It is a very special period for the United States of America. Racism, violence and demonstrations are now the order of the day, and the continent of dreams, emancipation and "Yes, I can" has proved to be anything but capable and supportive. The protests and police brutality have emerged since George Floyd's death, not to be understood as a limited event. The black Americans, in fact, live this chapter as a repeating story. The struggles for emancipation and for the conquest of equality continue today, as they did yesterday, but the results seem not to go in favor of those who are still seen as 'the different'.
Martin Luther King on 28 August 1963 delivered what is remembered as the "I Have A Dream" speech, and now, many years after a past of violence, discrimination of all kinds and the killing of peaceful black men, Martin Luther King is perhaps even more relevant than before.
But then one wonders: "what has changed since Martin Luther King's time and what hasn't?"
At first glance there are those who respond like Sofia Perinetti: "in the post-war period racism had laws and rules that made it institutionalized, especially in America; now there are laws against it, but racism is still present".
Matteo Frigoli’s thought explains the issue in depth. "Discrimination is a phenomenon that persists despite the changes in legislation that guarantee equality, this makes it clear that the problem is a social problem. A problem that has always remained latent and that has exploded recently". It can therefore be said that times have changed, but what was there yesterday still remains today although in a different nature.
Fabio Di Gioia makes an interesting reasoning on the matter of change. In fact, he argues that, with reference to the racial issue, "the great changes that fortunately became the norm for us, broke out between the '60s and '70s, such as the protests of Martin Luther King and the laws aimed at eliminating racial discrimination in public or in the right to vote". As this reasoning suggests, "if we talk about social changes, they are not visible from the beginning, but they develop over decades and can only be discovered, perhaps, in the next generation," which is why progress is not immediately beneficial.
The certainty that humanity evolves towards the best, not by chance, is not given. We are in fact in the 21st century and we find ourselves witnessing revolts closely linked to racial inequalities. In addition to having to deal with an unprecedented health emergency, today's African Americans find themselves the object of racism and violence not comparable to the episodes of violence of which white people are victims.
It is a true history of racial injustice that of the United States of America; a history that has not yet come to an end. The origin could be attributed to the chapter of American slavery; afterwards, time and society have had the predisposition to consider blacks not on a par with whites. "Less evolved, less capable, less human"? All stereotypes and erroneous assumptions, but fuel for the ideology of the so-called 'white supremacy'.
With particular attention to the behavior of law enforcement agencies, it is puzzling that despite the fact that white people commit crimes in the same way as black people, the latter suffer discrimination even in these circumstances. In this regard, Marwa Fichera states that "opponents of the racial problem in law enforcement use statistical data to challenge trends in 'police brutality'. As has also been stated by President Trump, the data show that the American police kill more white Americans than African Americans. Although this is true, the killings of whites are in relation to a group almost 5 times larger than the African American population".
The data, as the sociologist herself points out, confirm that "in the USA, the 'white Americans' - the group of Caucasian origin - make up 63% of the population, that is 197 million. Since 2015, there have been reported around 2540 killings of white Americans by the police. Also, since 2015, with regard to the African American population, which is estimated at 42 million, about 1330 killings have been reported.” It would be enough to do the math to understand that the disproportion is there.
The data and violent images of today suggest a sort of 'systemic racism', a phenomenon that the sociologist Marwa helps us to understand better. "Along with gender discrimination, the broader system is institutional racism found in politics, the judiciary, the media, school education and health care. Institutional racism includes the ideologies of white racial supremacy and the subordination of the black race and other ethnic groups. These ideologies are transformed in the various institutions listed above, where racial discrimination dominates".
Marwa also reiterates: "sociology experts theorize that when minority ethnic groups in Western countries acquire the same rights and opportunities as majority groups, the power of institutional racist ideologies is threatened", which is why the phenomena we are witnessing could be understood as practices to "hold ethnic groups and minorities off". Sofia Perinetti believes that "when there are problems in a state, finding a scapegoat makes the population homogeneous against a group". But whether they are practices to "hold blacks off", or strategies to have a scapegoat to blame, black people continue to suffer without understanding their faults.
