“Daddy changed the world!” Gigi Floyd, daughter of George Floyd, smiled broadly as she shouted this out loud at a Black Lives Matter protest in Minneapolis- a poetic expression of the connection between particular struggle and universal transformation. Gigi’s father, George Floyd, had been murdered by police, sparking mass outrage and a surge in anti-racist movements.
In recent weeks, Black Lives Matter protests, precipitated by the racist police killing of George Floyd, have roiled the United States and filled streets and squares all across the globe. The protests have rapidly shifted public consciousness regarding racism and police brutality, and already brought about some concrete changes such as the call from Los Angeles mayor, Eric Garcetti, for $150 million in cuts from the LAPD budget, and the Minneapolis City Council’s resolution to disband their city’s police department altogether.
The slogan, “Black Lives Matter,” was coined in 2013, after George Zimmerman was acquitted of all criminal charges in the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teen whom Zimmerman had shot dead in 2012. It was not uncommon then for those who insisted that Black lives matter to be challenged as to whether it might not be better rhetorically to abandon the particular and embrace the universal- to say instead that “All Lives Matter.”
Yet the problem with “all lives matter” is that it’s based on the myth that all racial groups are situated similarly, that we all have equal opportunity and access to things like a good elementary school, a bank loan, a doctor who believes us, healthy food, and that we can all rely on and trust government institutions, like schools and law enforcement, to care for us. For example, most white people more or less have faith that they can call the police, and the police will help them out. Black communities are much more hesitant because they understand that the outcomes can be deadly.
All lives matter also ignores history and resists efforts to improve the lives of Black people specifically, who have been struggling for 400 years under the weight of anti-Black racism to belong to their motherland and to have their humanity seen. Could your great, great grandparents vote? Could they own property? Were they lying in bed at night afraid? Were they allowed to go to school? Could they read? Were they migrating across the country to escape violence? Were they barely surviving or dreaming of an exciting future?
Black Lives Matter is saying people are being attacked by the police because they are Black. While whites might be concerned about being mistreated by the police, I have not heard of a white person saying they were mistreated or attacked because of their whiteness.
So when you say “all lives matter,” you are making a statement based on the false perception of a post-racial society, which means we’re free from racism. We know that’s not true. And by denying the reality of where racial groups are situated, that statement in effect maintains structures built on a foundation of white supremacy.
Because it can be easily misunderstood, I’ve even been critical of the term “Black Lives Matter.” What that term is really saying is that “black lives matter too.”
Protests. Rallies. Curfews.
Never would I have imagined such a day in the United States. Never could I conceive the threat of tear gassing and rubber bullets, unmasked acquaintances and close contact with strangers rendered insignificant in the midst of a pandemic. Never could I imagine streets lined with thousands marching hand in hand as the disease spreads from man to man.
The desire for justice has overcome fear of COVID-19, for while the virus can’t pick and choose who deserve to live or die, the racist few of an institution in the United States meant to “serve and protect” have that power. The sickening truth, that Coronavirus gives its victims a greater chance to defend themselves than the police forces of the US gives to black individuals, has brought the nation out of quarantine and onto the streets.
Never have I seen the public so unified in the name of justice. Never have I heard a movement so loud that its calls for change resonate throughout the entire world. Now finally the world hears, yet still, some struggle to listen. Between black and white lie the in-between shades of billions, an abyss of uncertainty on which much of the world teethers.
I am not black, but I am not white either. So where do I, along with those of my community belong to? Where do we fall on the spectrum of privilege and action?
Since childhood, I have been raised in the cradle of a society that fears darkness. Through decades of foreign rule, the trauma of colonial discrimination has manifested itself in a culture that reveres whiteness as a symbol of class and status, and consequentially perpetuates a sentiment of anti-blackness.
Growing up, I found myself surrounded by uncles and aunts casually commenting on the appearance and character of black people in a way that reflected those dangerous post-colonial attitudes. I knew that their remarks were never malicious in intent, but the underlying disrespect and dehumanization behind them resembled the painful truths we see coming to light in American society today.
The traditional value that elders are never to be questioned sealed my quivering lips as I was forced to sit through repeated microaggressions and slurs, choke out forced laughs in the face of blatant disregard for the dignity of black people. My silence in the face of such behaviour makes me complicit in the perpetuation of racism and anti-blackness, and for that, there is no remedy aside from raising my voice now.
For so long, I have lived under the notion that I must accept the traditional values of my elders, and that past a certain age one is no longer capable of change.
Now, I choose to view the shortcomings of my community in addressing racism not as inherent malice, but as an ignorance and lack of understanding surrounding what the fight for racial equality between balck and white people symbolizes for us.
The South Asian community in America is one comprised largely of immigrants, and for many, the American dream is the symbol of a well-earning and successful white individual. Lost in the dream, we neglect to recognize that the foundation upon which we build our lives was forged through the African American struggles for liberation in the 19th and 20th centuries.
It was their fight that allowed many people like me to come to the United States in the first place, their sacrifice that paved the way for people of all races and religions to build a life in US. Today, we have an opportunity to give back, and stand with black people in solidarity against the mechanisms of oppressions that hurt us both.
I do not believe that the racism that black people and other races face can be considered one and the same. I do believe, however, that the same disrespect, dehumanization, and ignorance seen in America right now fuels existing racist institutions in every corner of the world.
In supporting the black community in their fight today, we have the opportunity to weaken the oppressive systems and ideologies that oppress not just our own people, but people of all nationalities.
The BLM movement is a symbol of change, an American born movement that has the power to spark sweeping positive change away from the discriminatory ideologies that govern the lives of all marginalized people- provided we continue the conversation.
Beyond merely recognizing the race problem in the US, we must be active, aware and vocal. We must recognize our own biases, and hold ourselves and our peers accountable for our past words and actions. We must amplify the voices of those who can contribute to the unheard narrative of the life of an African American, and be willing to listen and learn from their stories.
BLM is our fight too, fight against every derogatory terrorist joke, every security check at airports, every anxious stare at our head coverings. It is our fight against the injustices faced by every single marginalized community, every single group of people oppressed on the basis of race or religion.
Ultimately, humanity must seek to crate a world where no group of people- white, black or brown, Christian, Muslim, or Sikh will ever face the injustices that George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless more unnamed victims of systematic racism and inequality have faced. Understanding the violation of the rights of black people in this country is the first step in dismantling the ideologies that allow for discrimination against any minority group, and the first step in ending systematic racism in all corners of the planet.
We have the chance to prove that the youth will no longer allow the racial beliefs and prejudices of our predecessors to govern how we view one another. Together we can rewrite not just America’s history, but the world’s history, and set a precedent of equality for all people.
I may not be balck or white, but I know that the part I have to play in this movement is one that goes far beyond two races. Within the shades of the BLM movement are millions more, dreaming of their chance to march along with their brothers and sisters in the fight for their own freedoms and justice.
I stand with them. Do you?
Content Credits: Rishabhdhwaj Bharadwaj