the ultimate question for a person living in cruel times.

  5. It’s so painful to watch the video as George Floyd’s life fades away. He’s cry’s for help and to get off his neck is chilling. Thank you for your writing and exposing the hate filled rhetoric that has led this once great nation to less than 3rd world country.

  6. I totally agree, Trump and his ilk must go, and political changes, real and serious ones are required, NOW. Unfortunately, the “opposition” party is no different morally. The 1% owns BOTH parties, and unless and until that changes, violence will continue. IMO, in order for real change to happen, the 1% must be eradicated.

  7. Kent, America’s poisonous original stain erupted again with the nonchalant murder of George Floyd, just as it erupted thousands upon thousands of times in the past 500 years. The poisonous stain is white privilege mixed with equal parts of racist hate and greed. They form the fallow field that grew a vile sickness that began with brutal European invasion, and continued with Indigenous slavery, African slavery, Indigenous genocide, lynchings and generations of divisive racism. White privilege is thoroughly embedded in America’s underlying sick character. The chief enabler in the White House is a deviant personality, perfectly willing and able to rip the cover off America’s infected character and release the vile stench.

  8. Thank you, Mr. Nerburn. We too know Mnpls and Mn. Our children and grandchildren and other family and friends live there. This is horrible and we must, indeed bear witness, and take action.

  9. Yes, Kent you are so right. Trump says cruel, sadistic words & he has people who take it for real excuses to mistreat people not in their white supremacist groups.
    The cop was finally arrested today. And 3 more to go. After 3 nights of ravaging all those properties & buildings.
    Looked like outside agitators poured in to make it worse.
    We now live under siege of hatred and facist propaganda.
    We need to all vote in November to be rid of this scum.

  10. Kent, please forgive me for editing my previous post and posting the edited version here. The edit is essential to what I meant. If you can, please delete my original post and let this stand. I dare do this because you feel like a friend after all these years, after scarfing down all your books and recommending them to others. Thank you. Post, as intended:

    Donald Trump deserves credit for showing us our underbelly. He deserves censure for fanning the flames of our darkest proclivities, for stirring its slimiest components into an addictive potion.

    We are responsible for how we respond to the temptation to join him in infatuation with our own image, which we envision as righteously grand; for drinking his Kool Aid. Operative words: We are responsible.

  11. Thank you for your profound response to another senseless act. My heart aches: my heart aches for a world smitten by a pandemic; my heart aches because I could not be with my mother in her last days and could not give her a “proper” memorial service because of the virus; my heart aches for the family of George Floyd and for George Floyd who respectfully asked “Sir, I can’t breathe, please”, and today I greave for our broken and divided country. Our country is suffering because of Donald Trump. I pray for leaders who will speak truth to power while there is still time to save our democracy. Thank you Kent for your voice of reason.

  12. Yes, Shawn O’Rourke Gilbert…The monster that was under that blanket, that many of us felt had received some healing and had found some dignity over the last 40 years…has surely raised itself in the man who calls himself Donald Trump!
    Minneapolis is my home also…I have gone to school and worked on some of those places that are now dark and smokey with grief that has no place to go…let that black smoke speak!!!
    When I see this, I am reminded once again to look and see…who or what is to MY left and right.
    And that….Breaks My Heart.
    My prayers and good thoughts for all who have been so involved…for so long…never ending.

  13. Amen. “…about dying.” I fear the dying is not over. There are many who actually want a race war. I used to think it would never happen, that there are too many good people to let that happen. Now, I’m not so sure.

  14. Arrest all 4. The 4 cops are convicted of murder and each one gets 3 life terms so they can’t murder anyone ever again. That’s where we start.

  15. Dear Kent,

    I have lived in Minneapolis for about five years. It is deeply painful to watch that video. You have articulated what I have been experiencing after I watched the video and read about this tragedy: Bearing Witness. I felt my mind go blank and body go still and tears started to flow. We are collectively responsible for this tragedy (and the ones before it) and we will be collectively responsible for what happens next.

