Racial Injustice: The Politics of Institutionalizing Violence against Racial Minorities
Racism in it various guises has come under intense media spotlight in recent weeks;
From the brutal killing of George Floyd by a Policeman who mercilessly pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for an agonizing 8 minutes and 46 seconds, draining the life out of him…..
and the cold blooded killing of Rayshard Brooks who was shot twice in the back when attempting to run away from police officers who were trying to arrest him,
To the savage slaughter of Eyad Hallaq, a 32-year-old autistic Palestinian man making his way to Elwyn Center for disabled people,
unarmed and terrified when ten bullets were fired into his body by the Israeli Border Police ( Haaretz 2 June 2020)–
Whose only mistake was that he was Palestinian….
And for that the death penalty was imposed on Hallaq by the Israeli Police because he started running in fear when told to stop…..
The common thread that runs through these and numerous other racially motivated lethal attacks on individuals such as Michael Brown, Tamir Rice (a 12 year old boy who was playing with a toy pellet gun, shot by a police officer within 2 seconds of getting out of his squad car) ( Vox, 30 May 2017),
Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland and Eric Garner is the chilling notion that —
the individuals in these cases were singled out for indiscriminate violence and death simply because of their racial traits, the color of their skin, their nationality …..
they were never given a chance to defend themselves against the systemic racism ingrained within police forces and government institutions,
against individuals invoking a sense of entitlement that comes from being a member of a privileged, dominant racial group in a multi-racial society —
a socially constructed reality reflecting the distorted cultural world view —
that human beings outside a particular ethno- religious national group are less deserving of humane treatment accorded to others within the group….
Ishmael Reed, the American poet and Novelist, writes vividly about his ‘frightening, maddening and absurd encounters with police officers’ of the US Criminal Justice System throughout his life:
”Every black southern family that I’m aware of has a cold case.
The murder of a family member by a white man about which records might have disappeared or been deleted. It’s family oral tradition that keeps the story alive.
Like many black men, I’ve had numerous encounters with the police. Growing up in public housing, I learned at an early age that the Fourth Amendment didn’t apply to my family or our neighbors.
The police would burst into our apartments at any time they wished. I’ve had police draw guns on me.
Once, in 1958, Buffalo police stopped a car in which my companions and I were riding and pointed guns at us. They’d mistaken us for some other blacks.” (NYT 20 June 2020)
Racial Categories that have become imbued with Political meanings
Jennifer Jackson Preece, Professor in Nationalism at LSE, explains race as:
“…….an invention of the 18th century, intended to describe and classify humankind on the basis of observable hereditary traits such as pigmentation , stature and body shape.”
”Race is thus response to and indeed a recognition of human diversity which emerges out of the Enlightenment interest in categorization.”(Preece 2005 p.58)
This bureaucratic obsession of States authorities —
with the streamlined collection, categorization and micro management of the minutiae of ethno- religious racial data about their citizens — from the moment they are born till the time they die– seems innocuous enough ….
Yet, Racial characteristics of individuals remain the most visible indicators of difference to State officials bent on exercising social and political control over a society;
From policemen on the streets and border customs, to immigration officials at airport terminals, State functionaries practise stop, search and interrogation techniques on ethnic minorities for no apparent reason apart for their ethno -religious or racial background;
One might be tempted to conclude that our political rights to life protected by Law (Art. 6 ICCPR), Humane treatment (Art.7 ICCPR), liberty and security (Art. 9 ICCPR) and Equality before the Courts (Art.14 ICCPR)–
are perceived through the distorted lens of ‘racial identity’,
an identity conferred upon us by Nationalist States and their warped rationalization of its significance.
An extreme example of such ‘Bureaucratic rationalization’ that Zygmunt Bauman refers to in his seminal work, Modernity and the Holocaust, was the Jewish Holocaust.
Adam Jones quoting Bauman writes:
“The world tightly packed with nations and nations States abhorred the non- national void. Jews were in such a void : they were such a void”.
( Bauman quoted in Adam Jones 2017 p. 574)
The concept of popular Sovereignty developed by social contract and nationalist theorists in the era of enligtenment-
posited the idea that Sovereignty resided with the people.
The question however, as Adam Jones asks, is which people? ( Jones 2017, p.577).
The right to ‘self’determination of people’ as enshrined in art.1 of the UN Charter is very often a right that is –defined and determined by State officials,
delineating the desirable ethno-religious groups from the racial Other for national membership and its associated political rights.
As Jones argues:
“this existential unease toward the Jew was combined with Scientific racism , which Bauman depicted as a modern phenomenon ,—
overlaying traditional intercommunal antipathies with a veneer of scientific and medical rationality.
This brought with it an impetus to total extermination of the racial Other’ ( Adam Jones 2017 p. 574)
Differences in the way we look, speak and express ourselves, the religious and cultural practices we engage in particular minority cultures—
may be construed by political agents of State as existential threats undermining the cherished values of a dominant ethno-racial community ……
a community that has to be protected from the threats posed by a ‘Racial Other‘ (Adam Jones 2017 p. 574) at all costs….
