It’s Cruel and it’s Mean – Ugliest Thing You Ever Have Seen

George Floyd

White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this—which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never—the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.

James Baldwin, “Letter from a Region in my Mind,” 16.

I take my title from “Murder Most Foul” by Bob Dylan. A ballad of sorts that tells of the assassination of JFK and the descent into the inferno that ensued from it. Upon lending an attentive ear to the lyrics, we impale a stratum of being, where nothing matters, except that the song infuses fresh courage into us. It also permeates our minds with new hope for a better future. However, we cannot help but think about the carnage America finds itself in today. For in addition to a killer-machine virus, we must contend with another cruel disease—namely, systemic racism and bigotry. As a work of art, “Murder Most Foul” goes beyond its atonable facets, and still more important to us is the ethical jolt the song must have on us; for in this moving ballad there lies in wait a critical lesson. It identifies a potent evil: no rest of the wicked. “It is left to you,” Dylan seems to be saying, to decide how to heal the soul of a nation that has been torn apart by yet another most foul murder—that of George Floyd.

We come to know that the list of black people—Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Dontre Hamilton, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and, of course, George Floyd—to name but a few, killed at will by white police in the so-called “shining city on the hill” goes on without respite or respect for human life as long as a demented Caligula-like president threatens his people with “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons” while barricading himself in the White House; a white house cared for and built by the black sweat and tears of those he wants to obliterate. The day will come when the house that shelters him will soon look like a prison from which he is unable to escape. A rabble-rouser, a thug par excellence, a neo-fascist full of hate, a self-aggrandizing hollow man, a self-loathing and shrill pervert, Donald J. Trump continues to inflame an already toxic situation. This is a man who believes in both violence and violence of the letter. “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” That he acts as a divider in chief—hell bent on echoing a formula used by another flamethrower, Miami police Chief Walter Headly, who used the phrase in 1967 at a hearing about crime, invoking angry reactions from the then Civil Rights leaders—does not surprise us in the least.

We tend to forget that Trump is not alone (think of his henchmen led by a poodle named Mitch McConnell and the case will be clear enough) in weaving a systematic web of hatred I would like call Trump Murder Inc., which sees black people and poor people alike as animals; as objects, without means to exist or reason for being. He thinks that black people’s desire to live, to be, to survive, must be crushed like a set of objects in a plastic bag. And when black folks question the status quo, when they rise against injustice, when they sublimate their struggle, they become “thugs,” or worse, “fallen-guys.” So be it. For in reorienting their energy to fight back, black people engage in a different praxis from the one practiced by the Alt Right. It is a revolutionary one, precisely because it turns the primordial violence—the one that has kept them in bondage since their arrival to the land of plenty—upside down. It is in this sense that we must see the resistance we have been witnessing on the streets of America. It is a positive praxis, the intention of which is to degrade the practice of racism and turn it into a fusion of sorts; a fusion that sees every individual as part and parcel of the group whose sole objective is to liberate the downtrodden, who must break the shackles of convention. That the protesters are black and white and brown is not an accident.

So far, the group of demonstrators has managed to channel its energy into a new tour de force, bent on standing for a new mode of subjectivity, one that takes into account the aspirations of the new citizen, who, we have noticed, is well informed, educated, and determined to never give up the fight. He or she is also hybrid. The main objective of this new citizen is located in the rule of engagement which is based on logic and a live participation in a collective action that evolves from social media, rebellion against coercion, and levelling with a white police force that is determined to break his limbs and hopes. The new resistance group also seeks to protect the liberation movement and the transfer of power. This “new humanity,” to use a term from Frantz Fanon, consists of the praxis of counter-action that turns police violence against its source—namely, Trump Murder Inc. At the individual level, the praxis forces the protesters not only to energize their base but also pushes them to think of themselves as agents of change capable of constructing anew their History.

The new praxis is therefore the only means of action capable of inventing the new citizenry Fanon had in mind. Without it, there is no way we can re-orient our contained energy, no possibility to reverse the oppression we have thus far been subjected to. And yet, to metamorphose into the new citizen means to ripen into “history in the act,” as Fanon put it. This process of the re-appropriation of history is made possible only through the solid formation of resistance groups of citizens who run the revolution. Fanon speaks of the “real genesis” of a people and the transformation of an oppressed community into an organized one that is able to conduct raids against injustice of any kind, as witness the rising of young people of mixed races in America today. Viewed from this angle, the resistance becomes the glue that holds the different members of the community together. It also enables them to transcend their personal preoccupations and locate themselves in the collective group that protects them from the enemies of the revolution—in this case Trump Murder Inc. “When the mobilization of the masses is carried out on the occasion of the war of liberation,” Fanon notes, “it introduces in every conscience the notion of common cause, national destiny, collective history.” Put differently, the making of the new citizen materializes once a full psychic integration in the group is realized, which in turn takes the shape of a national consciousness. It is hoped that we reach that tipping point in America once the dust settles and the state of uprising comes to an end.