    We do not have a sound history of taking collective responsibility. One thought that occurred to me was: What would Gandhi or MLK say about the tragedy and the ensuing reaction to it? I was reading US cultural historian Morris Berman’s blog’s comments section where one participant asked the same question. I am copying it here for your readership:
    LW said:
    MB, serious question f:

    The black/minority community/communities have as you say been rung through the wringer, so they’re destroying everything in sight, because what else do they have left to do? What do you think Gandhi would say? Or MLK, of these actions? It’s completely understandable to protest, but this level feels like self-immolation. In fact, the whole country feels like it is on the brink of self-immolation. I know you’ve cited King’s more confidential thoughts that he was leading his flock into the flaming church, is this the coming into being of such a confession?

    I’m so sad for these people. I’m in Atlanta right now, friends are filming the protestors breaking the glass of the CNN building, setting cop cars alight. Tear is gas launching.

    This is going to get worse everywhere, I feel it. It is at a distance for now, but soon it will be at the door.

    Stay safe guys”

    Berman’s response:
    LW-

    “It’s an understandable reaction, but as I’ve said, it’s the politics of immediate emotion–spur of the moment rage. I can’t imagine it leading to a positive outcome, and as we’ve seen, the energy dissipates pretty quickly. What are the choices, really? Few Americans, of whatever color, understand the idea of careful political planning and organization. One might argue that the Black Panthers did, but the gov’t simply blew them outta the water. Look what they did to Fred Hampton, for example. Trumpi has already said that looting wd lead to shooting. But here’s the bottom line. 1st, what do minorities want? An equal share of the American pie (wh/MLK was beginning to question) and the rt to not get gunned down like dogs by white cops. (Wasn’t one black victim sitting in his car rdg a bk on yoga?!) They aren’t going to get either; white society won’t allow it.

    2nd, MLK ultimately saw that the entire pie was rotten…that there was something fundamentally wrong w/the way American society was set up. He was abs. correct. The problem is that you can’t articulate this, if yr a popular leader, and expect to live. (Schmernie was no threat; he was an FDR ‘socialist’.) Speaking of conspiracy theories: What are the chances that MLK was rubbed out by the gov’t? I have no proof, but it wd hardly surprise me. (I can say all this because politically spkg, I’m irrelevant, and have no political ambitions. Not on the radar screen, in short.)
    .
    A deeper problem: most black people want the American Dream, not something radically different. This is why Schmernie cd make no headway w/that population. Favorite story, told to me yrs ago by Peter Berg, environmental activist in San Fran. He was walking along and came to a Black Panther rally. The speaker was saying that “we have to kill the pigs, and nothing short of a revolution can liberate our people.” He kept walking, came to an all-black church, went in and sat in the back row (Peter was white). The preacher was intoning the line, “What do you think of Jesus?” And in response, like a choir, the entire congregation chanted back, “He’s all right.”

    Of course, the MSM made a big deal outta the Panthers, when they in no way represented majority black opinion. Same thing w/focusing on anti-Vietnam protests: 98% of white youth wanted college degrees and a job. They were conservative, like their parents, and cdn’t give 2 shits abt 3 million slaughtered Vietnamese peasants.

    “No Viet Cong ever called me nigger”–Muhammad Ali”

    Himanshu

  16. Were the rioters in in every union uprising in U.S. history to be categorized as anarchists? Were the 1965 Watts riots created by outsiders? Were the MLK riots in 1968, including N. Mpls., created by outsiders? Were the 1993 Rodney King riots caused by outsiders? Was the 1934 Mpls. trucker’s strike caused by outsiders? Were the Kent State protests caused by outsiders? I could go on but MSP needs to recognize its history of apartheid that continues today as much as ever with 190 segregated schools & a housing policy that leads to a concentration of poverty. This was an accident waiting to happen no matter how many progressives have been elected to local offices.

