For a month, we have seen the Black Lives Matter slogan, which originated in 2013, popping up everywhere. This slogan is right. Black lives do count. (For that matter, all human lives count.) And alas, Black lives get less attention than white lives. We cannot deny that. Why does malaria attract so little interest even though it kills 500,000 people a year, and one child dies of it every two minutes? Simply because the victims are doubly wronged by being poor and by not being white.
The slogan also has gotten credit for denouncing the downward spiral of criminal behavior by certain police officers in the United States. On May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, George Floyd, an African American father with a family, was stopped. He was held down for more than eight minutes with a policeman’s knee on his neck. He cried that he could not breathe (“I can’t breathe.”) He ultimately died. Two months earlier, in March, a Black ambulance driver, Breonna Taylor, was shot eight times by the police who had broken into her home in the middle of the night by mistake. They had come to arrest her neighbor, a neighbor who they would later discover had not lived in the building for many weeks and was already in prison at the time for another reason. In August 2014, in Missouri, Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African American was cut down by the police even though he was not armed, presented no threat, and had raised his hands. The dropping of legal charges against the shooter had already provoked a huge wave of anger. In the United States, the problem is therefore very real, even if it only involves a minority of police officers.
For now, the media is only interested in Black lives when Blacks are killed by whites.
Yet, paradoxically, it is not certain that the current wave of indignation, perfectly legitimate in itself, reflects the true picture of Black people’s lives when it comes to the gap that exists between the media-driven emotional reaction and reality. For example, in South Africa in September 2019, violent xenophobic riots broke out in Johannesburg and Pretoria. Some Black South Africans armed themselves with rocks and crowbars and attacked migrant encampments where refugees from Zimbabwe lived. They also pilfered shops owned by Nigerians and people from the Congo. Many of the deaths were deplorable; some people were burned alive with tires and gasoline. Note that this kind of xenophobic violence recurs in South Africa. Moreover, the South African police force (essentially composed of Black people since the end of apartheid) is extremely brutal. South Africans die under circumstances like Floyd did all the time. Yet, curiously, we hear very little about this, and we never see any indignation in the West. No protests. No kneeling on the ground. Even stranger still, in South Sudan (a country that became independent in 2011) there is a raging civil war between two rival ethnicities, the Nuers and the Dinkas. This conflict, which could become a genocide at any moment, has already killed 10s of thousands and displaced 1 million people. All of this has occurred and there has been general indifference. It’s the same with Northern Kivu. This province in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues to sink into the hellish nightmare of a war that has been going on since 1998 and has already killed many millions of people – all this without triggering the least emotion in our societies. In one month, the media have given more attention to the death of Floyd and its direct and indirect consequences than it has to the 22-year-old war in Kivu and its millions of dead. The media have also been perfectly silent about the famine that will threaten Africa in the months to come (due to a cricket invasion and the economic and logistic mess created by the confinement crisis) and that might cause millions of deaths, hundreds of thousands of whom will be children. For now, the media are only interested in the lives of Black people when they are killed by whites (which is, in fact, statistically very rare). And this contributes even more to making the lives of Black people invisible.
Incidentally, this observation is not limited to Africa. In the United States, 93% of Black homicide victims are killed by other Black people. If it is normal to condemn Floyd’s disgusting and tragic death, it is curious to see many normal people go after the American police as a whole and say nothing about gangs, even though the gangs kill many more Black people (and more systematically) than the police ever do. If we really think Black Lives Matter, then we should be interested in ALL Black lives and not select a small minority of them because of ulterior ideological motives.
Behind this desire to be interested in the lives of Black people only when they are killed by white individuals is a background of racism, not just anti-white racism, but also, and more than anything, anti-Black racism: The lives of Black people will get attention only when they validate the idea of systematic racism in Western society.
Such racism is, in fact, the fruit of an insane ethnocentrism characteristic of the West.
The West thinks it is the center of history, that everything revolves around it, and that everything that has happened in the world (good or bad) is its doing. In the past, this “lunacy of the whites” (to coin an expression used by the writer André Malraux in his book “The Way of the Kings” (“La Voie Royale”), which unfolds in colonial Indochina) pushed the West to think of itself as superior to other civilizations, to crush diversity in the world, and to colonize a large part of the globe. Today, the same ethnocentrism pushes certain people to think that the West is the source of all evil. In the ethnocentric vision, it doesn’t matter whether the West is defined as superior (colonization) or as guilty (repentance), it always has to be the pivotal point of history. Nothing would have happened without it. It is very painful for the West to admit that it is just one civilization like, and among others. At times it would even prefer to hide behind repentance and imaginary guilt (which lets it remain the central actor) rather than recognize this. In its egocentrism, it does not care about the lives of Black people except when it is white people who are the assassins. As historian Gabriel Martinez-Gros says, We “set up an equivalence between history and the West.” According to this logic, all history, especially when it is criminal, is done by the West. When something bad happens, it is thus the West that is responsible, as if nothing could happen without us. Yet, this is absolutely not the case. Our absolute imperialism over history leads us to absolutely blame ourselves and to victimize others in a way that is just as absolute.
