South Africa: Why We Should All Know George Floyd's Name

analysis

Racism is based on deep-seated beliefs that some people's lives are less valuable than others, that they are less human. It renders them much more vulnerable to the policing and security arms of the state.

In his 1995 book Homo Sacer, the Italian theorist Georgio Agamben writes about people who are reduced to "bare life" because they live outside the protection of the law. In the way the state governs them, they live in the margins of the political community and cannot rely on the protection of the state. This exposes them to being killed on a whim, and those who kill them may not necessarily be prosecuted, or found guilty. A person who has been reduced to bare life is called the homo sacer whose life does not have much value.

The death of George Floyd at the hands of a white policeman in Minneapolis last week reminds us of the homo sacer. The police are supposed to protect citizens and honour their rights even when they are suspected of a crime. Floyd is, however, one of numerous unarmed African American men who have died at the hands of police over many decades. For the most part, the police...

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