The George Floyd saga

The George Floyd saga

Olayinka Oyegbile

You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence – James Baldwin

RACISM didn’t start today. It didn’t yesterday, either. So is the feeling of racial superiority. Even from Biblical times, it has been there and would not be gone till the world ends. This is no doom prediction. Adolf Hitler was the master and he took it to the worst height. If you read books you must have come across it. Literature of the world is full of it and it goes without saying that despite its despicable nature, it has enriched the world of literature.


What would world literature have looked like without the writings of James Baldwin, Tony Morison, Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, Alex Haley and a host of others. The recent killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minnesota is not something entirely knew. His experience has long been replicated in literature of the black experience in America.

The writers listed above have in one way or the other depicted the gruesome black experience, so when the Floyd thing happened last month, it was more like reality imitating literature and not the other way round. It is this grim reality that was written about by Baldwin in his little but powerful book The Fire Next Time. In this little book Baldwin saw the Minneapolis incident ahead and what he envisaged might happen has come to pass. Who would have thought that the killing would lead to such massive reverberations all across the world? America and the rest of the world have been sitting on the edge since this event. Statutes of prominent black haters and exploiters around the world have been targets of venom and anger.

A world that had been at fear or had been at caution over the rampaging coronavirus immediately jettisoned the idea of social distancing and moved en-mass into the streets but across the globe. And the world has refused to calm down and remain the same. Before Floyd many blacks have been mowed down on the streets of America on every and any flimsy excuse or reason. However, with Floyd’s the keel tumbled and it was fire as foretold by Baldwin.

There is no doubt that Baldwin was one of the most bitter critics of the American system. Many believed that if he had not died that early, he would perhaps have moved the system to the brink long before the day life was squeezed out of Floyd! But would this death end the grievances of the blacks in America? No one can put a finger on it or say it would because even after this a few had happened even again in the United States to further demonstrate that the system still needs to be shaken.

Recent upsurge in racism should make the world ask critical questions. Have writers’ efforts made any appreciable difference? Was it not what led to Achebe’s Things Fall Apart after reading many racist inclined novels chief among which are Joyce Cary’s Mr. Johnson and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness?

The world is currently undergoing change and questions are being asked. If we bring this back home, Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time is a powerful small volume book that packed so much power into it. So is Chinua Achebe’s The Problem With Nigeria. As Baldwin hammered on the frustration of the blacks in America so did Achebe hammer on the poor leadership in Nigeria and I can see the link. But are we listening? America failed to hearken to Baldwin, see the result today. Will Nigeria too go the same way due to poor leadership?

As Ngugi observes in his book Birth of a Dream Weaver “White was the colour of power. White would always checkmate black until black also expressed power. Black power was the only real answer to white power. Only then could a dialogue between equals emerge.” With the Floyd incident, this is perhaps beginning to happen. Or how would you categorise the apology by America’s most senior military officer, Gen Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, who accompanied President Donald Trump for the photo-op to a church near the White House? Is Ngugi’s “dialogue between equals” not becoming a reality?

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