The biggest paradox is that the “decolonizing” movement that constitutes the cutting edge of current events has absolutely not decolonized its imagination and continues to imagine that the “Big Evil West” is the origin of all the evil in the world. Yet such a vision, more than being totally and factually false, is paternalistic. It treats nonwhite populations like children, and dispossesses them of their history, their voice and their action. We have seen this in some recent videos. In Chicago, a Black woman stood up to ultraleft activists saying, “Everyday young Blacks are killed by gangs in Chicago, where are the Black Lives Matter activists then? When Blacks kill Blacks, the Black Lives Matter activists don’t come to wreak havoc.”* A (white) activist tells her off and answers her in a surrealistic way. Completely out of touch with the realities of the Black ghetto, where murders within the community occur daily, she responded, lecturing her in university jargon. “But what are you doing about systemic oppression?”* Also, the (white) activists who want to get rid of the statue of Frederick Douglass (a former Black slave and abolition activist), confront Black tourist guides who valiantly defend the statue. The photos would make you think that the protests were really by white supremacist racists if there were no accompanying explanations instead of leftist activists acting in the name of anti-racism and purporting that Black Lives Matter. But this similarity has nothing to do with chance (whether it is due to superiority as the supremacists think, or whether it is due to evil as the decolonizing activists think); white supremacists and decolonizing activists share the same imaginary ethnocentricity according to which the white man is at the center of everything. This mechanistically deprives Black people of any autonomous history. This is what was so well highlighted in France by Black writer Tania de Montaigne, who thrashed the concept of “white privilege” that was championed recently by the (white) decolonizing activist filmmaker Virginie Despentes. De Montaigne sees this notion as a racist fantasy that does not correspond to anything real, and under the pretext of antiracism, unconsciously republishes the traditional racism of a racial hierarchy, placing whites at the top of the pyramid, and making nonwhites out as eternal children, always victimized, who need to be helped in a condescending way. It’s the same with discussions about slavery and colonization. As the historian Pierre Vermeren points out in a column in Le Figaro, “War and slavery belong, in a continuous way, to the long history of human societies . . . Today, there are still 14 million slaves in the world of which half are in Asia (China, India, and Pakistan) and almost as many in Africa, notably in the Sahel. Societies on the Arabian Peninsula are equally involved.” Vermeren reminds us that, concerning African slavery, there are three distinct trades: The European slave trade to the Americas (where Africans sold their captives from rival tribes to Europeans, because they too often forget that if Europeans bought slaves, it’s because someone local sold them to them), The Arabic-Muslim trade (the works of the Senegalese historian Tidiane N’Diaye have told us about this and have shown that 17 million Black victims were made slaves by the Arabs, sometimes mutilated and assassinated, for more than 13 centuries without interruption) and the trade in sub-Saharan Africa (that continues today and that was fought long ago by French and British colonizers, global colonization having taken place after these two countries had abolished slavery). But there, too, the West does not want to admit the extreme historic banality of war and slavery. The West wants to make a monopoly of it. It prefers to be completely guilty and, in this way, to always feel separate instead of finding commonality and lining up next to others. Also, the West is not interested in the slave trade conducted by others and of which it had no part. Rather than fight firmly against current slavery in Libya or Mauritania, they prefer to whip themselves and pretend to be like Jean-Baptiste Colbert. (Even though the “Code Noir” only represents a minor part of the life and work of this great servant of the state, the statues of him honor his role in building the French administration, and in no way his supposed role in the slave trade, which incidentally posed no moral problems in his time.)
The most tragic thing is that all these hysterical actions that undermine social peace absolutely do not improve the cause of Black people. If Black lives really count, then instead of getting rid of statues, Black Lives Matter activists (a large part of whom are white) would do better to alert the public about the interethnic massacres in Africa or go to the site and fight illness and famine. Or even easier, they could go to the Black ghettos in the United States to protest gang tyranny, provide educational assistance to children, or distribute food and assistance. It should be said someday that Philippe de Villiers, by establishing a humanitarian codevelopment program with the Republic of Benin when he was president of the General Council of Vendée, did more for Black lives than getting rid of statues.
Likewise, some American universities are deciding to remove certain authors from their programs under the pretext that white men are overrepresented. As Christopher Lasch pointed out in “The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy,” this kind of decision taken by the white leftists, usually coming from the bourgeoisie, absolutely does not help the concrete situation of minorities. On the contrary, it would be more relevant to keep classic history intact and to circulate it among everyone, including Black people. And, as Wilfred Reilly, an African American professor of political science, pointed out in Le Figaro concerning the current hysteria, “All this is not going to improve university test scores for minorities.”
But this unconscious anti-Black racism is not limited only to the “decolonizing” sphere. Thus, Joe Biden, invited by a Black radio host to a Black radio station on May 22, declared: “’Well I tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t Black.” For Biden, Black voters seem to be a herd of sheep, deprived of all free political stewardship.
To escape this poisonous logic, Western political and media actors must agree to step away from this ideology and this dictatorship of emotion and get back to the facts. Will they have the courage to do it?
*Editor’s note: Although accurately translated, this quoted remark could not be independently verified.
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