Prof. Emmanuel Yenshu Vubo, political sociologist and Dean of the Faculty of Social and Management Sciences, University of Buea.
What is your take on the wave of violence sweeping across the United States after a white American policeman suffocated an African American to death?
This is an expression of frustration with the unending manifestation of disguised racism. The United States of America is officially a de-racialized society after several landmark revolutionary transformations, the Emancipation, desegregation and the civil rights movement. These were in no small way significant advances away from slavery and the racially-constructed society of the founding fathers; despite the lofty ideas of the American Revolution and decolonisation from Britain.
It appears as if at every time there was an advance or a step forward, the racist devil went underground to reappear in another form. After emancipation, the racism of the previous society transformed itself or took the colour of segregation. The civil rights movement swept away segregation, but it looks like the criminalisation of race has taken over from segregation as the new form of racist attitudes. This reflects itself in the criminal justice system off the glaring eyes of the public. This is seen in a large number of incidents such as the one involving George Floyd and in the high number of black inmates in US prisons. I rely here on the research of Loic Wacquant of the University of California at Berkeley.
The protests are part of the recurring social movements that accompany the ever-resurging manifestations of racism. In genealogical order, they descend directly from the movement for emancipation, the movement for desegregation, the Civil Rights Movement and more recently, Black Lives Matter. Each time the horrors of an undying racism of the type that was observed in the unfortunate case of George Floyd manifest, we observe more of the same type of social movement.
This time around, the protests have spread beyond the US. Why so?
As with all social movements, it cuts across all segments of the society, not only the segment that is hurt. Every time a person is treated like Floyd, the moral conscience of the society in question will be pricked because everybody could be treated in the same way with the same excuses.
Why does violence on African-Americans by white American police officers persist? Are the accused white officers often sufficiently punished?
This is a reflection of the presumption that every African-American or Black person is guilty as suspected; is more likely to be guilty than every other person; or is a suspect of something which is not even known! This is just contrary to the presumption of innocence principle underlying democratic justice. This is a sub-conscious manifestation that is not written in any legal statute and that rises to the surface as aggression towards suspects. It is an individual manifestation that should not be confused with the legally and politically correct.
Why are racist attitudes at subconscious level? This is because the legal system of the dominant Western European civilisation with its extension in North America has outlawed and penalises racism. Racism is a crime and is excluded from the public sphere as politically incorrect. Unfortunately, if the public sphere has rid itself of racism, the latter has not become part of the collective conscience (everybody’s mind set). It has not yet gone down into individual ways of life of everybody in the US.
Moreover, racism has not been completely deconstructed. For instance, in the name of liberty, racial supremacy still exists as a social and political ideology with incursions into political speeches and practices. Supremacists also walk around freely or have groups, however small, that espouse neo-Nazi ideas. What does one make of de-racialization when in the public sphere it is embedded in its tolerated forms in the private individual sphere? The resurfacing of new covert forms of racist attitudes have their roots in this paradox of de-racialization, accompanied by tolerance for racist ideologies and groups.
Policemen are punished when found guilty according to the justice system, but this does not deter others. This is so because the attitudes are deeply embedded in individual psyches.
In your view, did US authorities manage the situation well; especially as the protests have since degenerated into violence?
I hesitate to venture into such an exercise since this is a domestic matter. This is consistent with democracy.
How does a multi-racial nation like the United States of America get out of the orgy of racial violence?
It is up to Americans to continue the de-racialization of their society in the light of problems that they are facing currently or that recur.