  17. I am deeply grieved by what has happened. i appreciate kent’s writing here. i cannot imagine what is going through black peoples minds. i only can touch my own self, i’m white, i fully believe trump has deeply scarred us and it leads to behaviors like what just happened. i need to keep daily examining my own complicities in our original sin which comes out daily.that is my hope and actions that will continue till i die.

  18. Were the rioters in in every union uprising in U.S. history to be categorized as anarchists? Were the 1965 Watts riots created by outsiders? Were the MLK riots in 1968, including N. Mpls., created by outsiders? Were the 1993 Rodney King riots caused by outsiders? Was the 1934 Mpls trucker’s strike caused by outsiders? Were the Kent State protests caused by outsiders? I could go on but MSP needs to recognize its history of apartheid that continues today as much as ever with 190 Mpls segregated schools & a housing policy that leads to a concentration of poverty. If this is about white supremacists setting fires then we have plenty of those living in MSP without having to blame it on out of staters. If it is about left wing anarchists then we have those too. This was an accident waiting to happen no matter how many progressives have been elected to local offices.

  19. Your writing unfolds all that I have been thinking, feeling and experiencing since this horrific murder happened. The unfeeling, almost robotic officer so removed from his actions it’s appalling. Witnessing Mr. Floyd’s life passing as we watch gives me a visceral response that is unshakable for me. And yes, Mr. Trump is wholly responsible from my point of view as well. As you so clearly describe; he has opened the pandora’s box to this unconscionable behavior, so as much as he was not the one directly kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck, he was entirely complicit. As were the other officers involved. How this president continues to have followers blows my mind, and gives me pause as to how our immediate future will unfold. God help us…

  20. Thank you for your words. Well stated. Donald Trump definitely tossed a full can of gasoline and struck the matches on to our nation’s long smoldering racial and civil issue. Why has our nation not learned from its own history? I live in Minneapolis and this past week felt like 1968, the year America had a nervous breakdown. I thought in over 50 years we would do better.

  21. Kent, you’ll recognize my name from a lifetime ago.

    I was once a Liberal, having been indoctrinated and radicalized by run-of-the-mill Socialist-Communist-Marxist subversion tactics typical of universities across the nation. The programming was encouraged by like-minded administrators and delivered by professors via specific texts with SCM agendas to make vulnerable youths leaving their parents for the first time feel a sense of empowerment and freedom, feeding the illusion that Marx was a noble character, a bearded beacon in the sea of unjust, corporate greed and defender of the systematically oppressed working class victim.

    Easy meat, the impressionable, hungry intellectual’s mind is hijacked and it’s programming fast tracked with misleading concepts like solidarity and trademark slogans like “workers of the world unite,” twisted and morphed into “smash capitalism” and other illogical, hypocritical SCM battle cries of kids who grew up in suburbs like Richfield, MN to parents who both worked because it became unacceptable to have fewer material goods than the neighbors, and Feminism hooked women into believing being a Mom is demeaning and much less than putting on a power suit.

    Fast forward to the illogical, mindless looting and destruction of businesses and livelihoods of working families at the absurdly violent, radicalized ANTIFA and Black Lives Matter youths who were sworn to protect the working man of the Communist Manifesto and other texts and methods fed to them by media. I work for a large agency, so I know it all too well. I’m here living just off Lake and Lyndale; I talked to the blind radicals in the heat of their hysterical mayhem and saw the destruction first hand. George Floyd’s soul was lost in the smoldering rubble of Black small business owners, among many others. Thank God no one batted an eye when White Justine was shot dead in her pajama by the Somali cop a couple of years ago, or Minneapolis would’ve been clobbered by the same misguided criminals. And unlike George, she wasn’t a porn actor or counterfeiter, but that’s neither her nor there.

    It’s easy to get lost in the wash of irony and hypocrisy. CSM isn’t the only lie university students are indoctrinated with. The agenda is too vast to cover in a WordPress text field. One has to simply read Charlotte T. Iserbyt‘s “Deliberate Dumbing Down of America” to see the tip of the Liberal iceberg. I’m guessing you’ve not heard of her, but you can find her book here at her site: http://deliberatedumbingdown.com/ddd/

    Perhaps you once considered my point of view and dismissed it, tossing it in the heap with gun-loving patriots and returning your focus to the more appealing Leftist Ideal. If you only knew what twisted agenda lies beneath the borderless lies.