A paranoia begins to grip the dominant ethno- religious community—-
one induced by fear of the unknown or unfamiliar associated with ethnic minorities and their religious and cultural practices,
conjuring up , at times, irrational, antagonistic emotions among members of a dominant group that —
moral entrepreneurs (as Stan Cohen describes them ) quickly label as threats that demand a response……even a violent one….
In this respect, Jack Katz’s concept of Righteous Slaughter is instructive in explaining–
killings of ethnic minorities that ‘are undertaken in a sense of righteousness ,
and reflect the defence of a communal good, or a value that the victim is seen to transgress” ( Adam Jones 2017, p.582)
Following this analysis, the political narrative translates into one of justifying the incarceration, rape, torture, of millions of individuals —-
from the Rohingya, Uighurs and Turkic people, to the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and ethnic minorities and refugees fleeing violence from Syria —
undertaken to achieve an altruistic good for a dominant political group by preserving their ethno-religious values, national security concerns and political ideologies.
Such a politicization and weaponization of race by State elites is further explored by Jennifer Jackson Preece:
“Race becomes problematic only where these descriptive and essentially arbitrary categories are imbued with political significance.
Historically, such a connection between race and politics was not fully formulated—
until after the American and French Revolutions successfully wrestled political authority from the prince and gave it to the people. ” (Preece 2005 p.58)
Racism’s manifestation as Political tool for oppression and subjugation continues to be well and alive , even thriving in the Occupied Palestinians territories —
where Palestinians experience on a day to day basis, arrests , detention without trial, torture , destruction of their homes,—
and death at the hands of an oppressive apartheid State and its military apparatus —–
”an Israel Defense Forces sniper knelt on the slope of the rocky hill overlooking the West Bank village of Kafr Qaddum —
and from a distance of 100 meters fired one live round into the 9-year-old’s head.
The bullet exploded into dozens of pieces of shrapnel in his brain.”( Haaretz 21 July 2019)
This is not to say that the ugly visage of institutional racism and its violent manifestations is a contemporary phenomena of modernity;
One has only to cast one’s mind back to the historical origins of slavery in the United States in the 17th Century , —-
the Apartheid State of South Africa from 1948 or the Nuremberg laws of Nazi Germany in September 1935 ( the Reich Citizenship Law and the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor)—
to recollect the horrors of ghettos, concentration camps and bantustans that were set up to identify , segregate, concentrate and devastate the lives of millions —
just because of differences in the the color of their skin, language, culture or racial origins….
This ‘fact of difference’ as the political theorist, Hannah Arendt aptly points out is especially frightening for ethno- nationalist societies;
“The ‘alien’ is a frightening symbol of the fact of difference as such, of individuality —
and indicates those realms in which man cannot change and cannot act and in which, therefore, he has a tendency to destroy.”
” The reason why highly developed political communities , such as a the ancient city states or the modern nation states , so often insist on ethnic homogeneity is that—
they hope to eliminate as far as possible those natural and always present differences and differentiations ….
because they indicate all to clearly those spheres where man cannot act and change at will —
ie the limitations of the human political artifice.” (Arendt 1972 : 301 quoted in Preece 2005 p. 7)
Should Racial differences matter in deciding who lives and who dies,
who has access to medical care, education, housing and bodily security and who does not…..
To say that ‘All lives matter‘ as Mike Pence so self-righteously declared while refusing to acknowledge that Black lives matter’ sounds egalitarian,
yet it deliberately fails to see the realities of racial injustice institutionalized in society’s Criminal laws , in its Police forces, Corporations, Prisons ….
In the words of Mike Pence, Vice President of the United States:
‘‘We celebrate the fact that from the founding of this nation we’ve cherished the ideal that all, all of us are created equal, and endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights.
And so all lives matter in a very real sense.” ( CNN June 2020)
The stark reality , however, is that Institutionalized Racism continues to exist regardless of Pence’s Idealism and oblivion to its violent manifestations and lethal consequences;
It existed in all its savagery when the first African slaves from the kingdom of Ndongo, located in part of present-day Angola. were carted off to the colony of Virginia some 400 years ago (History.com , 26 August 2019)
It existed while Martin Luther King penned his famous letter from Birmingham jail explaining why it was difficult to wait any longer for racial justice :
“We have waited for more than 430 years for our constitutional and God-given rights;
But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and father at will and drown your sisters and brother at whim;
when you see hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black mothers and sisters ,
when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society,
when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: ‘Daddy , why do White people treat colored people so mean”? …….
then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.’ ( Cohen p. 623-624)
Racial Justice rather than racism should be the greatest legacy we leave our children…..
Adam Jones, Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction. , 2017
Cohen M. ‘Princeton Readings in Political Thought’ , Princeton University Press , Princeton and Oxford, 2018.
Minority Rights: Between Diversity and Community [Preece, Jennifer Jackson], Polity; 1st edition (December 23, 2005) …
Vox, 30 May 2017)
Haaretz 2 June 2020
(CNN June 2020,
(NYT 20 June 2020)
History.com , 26 August 2019