It’s the end of the world as we know it:

Racism as a global killer of Black people and their emancipatory freedoms

Jason Arday
Published online: 25 Jun 2020
people holding white printer paper during daytime

That’s great, it starts with an earthquake … are the famous opening tenets to REM’s anthemic stream of political consciousness, ‘Its the end of the world  as  we  know  it’ and within  this treatise,  the track is appropriated to metaphorically signal the global reverberation and impact of George Floyd’s horrific death at the hands of four United States (US) police officers in Minneapolis. This tragic and racially-charged moment has created a tectonic, global shift in anti-racist activism, as the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement reacts to the latest laceration on Black liberty and human rights. The violent, oppressive symbolic image of Derek Chauvin and his officers nonchalantly re-enacting a public lynching synonymous with the historical, social and racial submissive control of Black Americans has shocked the world and soured the taste of all those who yearn for the emancipatory liberties and human rights of all global citizens particularly Black people.

Within the United Kingdom (UK) our own disgraceful and oppressive past remains the pride of many Britons who herald British Imperialism as a symbol of Britannia’s enduring greatness, regardless of the colonial and debilitating impact upon Black communities. The populist symbolism associated with valorising and eulogising Britain’s racist past is perhaps embodied best in its immortalisation and commemoration of these colonial oppressors in spun bronze. Sadly, this historically celebratory act continues to be replicated all over the world unremittingly, while inconsiderately reminding global citizens of  past, oppressive transgressions, which centuries on are still keenly felt by Black communities universally.

The wave of protests and acts of solidarity that have been globally triggered as a result of Mr Floyd’s death have spoken to the continued racial injustice faced by Black Americans and Black communities around the world. The inevitable rejection of racial equality in favour of characterising and ascribing anti-racist protestors as ‘unlawful degenerates’ and ‘terrorists’ in relation to this and other abhorrent racialized episodes by the 45th  President of  the United  States, Donald  Trump, represents no attempt to strike a unifying or introspective tone at such a critical juncture in the history of race equality.

Trump remains one of the greatest political phenomena’s of our time and a supreme, unethical opportunist. For Trump supporters, his inability to provide leadership and direction during the  Covid-19 global pandemic, and his non-committal condemnation of the brutal death of  Mr Floyd, will do little to deter or impair their judgement of a person who is unscrupulously pushing for a second term in the  White House. As perhaps the most powerful political force in the world Trump’s Presidential tone sets the rules of engagement for the rest of global politics.

While overt cases of racism are prevalent throughout American society, this festering disease is more insidious in the UK. Boris Johnson, is the current  incumbent  of  the  UK  political Premiership, the latest in a long line of xenophobic Conservative Leaders. Similarly, under Conservative rule Sheku Bayoh, another Black citizen died in suspicious circumstances under police custody in Scotland. Significantly, there still remains no investigation into his death which bears all the unlawful hallmarks of foul play at the hands of the police. With the eternal wisdom being that imitation is the most sincere form of  flattery,  Johnson continues to  replicate  the  Trump mantra of bluster and incompetence, having so far demonstrated feeble leadership for the entirety of his short tenure. This has best been exemplified in his mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic and his inability to respond  decisively  and  effectively.  Despite this, many of  his supporters’ remain nostalgic and proud about Britain’s disgraceful and abhorrent past, something he has often eulogised about and similar to Trump, the tact taken by Johnson has focused upon framing and stigmatising the left as problematic or ‘the radical left’. Both populist leaders reject race equality, social cohesion and egalitarianism in favour of reverberating, pernicious messages of division which often sort to demonize the BLM movement and the left more generally.

The recent killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tamir Rice and Tony McDade in the US have echoed the deaths of Sandra Bland, Michael Brown and many others. Such moments continue to momentarily paralyse while triggering feelings of numbness and desensitisation that become difficult for Black communities to verbalise and often hard for White people to fathom even for those that would stand as ‘allies’. The residual effects beyond physical and mental altered state also lead to a suppression of feelings which remain contained and restrained within the confines of Whiteness and the omnipresent power and privilege that accompanies this supremacist phenomena. This all pervades in the face of overwhelming structural  and institutional racism, which remains state sponsored and endorsed. This has been enshrined through policies, laws, institutions and judicial systems which sought to continually subjugate Black and indigenous communities around the world. The intergenerational trauma which repeatedly resurfaces when such violent racial episodes occur reminds us that the contours of racism will continually camouflage and reinvent itself through various tools of Whiteness.