    Your old comrade,

    Joe

  22. Kent, you’ll recognize my name from a lifetime ago.

    I was once a Liberal, having been indoctrinated and radicalized by run-of-the-mill Socialist-Communist-Marxist subversion tactics typical of universities across the nation. The programming was encouraged by like-minded administrators and delivered by professors via specific texts with SCM agendas to make vulnerable youths leaving their parents for the first time feel a sense of empowerment and freedom, feeding the illusion that Marx was a noble character, a bearded beacon in the sea of unjust, corporate greed and defender of the systematically oppressed working class victim.

    Easy meat, the impressionable, hungry intellectual’s mind is hijacked and it’s programming fast tracked with misleading concepts like solidarity and trademark slogans like “workers of the world unite,” twisted and morphed into “smash capitalism” and other illogical, hypocritical SCM battle cries of kids who grew up in suburbs like Richfield, MN to parents who both worked because it became unacceptable to have fewer material goods than the neighbors, and Feminism hooked women into believing being a Mom is demeaning and much less than putting on a power suit.

    Fast forward to the illogical, mindless looting and destruction of businesses and livelihoods of working families at the absurdly violent, radicalized ANTIFA and Black Lives Matter youths who were sworn to protect the working man of the Communist Manifesto and other texts and methods fed to them by media. I work for a large agency, so I know it all too well. I’m here living just off Lake and Lyndale; I talked to the blind radicals in the heat of their hysterical mayhem and saw the destruction first hand. George Floyd’s soul was lost in the smoldering rubble of Black small business owners, among many others. Thank God no one batted an eye when White Justine was shot dead in her pajama by the Somali cop a couple of years ago, or Minneapolis would’ve been clobbered by the same misguided criminals. And unlike George, she wasn’t a porn actor or counterfeiter, but that’s neither her nor there.

    It’s easy to get lost in the wash of irony and hypocrisy. CSM isn’t the only lie university students are indoctrinated with. The agenda is too vast to cover in a WordPress text field. One has to simply read Charlotte T. Iserbyt‘s “Deliberate Dumbing Down of America” to see the tip of the Liberal iceberg. I’m guessing you’ve not heard of her, but you can find her book here at her site: http://deliberatedumbingdown.com/ddd/

    Perhaps you once considered my point of view and dismissed it, returning to the more appealing Leftist Ideal. If you only knew what twisted agenda lies beneath the borderless lies.

    Your old comrade,

    Joe

  23. The Liberal Marxist Socialist Crybullies now want the police dismantled, so law-abiding, productive, life-affirming people will be in further danger of this minority of loud, violent, triggered and twisted lunatics in search of some warped sense of “justice” where everything’s free. They want an absurd blend of lawlessness and government handouts where it suits them. This is the Liberal mindset, idiots of a psyop they’re clueless to detect, aka “social justice warriors.” Aka Crybullies. Unfortunately, these are the mental institution escapees who run for public office to create the kind “change” that puts down culture and society. Unplanned Parenthood is essential; Church service is not. And now Police are inessential? This won’t come to pass in any Conservative-run government that defends our Constitution, where there’s not one mention of “Democracy,” an evil word that’s been obfuscated to mean something other than it is. Liberal Democrats invented the KKK, do the goddamn research, and don’t try to tell me the two parties switched ideologies, etc. because that’s bullshit. I knew I’d find a bunch of dumbed down, NPR Socialists here, lurking in the stagnant backwaters of logic and common sense. I plan to boycott all things associated with Liberals, and I’ll never spend another dime on a Hollywood anything, all pedophiles that Trump will continue to smash and dismantle. The border stops all the child and sex trafficking that these Black Eye Club child murderers try to tear down. The “progressive” elite have an Adrenochrome addiction, look it up!

