On May 25, 2020, the world was jostled to an orgy of mass protests and virulent violence following the gruesome killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old father. Mr Floyd was a Minneapolis resident who worked as a security guard at a Latin American restaurant called the Conga Latin Bistro.
Floyd earned the nickname “gentle giant” while at high school, and was known to loved ones as “Big Floyd”. His life was cut short by police brutality, which many wrongly assume is a preserve of developing countries like Kenya, not the great America. Many believe he was killed because of the colour of his skin — racism at the heart of America, a country which lectures everyone on human rights and equality.
For many across the world, the violence that has been visited across the United States was unfathomable.
What became of the American dream?
Historian James Truslow used the term of the American dream in the book The Epic of America of 1931. It is not a dream simply of cars and high wages, but a dream of a social order to which men and women can aspire without regard to fortuitous circumstances of their birth or position.
Over the years, the American dream became the achievement of safe work, decent housing, education for children, health services and transportation. What started as an idea to boost the US economy and create an environment of post-war opportunities may be broken today.
The American dream was not only for the Americans, but it came to Africa and the rest of the world to say that achieving success requires a competitive environment that only the US seems to have.
We saw it in movies, on television and in political and social movements that sold the land of an equal opportunity system. However, does the American dream show both sides of the coin?
Can the American dream be a euphemism for the slavery of the 21st century or is it still a strategy to flourish the economy of the great world power? American politicians are fond of telling their audiences that the US is the greatest country in the world. Is there any evidence for this claim?
Well, yes. When it comes to violence and preparations for violence, the US is, indeed, Number One. According to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the US government accounted for 37 per cent of world military expenditures, putting it far ahead of all other nations.
Moreover, given the US government’s almost continuous series of wars and acts of military intervention since 1941, it seems likely that it surpasses all rivals when it comes to international violence.
Yet, in a great many other areas, the US is not Number One at all.
Take education. A report on how 15-year-old students from 65 nations performed on its tests showed that US students ranked 17th in reading and 21st in math. An international survey by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development found that the ranking was slightly worse for American adults.
American healthcare is even worse. In a study of healthcare in 11 advanced industrial countries, the Commonwealth Fund concluded that the US ranked last among them. According to the World Health Organisation, the US healthcare system ranks 30th in the world. Other studies reach somewhat different conclusions, but all are very unflattering to the US, as are studies of American health.
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The US continues to move backwards on human rights at home and abroad. With Trump’s Republican Party controlling the legislative branch in 2018, his administration and Congress were able to pass laws, implement regulations, and carry out policies that violate or undermine human rights.
Besides, Trump has rolled back initiatives meant to reduce over-incarceration in the US, implemented an array of anti-immigration policies, and worked to undermine a national insurance programme that helps Americans obtain affordable healthcare, including important reproductive care for women.
What about the environment? In the area of protection of human health from environmental harm, the US is placed 35th in health impacts, 36th in water and sanitation, and 38th in air quality. In the other area studied — protection of ecosystems — the US ranked 32nd in water resources, 49th in climate and energy, 86th in biodiversity and habitat, 96th in fisheries, 107th in forests, and 109th in agriculture.
The widespread extent of poverty, especially among children, remains a disgrace in one of the world’s wealthiest nations. The United Nations Children’s Fund notes that of the 35 economically advanced countries that had been studied, only Romania had a higher percentage of children living in poverty than did the United States.
Regarding democracy, a report by Freedom House, the Washington-based think tank, recorded the fourteenth straight year of deteriorating freedom around the world. Its assessment of the US is also disturbing.
Race and racism
It notes the types of trends that they more customarily assign to fragile corners of the globe including pressure on electoral integrity, judicial independence, and safeguards against corruption.
Fierce rhetorical attacks on the press, the rule of law, and other pillars of democracy coming from American leaders, including the president himself, abound.
A generation after the civil rights movement, Americans are once again engaged in a radical rethinking of their attitudes toward race, and major changes in public policy are imminent. The choice is whether to preserve the existing structure of race-based policies or opt for a completely different approach.
The moment of decision cannot be avoided: Not to choose is to decide in favour of the status quo and to perpetuate current problems. Yet before adopting a course that will determine the future of race relations into the 21st century, Americans must step back from the sound and fury long enough to ask some fundamental questions about race and racism.
Rest in Peace George Floyd.
Mr Wanjawa teaches in the school of humanities and social sciences, Pwani University.