The Minneapolis Spark

 By Atilio Borón on June 2, 2020

Thousands of youth protest in Oakland, Photo: Bill Hackwell

In 1944 Gunnar Myrdal, a Swede who had received the Nobel Prize in economics, wrote a book entitled “The American Dilemma” to unravel the roots of the so-called “black problem” in the United States. His research showed that African Americans were perceived and treated by whites – except for a sector that did not share that belief – as an “inferior race” that was denied the enjoyment of rights supposedly guaranteed by the Constitution. Thus, African Americans were structurally disadvantaged vis-à-vis whites: low income, lower education and higher unemployment built the deep fabric of a vicious circle inherited from the long history of slavery and whose shadows are cast to this day. Myrdal concluded his study by saying that the United States had a problem, but it was a different color: white. A population that was reviled, attacked and discriminated against, that even after a century of abolishing slavery had to fight against the culture of slavery that long survived the end of that institution

The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 Report confirms the validity of that far-flung diagnosis by showing that if the median income of American households was $63,179 and that of “white” households $70,642 while that of African-Americans collapsed to $41,361 and that of “Hispanics” fell but remained at $51,450. Whites make up 64 percent of the nation’s prison population, but 30 percent of the prison population; blacks make up 33 percent of those incarcerated and 12 percent of the population. 72 percent of white high school graduates enter a tertiary institution that same year, compared to 44 percent of African Americans. The recurrent revolts of this oppressed ethnic group testify to the failure of the timid measures adopted to integrate it, such as the much-discussed “affirmative action” programs.

The COVID-19 pandemic aggravated the situation, by starkly revealing the scandalous discrimination that exists: the overall mortality rate from the virus is 322 per million people and drops to 227 for whites, but rises sharply among blacks to 546 per million. And the economic depression that the pandemic exponentially boosted has among its first victims those of African descent. They are the majority of those registered for the modest and temporary unemployment insurance offered by the federal government. They are also the majority ethnic group that is on the front lines of the fight against the pandemic in their service sector jobs.

This explosive combination of circumstances only needed one spark to set the prairie on fire. The murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police filmed minute by minute and viralized within moments provided that ingredient with the results we now know and continue to experience. The criminal stupidity of a Trump who was driven insane by his denial of the truth and by the economic abyss that opened up at his feet five months before the presidential election did the rest. In a tweet, he threatened the protesters with “bullets” if the riots continued, just like what the 19th-century Southern slaves endured. Unequivocal signs of an end to the cycle, with violence unleashed, looting and curfews challenged in major cities. Any pretense of “returning to normal” that produced such barbarism is a melancholy illusion.

Source: Contra Poder, translation Resumen Latinoamericano, North America bureau