  24. Dear Kent,

    I’m not sure if you caught this discussion between Daryl Davis and Joe Rogan from January.
    Davis is the author of “Klan-destine Relationships: A Black Man’s Odyssey in the Ku Klux Klan”.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGTQ0Wj6yIg
    3 hour discussion – riveting

    US cultural historian Morris Berman posted the following in reference to the Davis video interview above:

    https://www.therecordherald.com/opinion/20200607/kareem-abdul-jabbar-dont-understand-protests-what-youre-seeing-is-people-pushed-to-edge

    I’m wondering how different is the treatment of black people in the US from the treatment of Palestinians in Israel. Humiliation, fear, random killings…Talk abt failure of empathy (in both cases). I doubt that race relations in the US will change, in the wake of all these protests and hand-wringing. As noted earlier, this is just the rinse/repeat cycle. And if there is one population that is empathy-challenged, it is white Americans. But I think for Wafers and perhaps a few others, it is worth our while to get into the skin (so to speak) of black people, and really understand what they hafta deal w/on a daily basis. I sure as hell wdn’t wanna be black in America. The protesters cry, “Enuf is enuf!”, and then the next day, a white cop kills another unarmed black person for picking his nose. Apparently, it’s never enuf, and it simply isn’t going to change.

    If elected pres, what can Schmiden possibly do? Appoint another blue-ribbon commission? I remember when LBJ did that in the 60s. Julius Lester wrote: “If he wants to understand the cause of black anger, instead of a commission let him walk over to Lafayette Park and talk for a few minutes to some black bum [sic] sleeping on a park bench.” – MB

    Himanshu

  25. Dear Kent,

    Best analysis of the US situation I’ve read in a long time ( C Van Woodward in 1953, Andrew Hacker in 1974, and Morris Berman since 2000 have said this in a lot more detail ):
    https://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/06/10/united-states-obituary
    Excerpts:
    “The United States of America was problematic from the start. It was founded on genocide and slavery, and, while frequently congratulating itself on the rights and freedoms it granted its citizens, never managed to confront the demons in its past. The question would arise repeatedly, generation after generation: rights and freedoms for whom? …

    It is reasonable to ask whether the United States will continue to exist as a unified nation for much longer. The federal government has become so incompetent as to be increasingly irrelevant to the solution of many pressing problems—and a new face in the White House may not change the situation decisively. Out of necessity, states are exploring strategies of regionalism, as governors in the Pacific Northwest, the Midwest, and the Northeast collaborate to respond to the pandemic. Governor Gavin Newsom has even taken to calling California a “nation state.” States do not have monetary sovereignty, and therefore cannot run up huge deficits in order to cushion the impact of economic depression. State banks, which could create and lend money for such purposes, have been proposed as the next-best thing. However, devolution of power to the states may do little to address the urban-rural economic, racial, and political disparities that are ripping the nation’s social fabric.

    Greed, consumerism, racism, and imperial ambition sealed our nation’s fate. If, as people, we wish to move forward, we must revert to the best of our early unifying values: hard work, thrift, generosity, fairness, honesty, ingenuity, and mutual respect. We’ll need to embody these values increasingly in local institutions, businesses, and other social arrangements of every conceivable kind if we are to minimize the human cost of national failure. It’s not too soon to start.”

    Himanshu

  26. Kent, Have you read the article in the New York Times Magazine based on a series of interviews with Jon Stewart? I think it was published about a week ago and it is filled with wisdom. As my 97 year old uncle said to me a few days ago, “We are the problem.” The wound was there. Trump just infected it. By the way, I deeply appreciate your description of him. It is right on.

  27. Dear Kent,

    A very timely essay, by Slavoj Zizek, that critiques politically correct white people’s (mostly upper middle-class) words and actions with regard to race relations:

    Slavoj Zizek: Politically correct white people who practise self-contempt are contributing NOTHING in the fight to end racism

    https://www.rt.com/op-ed/493408-white-racism-fight-guilty/

    Smashing up monuments and disowning the past isn’t the way to address racism and show respect to black people. Feeling guilty patronizes the victims and achieves little.

