Updated: Jul 3
Throughout this series, I have taken a look at police brutality, judicial injustice and the President’s right-wing land-grab. Now it’s time to stretch the discussion beyond the borders of the United States and look at how the George Floyd protests have brought about international solidarity with the protestors and heightened awareness of the structural inequalities facing minorities in all nations. This is the final instalment of a three-part article series. The first article can be found here, the second can be found here.
As loathed as President Trump would be to admit it, the United States exists within a global community. Now more so than ever before, the world is communicating and discussing, sharing and misinforming one another at the speed of light. The phrase “a lie can get half-way around the world before the truth even gets its pants on” has never been truer.
In my Grandparents’ youth, and even my parents’ youth, protest movements, police brutality and the goings-on in the United States would take a few days to break in the UK, and even longer to absorb into the common consciousness. For me, and many of you reading this, we grow up in a time in which an incident like that of George Floyd’s murder can reach these shores in minutes. Articles can be written and uploaded onto mainstream news websites within the hour.
What I’m trying to drive at is that so rarely do governments get the time to come out ahead of an incident like this, so the response is all the more crucial. At the time of writing, there is yet to be a major response from the Trump administration on addressing the conduct of American police forces. Although, if his tenure as President is anything to go by, we will be waiting a while for a large-scale, top-down change.
I think part of the reason the world’s politicians, celebrities, sports stars, commentators both left & right, black people, white people, seemingly everyone, is on board with the #BlackLivesMatter movement this time around (to greater or lesser extents), is because virtually everyone can see the gross injustice that has taken place. What’s more, everyone can see it is not the first of its kind, and under this President, it is unlikely to be the last.
On Tuesday the 2nd of June, people were posting wholly black images to social media sites like Instagram in support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement with the accompanying hashtag #BlackoutTuesday. Marches have been springing up all over the world; Auckland, London and Paris, to show solidarity and support for the message. While the issue of police brutality is centrally one of relevance to the US, institutionalised racism is still an issue in the UK and further afield. We all have a responsibility to ensure our society’s state institutions function equally for all.
Ultimately though, the question we have to think about is: How do these protests affect the United States on a soft-power level? Soft power is about winning the hearts and minds of people across the globe. Throughout the post-WWII period, the US has been a soft power machine, and it owes most of that success to Hollywood and the film industry. From Old Westerns to Hollywood Blockbusters, films have been an excellent point to win the hearts and minds of children and adults alike.
But as we move into a new era, a more cynical era, a more inherently political era, we see that those old soft power tricks don’t work any longer. The advent of the internet and the politicisation of just about every facet of life for young people has given them a political compass. They now see issues, not through a lens of ‘well that’s just how it’s always been’, but now ‘why does it have to be this way?’.
We’re seeing international protest movements being led by children which hold the ear of world leaders. Inside the US, we saw the victims of the Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting become leaders in a gun-control debate, holding whole rallies just for young people. Through the internet, we are granted immediate information about world events, and young people are actually listening, absorbing, understanding and supporting it.
So, the world came together around the protestors to reject the status quo. Even if it just be a tweet, or a blacked-out Instagram post, declaring your solidarity shows that you understand the problems to some extent and that you sympathise.
These protests will hit the US’ soft power reserves more and more the longer they go on. The longer they continue, the longer people abroad have to review the US, to question whether it is really the ‘land of the free & the home of the brave’, or whether that’s just a dream they have for themselves. The less sympathetic the response to these protests, the more hearts and minds begin to shift away from America.
I am not declaring that these protests will bring the US crumbling to its knees. I am merely suggesting that a lot of America’s international influence relies on them being the bearers of democracy, freedom and liberty, and if, all of a sudden, that message isn’t believable to their own citizens, let alone the wider world, their authority carries absolutely no weight. The Trump administration has already failed with Coronavirus; it is now failing to do what is right with the George Floyd protests. Soon, the US, as a result of the Trump Presidency, will fail to capture the world’s hearts and minds.
A legal perspective on the tear-gassing of protestors by President Trump on the 1st of June.