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Reflections on Ben Okri, Goenawan Mohamad, and the 2020 Global Uprisings


The global Black Lives Matter uprisings against police violence prompted by Floyd’s murder were connected to a longer history of transnational Black struggles. As Ben Okri and Goenawan Mohamad and others have suggested, the civil rights and Black Power movements from the 1950s to the 1970s were not confined to US terrain; they were part of a global conjuncture. Protests throughout the Western world highlighted the blood-soaked record of the global color line, coalescing around demands for the official repudiation of the continuing legacies of racial oppression, enslavement, segregation, and empire. In the United States, the Black Lives Matter movement transformed the public conversation in the US about police violence. Caught in the act, Derek Chauvin seemed untroubled at being recorded by a courageous 17-year-old Darnella Frazier. We do not know what he was thinking, but still one recalls those members of lynch mobs posing for photographs during the Jim Crow era. Convinced that he would not be held accountable by a system of state-sanctioned violence, Chauvin appears to have believed that his use of deadly force was justifiable, just as similar extrajudicial killings by police officers of Black people have been upheld by juries and the criminal–legal system. BLM linked the crisis of oppressive policing to longstanding racial inequities in health, housing, employment, and income while insisting on the sanctity of the lives of Black poor, queer, and transgender persons, and persons living with disabilities. Republican-authored laws seeking to wrest autocratic control of education by criminalizing the teaching of race in US history are a craven response to the ways that the global reckoning on racism in 2020 has altered the US political landscape.

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