    It was widely reported in the media how on June 21, German authorities were shocked by a rampage of an “unprecedented scale” in the centre of Stuttgart: between 400 and 500 partygoers ran riot overnight, smashing shop windows, plundering stores and attacking police.

    The police – who needed four and a half hours to quell the violence – ruled out any political motives for the “civil war-like scenes,” describing the perpetrators as people from the “party scene or events scene.” There were, of course, no bars or clubs for them to visit, because of social distancing – hence they were out on the streets.

    Such civil disobedience has not been limited to Germany. On June 25, thousands packed out England’s beaches, ignoring social distancing. In Bournemouth, on the south coast, it was reported: “The area was overrun with cars and sunbathers, leading to gridlock. Rubbish crews also suffered abuse and intimidation as they tried to remove mountains of waste from the seafront, and there were a number of incidents involving excessive alcohol and fighting.” One can blame these violent outbreaks on the immobility imposed by social distancing and quarantine, and it is reasonable to expect that we’ll see similar incidents across the world. You could argue that the recent wave of anti-racist protests follows a similar logic, too: people are relieved to deal with something they believe in to take their focus away from coronavirus.

    We are, of course, dealing with very different types of violence here. On the beach, people simply wanted to enjoy their usual summer vacation, and reacted angrily against those who wanted to prevent it.

    In Stuttgart, the enjoyment was generated by looting and destruction – by violence itself. But what we saw there was a violent carnival at its worst, an explosion of blind rage (although, as expected, some leftists tried to interpret it as a protest against consumerism and police control). The (largely non-violent) anti-racist protests simply ignored the orders of the authorities in pursuit of a noble cause.

    Of course, these types of violence predominate in developed Western societies – we’re ignoring here the more extreme violence which is already happening and will for sure explode in countries like Yemen, Afghanistan and Somalia. “This summer will usher in some of the worst catastrophes the world has ever seen if the pandemic is allowed to spread rapidly across countries already convulsed by growing violence, deepening poverty and the spectre of famine,” reported the Guardian earlier this week.

    There is a key feature shared by the three types of violence in spite of their differences: none of them expresses a consistent socio-political program. The anti-racist protests might appear to, but they fail in so much as they are dominated by the politically correct passion to erase traces of racism and sexism – a passion which gets all too close to its opposite, neo-conservative thought-control.

    The law approved on June 16 by Romanian lawmakers prohibits all educational institutions from “propagating theories and opinion on gender identity according to which gender is a separate concept from biological sex.” Even Vlad Alexandrescu, a centre-right senator and university professor, noted that with this law, “Romania is aligning itself with positions promoted by Hungary and Poland and becoming a regime introducing thought policing.”

    Directly prohibiting gender theory is, of course, part of the program of the populist new right, but now it has been given a new push by the pandemic. A typical new right populist reaction to the pandemic is that its outbreak is ultimately the result of our global society, where multicultural mixtures predominate. So the way to fight it is to make our societies more nationalist, rooted in a particular culture with firm, traditional values.
    Let’s leave aside the obvious counter-argument that fundamentalist countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar are being ravaged, and focus on the procedure of “thought policing,” whose ultimate expression was the infamous Index Librorum Prohibitorum (List of Prohibited Books), a collection of publications deemed heretical or contrary to morality by the Sacred Congregation of the Index, so that Catholics were forbidden from reading them without permission.

    This list was operative (and regularly updated) from early modernity until 1966, and everybody who counted in European culture was included at some point. As my friend Mladen Dolar noted some years ago, if you imagine European culture without all the books and authors who were at some point on the list, what remains is pure wasteland…

    The reason I mention this is that I think the recent urge to cleanse our culture of all traces of racism and sexism courts the danger of falling into the same trap as the Catholic Church’s index. What remains if we discard all authors in whom we find some traces of racism and anti-feminism? Quite literally all the great philosophers and writers disappear.