In the meantime, we must remember that the problem of racism is not a black issue. It is a white issue. This raises a query about its viability at a time when those who oppose it resemble not a blanket but a quilt, one made of all colors of the rainbow. That is a victory, no matter how small. However, what makes us angry is not just the injustice and oppression but the repetitive acts of killing of innocent black men. And so, we revolt to express outrage and disgust at what we see. The following formula expresses perhaps best what I have in mind. Here we go again is the most suitable outcry we raise today against the predicament we find ourselves in because it sheds light on how the habit of murdering in cold blood never stops; it is always propelled to further action. It is shot through with the old murders made new and the new murders made old, as witness the brazen clinical dispatch of George Floyd by a sadist ogre in broad daylight. It took place under the naked gaze of everyone who happened to be in the area, including the three racist and manifestly ignorant police officers whose mission is supposed “to serve and protect.” Eight long minutes during which an innocent black man is fighting for his life, gasping for air while another man, a white man, aided and abetted by two other white men, applies maximum pressure to his neck in order to cut the flow of oxygen going into his lungs and blood to the brain. If this is not intentional killing by mechanical strangulation, what is?

Here, we must call a spade a spade. Like his very white president who sits at the top of the pyramid, Derek Chauvin is just white trash. The former wants to unleash dogs at the people who elected him to protect them, the latter kills them by asphyxia. Some of the passers-by tried in vain to alert the white monster that the black man may be in danger of dying while he, without a care in the world, wore sun glasses on his head, applied more and more pressure until George Floyd lost consciousness and died. The scene was ugly. An on-camera lynch mob solidified by lynch law, if you please! Needless to add that from this day forward, a horrid, most foul sight is etched forever on our collective memory. That the intentional murder puts those of us (decent people) into a rage is no surprise, except for a cowardly president, who thinks he is above the law, and whose violence (of the letter) is unbridled. (“I will send in the National Guard & get the job done right.”) It is in this climate of violence at the helm that two days after the killing of George Floyd, another black man, Omar Jimenez, a CNN journalist, was arrested for no reason while covering the carnage and many others were killed while holding peaceful demonstrations across the country.

The gang murder of George Floyd must introduce a transformation in the way white America looks at black America. Only counter-violence, as Malcolm X understood the term, is able to de-intoxicate the present situation. Only counter-violence can produce a counter-narrative to square with the master-narrative that we have been forcibly fed for a long time. I speak from my proper immediate history that followed my dive in America, where I taught and lived for a while. I have no doubt that the cop who killed George Floyd has harbored deep feelings of hatred where black is the color. Caught in the act by digital technology, he has proved to be less than the Beast of the Apocalypse. All this happens in a morally bankrupt society whose virtues are made of totems James Baldwin sums up this way:

In any case, white people, who had robbed black people of their liberty and who profited by this theft every hour that they lived, had no moral ground on which to stand. They had the judges, the juries, the shotguns, the law—in a word, power. But it was a criminal power, to be feared but not respected, and to be outwitted in any way whatever. And those virtues preached but not practiced by the white world were merely another means of holding Negroes in subjection.

Therefore, to state the matter another more accurate way is to note that today America is knee-deep in shit. It really does not matter whether Mr. President hides behind a Bible or in a bunker or in a midnight blue suit, the damage is done. He has lost it. Unless we are blind or useful idiots, we see nothing but lunacy and despair across the country.

The felicitous upshot is that as long as black people are being spat on, degraded, disfigured, and killed at random, white America will always bear the burden of failing to love and respect itself.

The pervert act of murdering George Floyd, who had left Texas to go to Minnesota to better himself, shows once and for all how the social experiment utterly failed in America. It also demonstrates how the system cannot reform itself even if it tried to, especially at a time when a neo-fascist sits the chair inside the white house. The feeling of anger that creeps over us as well as the numbness of our souls are somehow abated when we see a multitude of young black, white, and everything in between rising against injustice. They do it with style, even if at times, their frustration spills over onto the streets. The so-called commander in chief may attend the launch of SpaceX from Cape Canaveral in fake Florida, but on the ground, people are dying by the hundreds of thousands of SARS-CoV-2 and now by strangulation. That America is invested more than ever in unadulterated racism, sheer xenophobia, and genocide is a fact of life. The late James Baldwin put it succinctly: “The future of the Negro in [America] . . . is precisely as bright or as dark as the future of the country.” The central question he posed then and we raise today is aimed at white people, asking them to tell us why they created and still need the idea of the “nigger.” Trump Murder Inc. is hell bent on not only burying the answer but also on treating all of us with disdain. However, not for long I hope. For the time has come to dislodge the bogeyman for good because under his illegitimate tenure America looks disgusting, feels disgusting, tastes disgusting, smells disgusting.

