“African History Matters:” A Conversation About Racism in the Czech Context

On May 25, George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He died while being suffocated by police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down on the ground. A video from a bystander shows that Floyd was compliant with police, thus highlighting the unnecessary and excessive use of force by Chauvin. Four other police officers took part or stood by and watched Chauvin kneel on Floyd. The murder of George Floyd in not an isolated incident, but rather an example of systemic racial violence and police brutality that BIPOC(black and Indigenous people of color), are subjected to in the US. Protests across the US and the world have erupted in the wake of the video of Floyd, encouraging people to confront racism, police brutality, and xenophobia in their own local and cultural contexts. 

Jacob Porteous has interviewed Christopher James Brooks, a black American who is studying here in Prague. Christopher shared with Oko! their perspective on the BIPOC experience in Prague. Beginning with a discussion about the rally for Black Lives Matter in Prague, *Jacob  and Christopher* reflect on the effective dissemination of information across cultural and linguistic barriers. When large issues such as race and police brutality are widely applied, the nuances of, for example, Black Lives Matter are lost in translation. As Jacob  notes in the interview, “In order to get and maintain global support, people have to have more reason to stand in solidarity and I think . . . there were things at the protest that people didn’t understand. Perhaps a language barrier, but in this local context it is very hard for people to grasp the severity of the issue.” Systemic racism and police brutality in the US are certainly applicable in Prague, but discussions surrounding Czech issues such as the treatment of the Roma are often left undiscussed. There also tends to be a sense of complacency that occurs after a large protest, because as Christopher asserts: “With the police officer being arrested and charged, people think “oh, this is justice” and I think what people don’t realize is how far reaching it is. It’s not this one incident that people are mad about, it’s literally decades, centuries, of the same things . . . A lot of people say this is an American issue, but what they don’t realize is that colourism exists globally. Racism exists heavily on the European continent, as well as both of the Americas. I think people are having trouble addressing this issue. Also, there are not enough mentions of how intersectional oppression can be.” 


Christopher James Brooks – American Expat in Prague


This idea of “intersectional oppression” is important when discussing racism in non-American contexts. For example, the racism experienced here in Prague is amplified due to a general lack of understanding of American culture and racism in an American context. Christopher speaks eloquently about experiences with the N-word here in Prague, for example, stating that sometimes people “don’t understand it why they can’t use the word. I am patient and think about how can I explain this word, especially since black people use it to subvert the meaning. How do I explain the dynamics of power and language?” Jacob  points out that a core tenant of the subversion of a slur is the act of re-claiming it by the oppressed group,which is difficult to do when conversing with a non-American person: “People don’t truly understand the gravity. We can’t expect people to understand American culture and race in America. We can’t expect that of anyone. Especially here in the Czech republic that has it’s own ethnic divides. 

To this Christopher replies: “Especially to a person who doesn’t have the history and who doesn’t understand why it needs to be reclaimed. This is why I think the local context is the most important. I think, for example, the word for the Roma people here. Most of them are called “gypsy” and that is a rude word, it’s an offensive word and I didnt know that until coming here. But they have reclaimed it.” Discussing intersectional oppression in culturally diverse contexts is important. In the local context of Prague, what is revealed is that the Czech Republic has its own legacy of oppression that must be brought to the fore. In regards to the Czech Republic and Prague, Christopher says that applying the conversations and protests happening in the US on a Czech audience is important. Discussing the Roma is “what I’m talking about in this local context. There is so much more room for understanding how this works globally and it’s really vital that we really get Roma people involved in this discussion. I wish I knew more.”