During our many international travels, Elene and I have witnessed the major influence that America has on the rest of the world. People all over the world, from Argentina to China and from Australia to Denmark, want to be Americans. Some of them may not have a favorable opinion of America, but still they live their lives trying to imitate the American way of life. From music to fashion, from literature to art, the whole world follows the trends in America. Billions – yes, billions – of people dream of immigrating to the United States.
But what happened during the last couple of weeks was an amazing phenomenon by any standard. The murder of a black unarmed man, George Floyd, by a white Minneapolis police officer triggered a nation-wide protest against racism and police brutality. The protest spread to more than 2,000 locations in the U.S. The calls for justice and equality touched a sensitive nerve, not only among minorities, but also among all the spectrum of American citizenry. That is why the demonstrations showed a rainbow of people of all colors: white, brown, yellow and black. Actually, in many demonstrations there were very few African Americans. For instance, here in Effingham a group of young activists staged a peaceful protest at the courthouse that was attended by more than 600 people, of whom at least 95% were white.
But the amazing thing is that demonstrations started to take place outside the U.S. It started with a demonstration in London and shortly thereafter the protests spread like wildfire to involve hundreds of cities in more than 60 countries on every continent except Antarctica. Protests spread across London, Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Brussels, Seoul, Sydney, Monrovia, Rio de Janeiro, Idlib, Tel Aviv, West bank, Nairobi, Cape Town, Buenos Aires, Jamaica, Manilla, to name a few
So, what happened? Are all these people protesting racism and police brutality in America? To some extent that is true, but more importantly they were protesting their own frustrations with their own system of injustice and inequality. In Brussels, for example, demonstrations were against Belgian’s colonial history. Demonstrators scaled a statue of King Leopold II, the Belgian ruler who killed millions of Congolese people. In London, the protest was against racism targeting blacks and minorities in the UK. In France, 20,000 demonstrators marched through the elegant Paris streets protesting the death of Adama Traoré while in police custody. Each group had its own issues to protest against.
The question is: How and why those demonstrations erupted after the protest in the U.S.? The answer is that the protest in the U.S. was the mirror that allowed other people across the globe to see and reflect on the similarities between the protests in the U.S. and their own. American protests encouraged others to raise their voices demanding equality and justice. They inspired others across the globe to feel justified in protesting against any injustices in their own system.
Again, America was leading the world. The protest was not organized to extend beyond the American borders. But that unusual international phenomenon showed how the rest of the world monitors what happens in America and people across the globe are inspired by it. If Americans can demonstrate against any injustice in their system, then others can do the same. People were inspired to express their rejection of any injustice or racism. This is how democracy can spread. People everywhere in the world crave freedom, equality, respect and self-determination.
For a long time, America has been the beacon of liberty, freedom and democracy. Most Americans were content that their system was fair and equitable and provided equal opportunity to everyone. That perfect rosy image was cracked. It took an unarmed black man to lose his life under the knee of a white police officer to jolt many Americans and make them uncomfortable. Yes, we should be uncomfortable if any segment of the society does not enjoy the same level of freedom and justice like the rest of us. That jolt was important. This is also why so many white Americans joined the protest. I don’t want to be free if my neighbor and my friend is not. I want a system that treats me and my neighbor the same way, with no prejudice because of the color of his skin or her ethnic background.
If one of us is not free, then all of us are not free. If one of us is facing an unjust system, then all of us suffer. That is a high goal that all of us aspire to achieve. It feels good when you are protesting the injustice against you, but it feels even better when you are protesting the injustice against your neighbor or friend.
For any minority group to regain its own civil rights, it has to be supported by the majority. Injustice against anyone decreases the value of the whole country. That is why we all have to fight the ugly notion of a superior race or superior ethnic origin.
I would echo General Mark Milley, Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, when he said: “The foundational value that underpins American rights embedded in the Constitution is that all people, no matter who you are, are born free and equal.”