Iran Review | Javad Heirannia: Prof. William O. Beeman, head of the anthropology department at the State University of Minnesota, is of the view that the United States “is still a racist society”.
Beeman also tells the Tehran Times that “the entire economy of the American South was dependent on slavery, and culturally black Americans are still viewed as slaves or at least inferior by many white people.”
Following is the text of the interview:
Q: After a black man was killed in Minneapolis, we witnessed popular protests against this brutal act. What are the reasons for the protests between police forces and people, especially people of color?
A: The murder of George Floyd by a white policeman was filmed on video and took place before dozens of witnesses. This was the fourth time recently that an unarmed innocent black man had been murdered by white policemen in Minnesota (the state where Minneapolis is located). In all four cases, the policemen were not punished. In one other case, where a white woman was killed by a black policeman (a Somali-American), the policeman was jailed for 12 years, and the family of the woman received a $12 million settlement from the city. The difference in these cases was very upsetting for the black community.
The reason this is a continual problem is that police conduct is not under the full control of the mayor or even the chief of police. The mayor and chief of police can hire and fire policemen, but they can’t control their conduct, and they can’t punish them except to fire them from their jobs. The police have a very strong federation with their own lawyers. Moreover, the laws generally favor the policemen. All a policeman has to say is: “The subject threatened me, so I shot him (or her),” and the law protects the policeman from punishment. They also can say “the subject was resisting arrest,” and the law will equally favor the policeman. The U.S. Supreme Court has made it even harder to convict policemen for murder when they are “on duty.”
However, because almost anyone can take a video with their phones, policemen have found it harder to use these excuses when there is video evidence showing that they were lying, as in the case of George Floyd.
Police are not supposed to be racist. But many are. The head of the police federation in Minneapolis appeared on stage with Donald Trump this year, supporting him. Many people think that Trump is a racist and that his actions protect racist policemen.
If this murder were only restricted to Minnesota, the protests would not have spread. These kinds of confrontations have been going on for many years all throughout the United States, and many people feel that policemen, in general, are racist. Black people are very afraid of them. Fathers and mothers educate their children about how to behave if confronted by a policeman or policewoman because they have seen many innocent people killed by the police in routine encounters. About 1 in 1000 black men can expect to be killed by a policeman.
For this reason, the murder of George Floyd was just the latest outrage for not only the black community but for many white citizens as well, especially younger white people who have a much less prejudiced view of black people. The protests against George Floyd’s murderers quickly spread to other communities where black people had been murdered by the police. These incidents are so widespread in the United States that hundreds of communities rose up and protested.
Sadly, we must confront the fact that the United States is still a racist society. The entire economy of the American South was dependent on slavery, and culturally black Americans are still viewed as slaves or at least inferior by many white people. Even distinguished professors, athletes, artists, and politicians have had bad encounters with the police. So these protests are essentially saying “ENOUGH!!”
Q: As president of the United States, Trump also angered protesters with a tweet following the incident, to the point that Twitter was forced to hide his tweet. What is the reason for Trump’s racist approach?
A: Trump’s supporters are largely non-college-educated white men living in rural areas. A large number of them are racist. Trump knows this, and he manages to keep them supporting him by sending out racist messages himself. He is telling them that it is acceptable to be racist, and they respond positively to that message.
Q: Given that the November elections are important for Trump, it seems that he feels that racist rhetoric can attract whites who also have racial approaches. What is your assessment?
A: Yes, most people believe that this is Trump’s strategy. I believe it is safe to say that Trump will receive 100% of the racist vote in the next election. He knows this, and so he keeps sending out racist messages to signal these people: “I am like you. I will protect you.”
Q: One of the dangers facing the U.S. is multiculturalism for which liberalism has not been able to find a solution. Why has the country not been able to find a way to this multiculturalism and attract immigrants, linguistic, racial and religious minorities to the dominant American culture?
Actually, I don’t agree with you. The United States has in fact been supremely successful in attracting immigrants, and is becoming more multicultural every day. This is the problem for the white population, however. Twenty or thirty years ago the vast majority of the United States population was white. This is changing rapidly. Only recently the white population in many parts of the country is becoming a minority population. In some parts of the Southwest, Hispanic Americans outnumber non-Hispanic Americans, Washington D.C., the nation’s capital is majority African-American, as are many large United States cities. The white population is in panic. They hate being in the minority in their communities, and many would like the black and brown and non-Christian people to disappear. But these recent immigrants are not disappearing. They are, every year, a larger and larger proportion of the population. The United States in 20 years will be totally a nation with a majority of non-white people, and that is what has made racism so violent.