The authors of racist acts themselves don't understand this hatred. There are in fact those who are in favor of the racist system but not intentionally racist. Discussing it, it emerges that unconscious racist prejudice is widespread. Matteo Frigoli helps us by reflecting on the fact that "people attracted by recent protests are exposed to a lot of misinformation and complex information not understood". Often clashes arise between individuals "without them having a real reason to hate each other, with the consequent risk of breaking the social pact that binds them". For many of these cases one could speak of a sort of 'racism without racists'.
All these are considerations on what happened and still happens in the USA, but in addition to analyzing the factors of the spread of discrimination, it is interesting to make a comparison between the American continent and the European one. The lawyer Simona Destro dwells on the "fundamental difference of historical-legal traditions between the European countries and the New World". She affirms that: "the two world wars and the Nazi genocide have certainly led to a clear rejection by the institutions and the population in general of any kind of racially motivated violence or discrimination, which appears, therefore, less entrenched than in the United States".
And in this regard, one wonders "why the United States defines itself as the defenders of human rights when it is the first not to guarantee them". Simona answers: "the United States, although it defines itself as one of the most democratic states in the world, holding the rule of law and the very idea of justice, appears, to date, a fundamentally racist country, despite the American Constitution provides for the prohibition of racial discrimination (Article XV on the right to vote)".
The wave of rebellion in response to the episodes of racism has brought out a raw image of the current law enforcement and administration. And so one wonders how the U.S. police forces, regardless of the consequences, persist in perpetrating violent and cruel acts against African-American citizens. The answer to which Simona Destro arrives is this: "probably, the awareness by the agents of the almost total impunity of such acts is complicit; in fact, we recall that the United States has not accepted the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, not ratifying the Rome Statute (1998), and not even that of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, thus evading any superior and external trade union about episodes of serious violations of human rights.”
To avoid the ratification of international treaties on human rights is a well-known fact in the case of the United States, but none of this should justify a society of disadvantages, injustice and violence. The latter, phenomena to be considered the culmination of discrimination, have been at the center of images and videos that in recent months have travelled around the world. To add to the first shocking images of George Floyd's suffocation are those of the shooting of Jacob Blake and many others.
Very raw and recently released were the images of the video in which Daniel Prude was the protagonist. The man, a citizen of New York, suffering from mental health problems, while wandering naked through the street, was handcuffed by the police and hooded to die asphyxiated shortly afterwards.
As Francesca Oggiano repeatedly reiterates, social media and social networks allow today's society to reach materials and people that previously could not be reached. "Maybe this is what has changed since some years ago," says Francesca. Yes, indeed, today's media make a difference, but in addition to spreading awareness, they should serve in contrast to phenomena.
The reactions of the TrattaMIBene Team to the shocking images of Daniel Prude's last moments of life can be well represented by the words of Valeriana Savino. "I was really struck by the brutality of the action and at the same time the 'almost normality' in recording the scene. The color of Prude's skin or his mental health cannot be a reason for killing. No one should be a victim of this kind of violence. What makes me most astonished is that almost always the victims of the police force are not dangerous criminals, but people who often die for futile reasons or non-existent reasons and at most could be indicted for petty crimes".
Valeriana also continues with a shared reflection: "I wonder where are we going to end up? The situation is very delicate: the Afro-American population in the United States has not yet reached full rights and this is a sign that much still needs to be done. Moreover, all this is fed by the American political context where President Trump has never tried to heal the racial fractures and has never given a message of conciliation and recognition of the reasons for the protest".
Precisely with regard to the political context we make the last considerations. The whole team agrees that a change of presidency can help; however, it would be a utopia to think that a new President of the United States could be enough to fight a much deeper problem. It would be necessary to acquire a different mindset of inclusion, as well as self-respect and respect for others.
Translated by Francesca Cioffi
Original version by Sofia Abourachid