The World Around Us
June 9, 2020
The Empire is Naked

“The Emperor’s New Clothes” is a cautionary tale of an emperor whose vanity caused him to believe that he was adorned in the finest fabric, when in actuality, he was naked. Even when the reality of his nakedness was exposed, the emperor continued to parade himself before his subjects. If we were to juxtapose this story to present day, America would be the naked emperor on full display before the world.

Several events in recent weeks aptly expose the nakedness of America. The killing of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of police in Minneapolis on May 25 2020, has exposed the individual and institutional racism still plaguing the United States (US). Floyd’s death occurred just over two months after police in Louisville allegedly killed Breonna Taylor, a black American woman, under controversial circumstances. About a month before Breonna’s killing, Ahmaud Arbery, a young black man out jogging, was shot and killed after a confrontation with two white men. What was equally distressing about Arbery’s killing was that it took more than two months before his alleged killers were charged and arrested, and this happened because of public pressure stemming from a video of the incident.

Had any of the three victims mentioned above been white, there is a strong probability that the outcome would not have been death. Whether or not we are in the US, these kinds of incidents matter because they are a reminder to black people around the world that racism is still alive. Each time I travel to the US, there is always a healthy dose of apprehension on my part, because there is an awareness that many people do not see my humanity, but simply the colour of my skin. Essentially, I am sensitive to the possibility that an interaction with the police in the US, or with someone who thinks that I do not belong, could end up being fatal. For many of us who have family and friends residing in the US, these are legitimate fears that we carry for them daily.

Apart from the scourge of domestic racism, America also has a different kind of nakedness arising from its recent behaviour as a global citizen. On May 29, 2020, President Trump announced that he was halting America’s membership in the World Health Organisation (WHO). The US was at the forefront of the founding of the WHO in 1948 and is the single biggest contributor to the organisation’s budget. Therefore, America’s withdrawal from the WHO has the potential to place millions of lives at risk, especially in lower- and middle-income countries that rely on the organisation to help them fight diseases which they lack the resources to battle on their own.

Trump’s intention to pull the US out of the WHO follows a pattern of impatience with or disregard for global institutions, norms and treaties that previous Administrations endorsed. Trump has announced US withdrawal from or has already withdrawn the US from the Open Skies Treaty, the Iran Nuclear Deal, the Paris Climate Agreement, Trans-Pacific Partnership, Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council and the UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Trump has also questioned the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and threatened to pull out of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). These kinds of moves do not improve America’s standing in the world, instead they diminish it. They also make the world less secure.

One cannot help but wonder how much longer America will remain naked, both at home and abroad. With each act of disregard for the lives of black Americans, the nakedness becomes more apparent. For every onslaught on rules-based multilateralism, America’s nakedness before the world is made clearer. Indeed, the empire needs new clothes!