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By: Anuradha Acharjee, Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi, New York, TIO: Although we have many overseas citizenships holding South Asians feeling for the cause and protesting for Black Lives Matter and we have many South Asians in South Asia deeply grieved by what happened to George Floyd recently, there are many of us in the community who are feeling less significant because of the current proceedings. I can imagine it could be appealing for people from developing postcolonial ideology to feel inferior and threatened due to their minority position, but the Black Lives Matter movement adheres to the subjectivity of minorities. I felt the need to write this article because we as South Asians need to understand the actual point behind the movement Black Lives Matter, while realizing the various related discriminatory practices that exist in our culture that we are conveniently oblivious of, for example, the caste system.
Why and how were people oppressed on the basis of race? While South Asians encountered colonization first on trade policies with different European countries eventually taking up ports in India, followed by the establishment of the East India Company by 1600, people from the African continent were found and thought and addressed to be black. They were perceived as their color from the very beginning that the human race discovered Africa, ignoring all forms of individuality attached to human existence. That was the very first reaction the white man had, hence, their identity was based on the basis of a difference, and not existence. While South Asians were already found practicing Hinduism, as traders, with delicious food, and colourful culture, people from Africa were not considered to be having any culture and immediately involved in the slave trade. There was an inherent need felt, known as the white man’s burden in the postcolonial thought, to convert and civilize.
I agree that colonization as a corporate and capitalistic project was built on the very basis of difference- in culture and habits, which made the white man assume that they need to Christianise and civilize the colonized, and exercise rights over the lands and resources of the colonized because they are not well capable of doing the best with it. However, the point I am trying to make here is about Black Lives Matter being a movement to highlight the centuries of atrocities on the African diaspora, beginning from the day they were stuffed in ships like cattle for the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, till the twenty-first century today when a black person would be easily perceived as an armed person who could harm, a drug dealer, or any petty crime, or even killed. These prejudices need attention because it affects how black people are treated or incorporated into human society. Black Lives Matter as a movement refers to the centuries of pushing a particular race to the margins, and not letting them make their way back to the center because of a certain established belief system as a result of white supremacy.
I also noticed and understood why you all screamed “all lives matter!”, or “people of color matter”, as soon as the movement began, and I believe it could be completely natural for us to feel so. Yes, we South Asians have also faced racism, when Churchill realized the farmers live in Bengal were not worthy enough to save and took actions that caused a famine that affects the economic and food security of the state even today, or when General Dyer open fired in Jallianwalah Bagh, Amritsar, Punjab. I do understand how our lives matter too as many Indians lost their lives just because a British person thought he is a ‘dog’ and did something ‘dirty’. I acknowledge that the British came into our space, and turned the Indus Valley Civilization into a land where an Indian’s life was quite disposable and took thousands of Indians to fight for Great Britain in World War II, in addition to putting hoardings outside restaurants like “Indians and dogs are not allowed”. I understand it at every syllable and breath when we feel that our lives are important too, but the light around this movement is a little more subjective with respect to the Black people.
The problem originated in the United States of America, a country predominantly white, with a significant Asian and Afro-American population. A recent incident where a policeman in Minneapolis assumed he could kneel on a black man’s neck because of a certain crime which created a bill of only $20. The deed committed by George Floyd has not been proven until now in the proceedings of this particular case. Why could the policeman think he could do that, or why would he? How could he equate George’s life to $20? This goes back again to the ‘difference’ which is heavily normalized in American society, and it brings along with it certain specific prejudices. Why are these prejudices thriving? Because of ignorance and because a movement like Black Lives Matter did not originate till today.
This is the importance of this movement. While I understand we fight racism together in the Global South, there are some times when we need to further classify according to the need of the hour. Right now, black lives need to be humanized and saved. Saying all lives matter is like you cooking food for two hours for your entire family and being hungry. Finally, when you sit to eat after serving everybody, there is hardly any food left, and you say you are hungry. Your husband ignores it, and continues to eat saying he still feels hungry. Whose hunger is more important here?
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Finally, I would also like to mention those South Asians who openly claimed that we are hard-working people and that is why we were incorporated in the white society in America, whereas black people are lazy. NO. In 1965, the United States of America allowed the immigration of skilled South Asian workers. They were just favored by white people to succeed, which does not make us hardworking or Afro-Americans less hardworking or less deserving. A society was created wherein a race was included in the middle, and privilege was chronological which has naturalized social injustice that many times one might not even realize. The Blacks were not even given a chance to prove their worth like us, and even today is easily suspected for crimes, dealing drugs, or sometimes even killed like in the case of George Floyd. The economic difference, employment opportunities, and cultural pressure is different for the Afro-Americans altogether in American society.
I just want to draw our attention to the specific needs of the Black community right now, how this movement in its singularity is extremely essential for the world to establish their identity out of what was created, and maybe that is why it gained so much popularity all over the world. It is bringing up other issues within our community like what most of us have been feeling, but the very nomenclature of the movement identifies why this movement is important. It is aimed at saving black lives and establishing their humane importance just like the rest of us. It is important for their inclusion and acceptance as individuals in the society, who are not associated with the prejudices created against them in the past. Black Lives Matter as a movement is important for inaugurating a prejudice-free society for the black race, wherein they are perceived as any other human race in their capacity and capability. We need to let this fire burn, and not try to understand our image in it. Think of it as a cleansing process, important, worthy of time, and for purity to prevail. It is just another step towards making the world everyone’s. Black Lives Matter is indicative of the hurt, pain, trauma, violence, and hatred inflicted on Blacks in the United States of America over the past 400 years. It is about getting the world to recognize we are worthy of humane treatment as is every human life, and it is much bigger than analyzing day-to-day overt racism. BLM is also about acknowledging the covert, structural racism that is instilled in every US institution meant to keep Black people oppressed, even more-so than other People Of Colour.
Anuradha Acharjee is a Mexico based Indian scholar. She is an avid researcher for minority lives in Latin America and India, women’s rights and feminism in South Asia. Her other interest areas include cultural studies, postcolonial literature, and popular culture.
Compiled and curated by Maham Abbasi