W hen America sneezes, the world catches a cold. Every student of history is familiar with the phrase. As the most significant global leader of the past 75 years, political events and social upheavals in the United States often have a worldwide impact.
Seldom has that been more apparent than in the weeks since the brutal killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on Memorial Day. Global outrage over the African American’s death spread quickly, with demonstrations taking place in at least 24 cities across five continents. From Europe to the Middle East to South America, hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets to protest racial discrimination.In London, protesters marched from Trafalgar Square to the U.S. Embassy, both in solidarity with American demonstrators, and to demand racial justice in the United Kingdom as well. Crowds carried signs through the city reading “Racism is a global issue,” “Black Lives Matter” and “I can’t breathe,” among other slogans. The U.K. Black Lives Matter movement has issued loud calls for defunding British police departments.
In New Zealand, thousands disobeyed COVID-19 restrictions to march through Auckland protesting police brutality. According to the NZHerald.com, in addition to signs reading “Justice for Floyd,” many of the demonstrators carried banners reading “Armsdownnz”—a slogan opposing the suggestion that New Zealand police create Armed Response Teams.
Latin America, Iran, Australia and several other nations have seen upheaval and protests, directed as much against their own governments as they have been aimed at the U.S.
Yes, the U.S. was disgracefully late to end the hateful practice of slavery and inexcusably allowed Jim Crow laws to perpetuate segregation throughout the South. Too often, we have turned our eyes from instances of overt and obscure racism. But today we have been confronted with the stark reality of the practice. We accept there is much work to be done.
No one yet knows what the outcome of this massive unrest will lead to. We do know that already significant work is being done at local, state and national levels to end the continuing practices of racism. Whether the calls for change will continue to spread across the globe is yet to be seen. Americans have our problems, but we are far from the most racist country in the world. Racism—the belief that one group of people is superior to another—is as old as humanity itself.
Should the movement take root, it would not be the first time that America has changed the course of the world for the better. From our shores have spread ideals that have infected and improved the lot of humankind. Perhaps our most significant contribution is the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The legacy of those documents can be found in nearly every constitution of the world’s democracies.
In 1852, Hungarian revolutionary leader Lajos Kossuth praised the impact of the Constitution worldwide. Speaking to members of Congress about the document in Washington, D.C., Kossuth noted: “Upon this foundation your free country has grown to a prodigious power in a surprisingly brief period, a power which attracts by its fundamental principle. You have conquered by it more in seventy-five years than Rome by arms in centuries. Your principles will conquer the world. By the glorious example of your freedom, welfare, and security, mankind is about to become conscious of its aim. The lesson you give to humanity will not be lost.”
Now the oldest democracy in the world, the American vision of government has inspired representative democracy in dozens of countries. Since the end of World War II, democracy has grown across the world. Globally, the system of government is at a near all-time high.
According to the Pew Research Center, while most people living in democracies say their countries could do a better job living up to its principles, few say they would be willing to change their style of government. We surely fall in that category.
We do live in a wonderful country. Our system of government functions, not according to the beliefs of one man or one party, but according to the guidelines laid out in our Constitution and enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. If we can ensure every American, regardless of skin color, is afforded the ideals and promises spelled out in those documents, then we will be the greatest nation on earth. We can do this. We must. The world is watching.