    Let’s take Descartes, who at one point was on the Catholic index, but is also regarded today by many as the philosophical originator of Western hegemony, which is eminently racist and sexist.

    We should not forget that the grounding experience of Descartes’ position of universal doubt is precisely a ‘multicultural’ experience of how one’s own tradition is no better than what appears to us as the ‘eccentric’ traditions of others. As he wrote in his ‘Discourse on Method’, he recognized in the course of his travels that traditions and customs that “are very contrary to ours are yet not necessarily barbarians or savages, but may be possessed of reason in as great or even a greater degree than ourselves.”

    This is why, for a Cartesian philosopher, ethnic roots and national identity are simply not a category of truth. This is also why Descartes was immediately popular among women: as one of his early readers put it, cogito – the subject of pure thinking – has no sex.
    Today’s claims that sexual identities are socially constructed and not biologically determined are only possible against the background of Cartesian tradition; there is no modern feminism and anti-racism without Descartes’ thought.

    So, in spite of his occasional lapses into racism and sexism, Descartes deserves to be celebrated, and we should apply the same criterion to all great names from our philosophical past: from Plato and Epicurus to Kant and Hegel, Marx and Kierkegaard… Modern feminism and anti-racism emerged out of this long emancipatory tradition, and it would be sheer madness to leave this noble tradition to obscene populists and conservatives.
    And the same goes for many disputed political figures. Yes, Thomas Jefferson had slaves and opposed the Haiti revolution – but he laid the politico-ideological foundations for later black liberation. And yes, in invading the Americas, Western Europe did cause maybe the greatest genocide in world history. But European thought laid the politico-ideological foundation for us today to see the full scope of this horror.

    And it’s not just about Europe: yes, while the young Gandhi fought in South Africa for equal rights for Indians, he ignored the predicament of the blacks. But he nonetheless successfully led the biggest anti-colonial movement.

    So while we should be ruthlessly critical about our past (and especially the past which continues in our present), we should not succumb to self-contempt – respect for others based on self-contempt is always, and by definition, false.

    The paradox is that in our societies, the white people who participate in anti-racist protests are mostly the upper-middle class white people who hypocritically enjoy their guilt. Perhaps these protesters should learn the lesson of Frantz Fanon, who certainly cannot be accused of not being radical enough:

    “Every time a man has contributed to the victory of the dignity of the spirit, every time a man has said no to an attempt to subjugate his fellows, I have felt solidarity with his act. In no way does my basic vocation have to be drawn from the past of peoples of color. /…/ My black skin is not a repository for specific values. /…/ I as a man of color do not have the right to hope that in the white man there will be a crystallization of guilt toward the past of my race. I as a man of color do not have the right to seek ways of stamping down the pride of my former master. I have neither the right nor the duty to demand reparations for my subjugated ancestors. There is no black mission; there is no white burden. /…/ Am I going to ask today’s white men to answer for the slave traders of the seventeenth century? Am I going to try by every means available to cause guilt to burgeon in their souls? /…/ I am not a slave to slavery that dehumanized my ancestors.”

    The opposite of guilt (of the white men) is not tolerance for their continued politically correct racism, most famously demonstrated in the notorious Amy Cooper video that was filmed in New York’s Central Park.In a conversation with academic Russell Sbriglia, he pointed out to me that “the strangest, most jarring part of the video is that she specifically says – both to the black man himself before she calls 911 and to the police dispatcher once she’s on the phone with them – that ‘an African American man’ is threatening her life. It’s almost as if, having mastered the proper, politically correct jargon (‘African American,’ not ‘black’), what she’s doing couldn’t possibly be racist.”

    Instead of perversely enjoying our guilt (and thereby patronizing the true victims), we need active solidarity: guilt and victimhood immobilize us. Only all of us together, treating ourselves and each other as responsible adults, can beat racism and sexism.

  28. Long, thick, and well worth the read. I hope some of you will take the time. There is some valuable thought in here that runs contrary to prevailing opinion, but provides an enlightening perspective.

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