Global resistances to racism and the Whiteness that sustains it must now consider the unrelenting labour, suffering and burden of this plight on Black communities continually tasked with the responsibility of extrapolating themselves from the inequitable stranglehold of White supremacy. As anti-racist groups continue to mobilise and respond to the ever-changing face of racism, acts of solidarity and defiance will manifest in a variance of ways which will require continual endeavour from all global citizens. Often, the alliance of allies can be ‘seasonal’ and momentary for the anti-racist causes that maybe in vogue at the  time. For Black communities they are not afforded such luxury in these critical, inequitable and divisive times, as their existence alone is an embodiment of the racial landscape they traverse on a daily basis.

In Britain, immortalised oppressors oversee the Empire on plinths that not only immortalise them but symbolically place them aerially above Black people as a permanent reminder of the overarching reach of Whiteness and its ability to generationally penetrate and disrupt  efforts towards egalitarianism and  dismantling the  oppressive, colonial past. The bringing down of the any of these colonial oppressors represents an attempt to resist against the proffered virtues of  the Empire and acknowledge its role in maintaining the historical and continual oppression  of Black people. On Sunday June 7th 2020, this resistance culminated in a seminal moment in British history, where in Bristol, England, a city famed for its maritime history and shameful colonial past became the temporary epicentre of the resistance movement for racial equality. The statue of slave trader Edward Colston whose name adorns every building within the city, was removed from its plinth and thrown into the nearby harbour. This solitary act of resistance has reverberated around the world as a symbolic gesture of global solidarity and colonial non-compliance.

In many ways the racialized episodes of the last three weeks may signal ‘the end of the world as we know it’ or the beginning of something  seminally  significant.  The  line  that  proceeds this title lyric in REM’s anthemic offering states that ‘it’s time …  I had some time alone’. Conversely, it is my belief  that concerted and  collected efforts remain our best  form of resistance in  the face of a terminal societal cancer … racism. Racism is not a Black problem to be solved by Black  people, it is an historic and hereditary disease, and its continual infestation must be solved by every-one. Invariably, this means dismantling White supremacist structures that have been complicit in fuelling pseudoscientific ignorance and racist ideologies at the expense of Black and indigenous communities.

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. Throughout civil rights history, Martin Luther King’s words have simultaneously offered comfort whilst being the catalyst for many social justice causes and once again his  words  strike  a  chord with regards to our global, collective responsibility to dismantle racism in all its insidious manifestations.

Notes on contributor

Dr Jason Arday is an Assistant Professor in Sociology at Durham University in the Department of Sociology. He is a Visiting Research Fellow at The Ohio State University in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, a Research Associate at Nelson Mandela University in the Centre for Critical Studies in Higher Education Transformation and a Trustee of    the Runnymede Trust, the UK’s leading Race Equality Thinktank. Jason is also a Trustee of the British Sociological Association (BSA). He sits on the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (CLASS) National  Advisory  Panel  and  is  a  School Governor at Shaftesbury Park Primary School in London.

Jason’s research focuses on Race, Education, Intersectionality and Social  Justice.  He  sits  on  the  following  trade  union equality committees; Trade Union Congress (TUC) Race Relations Committee; University and  College  Union (UCU) Black Members’ Standing Committee and the UK Council for Graduate Education (UKCGE) Working Group on BME Participation in Postgraduate Research. Jason is also part of the  Universities  UK  Advisory  Group  on  tackling racial harassment of students. He is a Graduate of the Operation Black Vote (OBV) MP Parliamentary  Scheme,  a  scheme focused on unearthing the next generation of ethnic minority Parliamentarians.

Jason is the author of the following titles: Considering  Racialized  Contexts  in  Education:  Using  Reflective Practice and Peer-Mentoring to support Black and Ethnic Minority educators (Routledge); Being Young, Black and Male: Challenging the dominant discourse (Palgrave); and  Exploring  Cool  Britannia  and  Multi-Ethnic  Britain:  Uncorking  the Champagne Supernova (Routledge). He is the Co-Editor of the highly acclaimed Dismantling Race in Higher Education: Racism, Whiteness and Decolonising the Academy (Palgrave) with Professor Heidi Mirza (Goldsmiths, University of London).

Jason also serves on the Editorial Boards of Educational Philosophy  and  Theory;  and  the  British  Sociological  Association (BSA) journal Sociology.

Jason ArdayDepartment  of  Sociology,  Higher  Education  and  Social Inequalities, Durham  University,  Durham, UK 


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Full Citation Information:
Arday, Jason (2020): It’s the end of the World as we know it: Racism as a
global killer of Black people and their emancipatory freedoms, Educational Philosophy and Theory,
DOI: 10.1080/00131857.2020.1782722
Article Feature Image Acknowledgement: Photo by Duncan Shaffer on Unsplash