For nearly 70 years, Americans have been warning their leaders that "the whole world is watching." They warned it during the Civil Rights movement, as the integration of schools in Little Rock, Arkansas, grew tense, and during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, when police and National Guard members attacked Vietnam War protesters with batons and tear gas. The whole world is watching, protesters chanted in Seattle during the 1999 WTO protests, and on Pennsylvania Avenue throughout the Iraq War, and on the Brooklyn Bridge as part of Occupy Wall Street in 2011. They chanted it in Ferguson, Missouri. And in the past two weeks, in at least 140 cities around the country, Americans have once again warned: The whole world will be witness to what you do.

The world — for its part — is making good on the threat. On every populated continent, people have poured into the streets despite the still-looming threat of disease to adds their voices to the chorus of "Black Lives Matter." It's a phenomenon that at first seems curious: The George Floyd demonstrations are addressing the distinctly American problems of militarized police and the lasting repercussions of building a nation on slavery. But upon closer examination, it seems our localized protests were bound to spread abroad because the truths of the movement still fail to be self-evident around the world. What begins as a rally of solidarity becomes, in exercise, a self-examination. The whole world is watching, but beyond being a mere omniscient judge, this time it is acting, too.

From Calgary to Rio de Janeiro, to Accra, London, Tokyo, and Sydney, the protests haven't been slowed by border, language, historical context, or racial diversity. Uniformly, though, the protests express outrage over the death of George Floyd at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer on Memorial Day, as well as how police in the United States have treated peaceful protesters. For many international demonstrators, this expression of solidarity is still the first priority. In Ghana, for example, there have been vigils and anti-racism protests directed at the U.S.; "black people, the world over, are distraught by the killing of an unarmed black man," the president, Nana Akufo-Addo, even tweeted. In Germany, Bundesliga soccer players wore armbands and undershirts demanding "justice for George," and practiced in T-shirts with slogans like "united together" and "no justice, no peace."

But while Floyd's death is a damning indictment of the state of 21st-century America, it has also given other nations an opportunity to reckon with their own racist or colonialist histories. Most notably, over the weekend in Bristol, England, protesters pulled down a bronze statue of Edward Colston — an 18th century slave trader responsible for transporting some 80,000 people from Africa to the Americas — and tossed it into the nearby harbor. In Belgium, calls have grown since Floyd's death to remove the nation's numerous statues of King Leopold II, the monarch whose brutal control of the what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo resulted in an estimated 10 million deaths. "It's as though they still had statues of Hitler in Germany," Jenny da Costa, who was protesting in Brussels, told The Washington Post. "I can't even understand why those statues are still here. He is a murderer."

But while mostly everyone can agree slave traders are bad, Floyd's death is also inciting difficult conversations about more recent history. In London's Parliament Square, for example, the statue of Winston Churchill was defaced with graffiti labeling him a "racist." Churchill is a national hero for his leadership during World War II, but he also has a history of abhorrent comments about non-whites, especially Indians. And as a quieter faction points out, Britain has its own continued reckoning to do with its colonialist history and heroes: the Bengal Famine of 1943, which resulted in the deaths of as many as 3 million people, as one example, was arguably exacerbated by Churchill's policies (and the great leader, for his part, blamed the famine on Indians for "breeding like rabbits"). "There is systemic racism in the U.K.," an unidentified protester told CBS News. "There always has been. This is a chance for us to make a stand." Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson's spokesman called the acts of defacing the Churchill and Colston statues "unacceptable," threatened a criminal investigation, and asserted that Johnson "would not agree that this is a racist country."

In Brazil, protesters see similarities between stories like Floyd's and local atrocities like the death of a black 8-year-old, Ágatha Felix, who was shot in the back by a police officer in Rio de Janeiro in 2019. In Spain, a common thread has also been found: "We are not only doing this for our brother George Floyd," Thimbo Samb, a local organizer, told Al Jazeera. "Here in Europe, in Spain, where we live, we work, we sleep and pay taxes, we also suffer racism." In Japan, protesters have zeroed in on the country's history of racism toward foreigners, including a Kurdish man who was roughed up in police custody three days before Floyd. "We all know what's happening in the U.S.," Nami Nanami, 29, told The Japan Times. "The same thing is happening in Japan but nobody is talking about it." In Australia, Floyd's death has reenergized conversations about the 400 Indigenous Australians who have died in police custody since 1991, including reigniting anger over the death of David Dungay, an Aboriginal man who, like Floyd and Eric Garner, repeatedly and fruitlessly begged "I can't breathe" while being restrained in 2015.

Likewise, protests that started in solidarity with Americans have pivoted to address the rise of far-right and anti-immigrant movements. "In Germany, 'silent demonstrations' on Saturday drew 150,000 people," writes The Washington Post. "[P]articipants in Berlin chanted 'Nazis out!' And in Rome, protesters pointed to far-right campaigns against migrants and the industries that they say exploit them in off-the-books jobs." In Syria, meanwhile, muralists painted George Floyd in Idlib to condemn the international community at large for sitting by during the horrors perpetuated by the Bashar al-Assad regime. "I decided to paint George Floyd on the rubble of a building destroyed by aviation ... to send a message to the world that despite the international negligence and blindness of the killing of civilians in Syria over a period of 10 years, we have a humanitarian duty to sympathize with all the oppressed in the world," one of the artists, Aziz Asmar, told NPR.

Not everyone who is watching has solidarity in mind. China, Russia, and Iran have all used the crackdown on American protesters to point out the hypocrisy of the United States condemning their own uses of force on protesters in the past. "The mainland Chinese and Hong Kong governments have accused the American authorities of 'double standards,'" the South China Morning Post writes. On Twitter, Iran's foreign minister shamed the U.S. for past finger-wagging at Tehran, all whilst using the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. Russia, meanwhile, smugly lectured the United States on "not [violating] the rights of Americans to peaceful protest."

It might be too much to say America needs to set the example — something it's not only too late for, but that simply isn't realistic. Reactions to the death of George Floyd are informed by local contexts, and will need local solutions. Even so, the global protests are a startling and disturbing sign of the tragic ways this world is the same: racism, intolerance, and abuse of power are not unfamiliar in any nation. As one protester's sign read in Australia — though it could have been anywhere — same story, different soil.

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