The ‘George Floyd Generation’ and the Last Straw

As with environmental concerns, and then questions of gender equality, anti-racist protestors are blowing up the traditional boundaries of political activism.

It remains somewhat of a mystery. How has the death of George Floyd, under the knee of a police officer last month in Minnesota, caused such a national and almost worldwide reaction? Certainly, because of their severity, the images are truly unbearable, and have spread on social media like never before, with people in quarantine, glued to their screens. But the “George Floyd generation,” with its inequalities, seems to have woken up for other reasons, less clear but no less outrageous in their eyes. Economic difficulties and inequalities, triumphant, closed-minded speeches, the end of political illusions … Police brutality is really just the last straw. It is not the images that are brutal, but the reality that they reflect.

Yet, this type of protest largely remains unmanageable – literally. As with environmental concerns, with Greta Thunberg, and then questions of gender equality (#MeToo), the Black Lives Matter movement speaks a language that political leaders cannot master, in spite of the more or less sincere efforts of some. Gigantic protests and the toppling of statues at once betray the outrageousness of these claims and just how inadequate our responses thus far have been. “We cannot rewrite history,” say well-intentioned people, deliberately confusing history and memory, and giving the impression of not knowing that a society’s link to its past is a reflection of a given moment. This link is negotiated over time, like everything else. It is the fruit of the current balance of power.

Donald Trump has chosen Tulsa, Oklahoma for the kick-off of his “post-COVID-19” (or so he thinks) campaign. This city, the site of one of the worst massacres of Blacks in American history, remains a symbol of racial tensions. The struggle of the “George Floyd generation” is not that of a youth radicalized against a benevolent order. Here, too, it is a question of creating a show of force against those who do not want to see their generation rise up.

As various accounts in this newspaper have shown, this fight, novel in its form but resulting from a long history, runs in sectors of the population where political face-to-face is lacking. Just as Thunberg’s tenacity and that of her coreligionists has forced us to look with fresh eyes at our relationship to travel, just as #MeToo has dethroned Hollywood’s kings, the antiracist movement has shed a new light on Black athletes in American sports and the institutionalized racism that reigns in academe and learned environments. So many statues still need to be toppled.

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