George Floyd, Racial Terror and ‘Alliances’

Dr Harshad Keval 

To breathe

George Floyd was brutally murdered by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota on the 25th May, 2020. An assassination that was captured on video, and circulated around the world in a matter of seconds. For 9 minutes, the police officer Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck and back, whilst George Floyd cried out for air, pleading to breathe, to live, for mercy. He was arrested for allegedly having a counterfeit 20 dollar bill. Several other police officers stood and watched him die. As I write, cities around the world are exploding with the rage, anger, hurt and pain that comes from the accumulation of centuries of racial trauma.

The structural, capitalism fuelled racialised architecture of white supremacy as manifested in generations of political malevolence, are all focused through one incident as it hurls its way through billions of digital screens, and through the lives and bodies of people who simply will not, cannot, stand by. 

This one, brutal, violent death comes to symbolise, in graphic form, millions of deaths at the hands of those with power. In this and many cases, it is police power.

And yet, the power relations that have always had one knee on the neck of racialised, oppressed populations, are not limited to police and judicial systems throughout the globe.

These power relations occupy the unseen spaces in between the clear manifestations of social structure. They occupy the everyday to-ings and fro-ings of urban life, of institutional processes, of labour force operations, of employment structures, of hopes, dreams and aspirations of black and ethnic minority children and their parents as they dare to behold better, safer futures in a racial world of constant obstacles and burdens.

And of torment and terror.

The knee that deprived George Floyd of his last breath did so, despite his dying plea for mercy. That knee has been ever present, sitting, positioned ready to deliver its death blow. This is the racial-trigger that is carried by all power relations in white supremacist fuelled political systems.  

That knee is not a move in reaction. That knee is not a self-defense mechanism. That knee does not appear out of disembodied application of policing power, of law and order. That knee is always positioned just a hair’s breadth away from the necks and backs of racialised populations – of black people.

The burning buildings, rage, anger, violence that we now see – these are the hands that push away at the knee.
These are the legs that kick out at the knee.
These are the collective bodies and spirits that hold the knee back.
These are the voices that have been crying out for decades, centuries, ‘please don’t’.  

If that deathly, deadly knee is the thing that goes bump in the long night of racial terror, then this is the bump back.  

What choice is there? For anyone who has felt the fist or the boot or both, of a racist, it’s not possible to debate the action, or engage in rational talk, when the murderous violence is upon you. When that knee applies pressure, the time for debate is long past. When the full force of policing power is felt, there is little one can do, for your life is never in the balance, it is always outweighed by other lives that are valued more highly.

Similarly, for institutional racism, it’s not possible to even identify one’s attacker, let alone rely on legal equality systems to provide justice. That knee is ever present. For the victims of police racism, it takes their lives, and attempts to shatter their families and communities. For people of colour trying to work, live, breathe and simply be, that knee is only ever a hair’s breadth away.

The people under the threat of that knee owe no duty to ‘reflect’ on what comes afterwards, because if, IF, that knee can be pushed away, held at bay for a moment, then life happens. Breathing happens. If enough people help keep that knee at bay, then racist systems can be held at bay.

It may be just for a moment.

But just as with our breath, it only happens one breath at a time. So, we can, collectively, keep that knee at a distance, one moment at a time. Long enough maybe for the knee, its owners, and the body that propels it, to stop.


But who is ‘we’? I can see a massive proliferation of support and ‘alliance’ messages, being advertised and promoted on social media and websites – institutions, groups and bodies that, in the face of one video of one racial murder feel compelled to raise their institutional voices. And what powerful voices they are. The performativity is filled with the warm and cozy afterglow of a well performed lecture, receiving continuous applause and legitimation.

But it also smacks of the very platitudes that have resulted in absolute and total silence at every other death in custody, violent racial injustice, and every act of arrogant, belligerent, overt and covert racial oppression that black and minority ethnic people have had to suffer for generations.

Where were these messages of ‘alliance’ and support then? And now, even more importantly, what does this alliance and support mean? When white academic institutions for example, push out the ‘support’ message, what does that actually mean?

In practice?

Because in practice, people are dying from white racial supremacy fuelled violence. So, what is a group, institution, body, who feels the need to send out these well-intentioned messages, intending on doing, in practice?

Is there a willingness to turn their inquisitive, passive gaze way from angry protestors, away from theoretical abstractions they might suddenly get interested in that fill ‘top’ race´ journals, and start looking for their own complicity? Start peering into their own relations of power with people of colour? Start looking honestly at their hiring and promotion practices? Take a step back and look at their their subtle, almost-missed-it-if-you-blinked aggressions in everyday work places?

And will they listen to their own silence? What does alliance and support mean?

It means being silent at the right time, and being vocal in the right place. It means figuring how what your role in this connected, murderous situation is, and was. And then finding a way to help – help – not take a lead, assume authority, and take charge, but help make it better. And by owning the likelihood – not impossibility but likelihood – that you may never know what the feeling of violent and everyday racism feels like.

By owning this, you leave a space for change. You become a potential ally. But by acting as if your ‘support’ can fix it, you take the change possibilities away.

But that means realising that before a message of support and alliance is pushed out, ensuring it doesn’t sit right on top of that deathly, deadly knee.

That knee comes with a whole body, and that body is white supremacy. That is a weight that is too much to bear and will no longer be borne without consequences.

#BlackLivesMatter #NoJusticeNoPeace #GeorgeFloyd

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