It will have to suffice to say that in spite of Trump and Co., the wretched of the earth that we are—at least in their eyes—will rise again and again till the end of time in order to claim a locus for ourselves in the sun. We do it because “there is a place for … us at the rendezvous of victory” as Aimé Césaire would have it. And when that fortunate day comes, we, and the devil knows who else, from all the ends of America and indeed the world; yes, all those handsome black and brown and white youths will be elated because our anger, crimson like fire, will make certain that that handsome little man will be voted out of office. That day will be unlike any other day in America and beyond because we will have turned another cruel page of history in a country the motto of which is the pursuit of happiness. From now on, our sense of purpose is to reach that day of November 3rd like it or not. Only then, will we have avenged George Floyd, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many others before them. The beauty of it all is that we will have done it peacefully.

I began this essay with an extract from “Letter . . . “ by James Baldwin and I want to end with another citation, also by Baldwin, a writer who understood more than anyone else the question of race in his native America, which he left for France where he lived, died, and is buried. I quote him in full to show the denegation he and his fellow black people were and still are subjected to. It chills my blood to read it.

Negroes in this country—and Negroes do not, strictly or legally speaking, exist in any other—are taught really to despise themselves from the moment their eyes open on the world. This world is white and they are black. White people hold the power, which means that they are superior to blacks (intrinsically, that is: God decreed it so), and the world has innumerable ways of making this difference known and felt and feared. Long before the Negro child perceives this difference, and even longer before he understands it, he has begun to react to it, he has begun to be controlled by it.

He goes on:

Every effort made by the child’s elders to prepare him for a fate from which they cannot protect him causes him secretly, in terror, to begin to await, without knowing that he is doing so, his mysterious and inexorable punishment. He must be “good” not only in order to please his parents and not only to avoid being punished by them; behind their authority stands another, nameless and impersonal, infinitely harder to please, and bottomlessly cruel. And this filters into the child’s consciousness through his parents’ tone of voice as he is being exhorted, punished, or loved; in the sudden, uncontrollable note of fear heard in his mother’s or his father’s voice when he has strayed beyond some particular boundary. He does not know what the boundary is, and he can get no explanation of it, which is frightening enough, but the fear he hears in the voices of his elders is more frightening still.

George Floyd was senselessly killed because he was black. Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Dontre Hamilton, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd were also coldly killed because they were black. The day will come when we, as a colorful multitude, will realize that being born black is neither static nor mystical. It is not a cultural trait either. It is, however, a consciousness. And while we are on the subject of consciousness, I want to note the silence of the white intelligentsia, the Jewish one in particular, regarding both the killing of black people and the massive revolt that followed. To my knowledge, very few voices stepped to the plate to denounce the racialism, racism, and climate of fear we live in. No one has lent support to the uprising that has been going on for more than a week now. So far, only a handful (Cornel West, Arundhati Roy, Naomi Klein) have kept banging their fists on the table. The rest are either in a deep slumber or totally absent from the public arena. Had advocates for freedom like Julien Benda, Antonio Gramsci, Edward Said been around, they would certainly have sounded the alarm to denounce the moral cowardice of the “clerks” who have betrayed their vocation to act as organic agents and push for social justice and equality for all. We live in an age of total surrender.

At this juncture in history, it is less than enough to be aware of what goes on in the world let alone face its cruelty when black is the color. We must take a chance on answering back with a vengeance, even if, in the process we risk life and limb to free ourselves, at last. Whether we will achieve something positive, I do not know. What I am certain of is that a radical change is coming. That we ache all over to see it materialize is true. It is also true that we are determined to boot Donald J. Trump without turning a hair. Nothing will destruct our attention or purpose. That way George Floyd would not have died in vain. We owe it to him and to the other lost black lives to celebrate our victory. At the same time, we warn whitey not to underestimate the rising tide of our impatience as they did in the past. Our spirits may be at a low ebb, but not for long. Just watch us! Hell or high water, we will slog up the hill.

Mustapha Marrouchi is a writer on a wide range of topics including literature, politics, cultural criticism, and Islamic issues. He is the author of half a dozen books, including Edward Said at the Limits.



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