George Floyd’s killing triggered something in the planetary psychosocial algorithm.
What it has underscored, among many other things, is that even as American influence has declined and the mythology associated with American exceptionalism has faded, events in the United States continue—whether by way of disappointment or inspiration—to shape the course of events around the world.
In recent years, of course, there have been similar cause célèbres with international reach. The 2009 killing of Neda Agha-Soltan by Iranian regime paramilitary forces, captured on video, inspired marches, petitions, and diplomatic condemnations. The 2010 self-immolation and death of Tunisian fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi ignited a revolution and inspired mass uprisings that continue to resonate across the Middle East and North Africa. The 2015 massacre of journalists and caricaturists by jihadis at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris launched hundreds of opinion pieces and a march by world leaders in defense of press freedom.
But rarely if ever has one incident inspired such a broad global movement. Attention has focused not just on the United States and its abuses but also on entire systems of power, racism, and oppression, which have come under scrutiny and criticism in what amounts to a global teach-in. “It’s a privilege to learn about racism instead of experiencing it your whole life,” said a simple cardboard sign held up by a protester in Rome’s Piazza del Popolo.
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