Dear white, cisgender, heterosexual people,
Now, I’m not a big fan of call-out or cancel culture theoretically, but if even after 88 fatal police-shootouts targetting African-Americans just in the past year you use the hashtag ‘All Lives Matter’, then yes this open letter is definitely calling you out on your blissful privilege and blatant ignorance. The phrase All Lives Matter isn’t just disrespectful to the black population battered and brutalized all over the world, but it’s disrespectful to religious and racial minorities in every country that face gross human right violations that aren’t accounted for, or even acknowledged by dominant majority groups.
When you use the aforementioned phrase, you assume that you deserve the same natural and human rights as the minority group you talk about. Hypothetically, that’s a fact but do you really think the same rights are handed out to them in practice? You assume that you and the minority group in question are at the same vantage point in terms of historical, political, economic, cultural and civil liberties, which is highly inaccurate. You assume that you and the minority group in question are treated equally in the eyes of the law, inside and outside court.
The way I see it justice is almost always delayed, rarely dispensed but more often than not denied. You assume that you and the subaltern group in question gain the same social acceptance in society and aren’t typecasted into derogatory, demeaning categories, deemed fit by convenient prejudices. You assume that you and the minority group in question don’t face humiliating and offensive slurs on a daily basis, which is again a misguided judgement. If you still believe everyone is equal, ask any African-American, Hispanic or another minority group how safe they feel walking home alone at night in America.
The Guardian’s ‘The Counted’ series estimates more than 1093 shootouts in 2016, out of which 266 black people were killed, which is 24% for a population that accounts for only 13% of the total population of the United States of America. Breonna Taylor, Dominique Clayton, Philando Castile, Bettie Jones, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis are just a few names in the extensive list of individuals killed in shootouts. The number of such murders in the US disproportionately affects African Americans. According to an article by Al Jazeera, Black Americans are two-and-a-half times as likely as white Americans to be killed by the police.
As for all erstwhile colonized inhabitants, especially Asians, who are appallingly using the phrase left, right and centre, have centuries of colonialism taught you nothing? Is this the post-colonial legacy we consciously internalize, support and not speak out against? Because it’s not one hashtag that you as individuals promote day in and day out, it’s abetting and egging on heinous crimes committed against people of colour, it’s normalizing mass rapes and murders that have been committed against children of racial minorities and sustenance of ideologies that turn women’s bodies into battlefields for war.
Focusing on India, my ‘mother-land’ under Modi in 2020, do we really see an improvement in the lives of Muslims and Dalits in our country? The Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013, Muhammad Aqkhlaq’s brutal lynching in the Dadri case of 2015, the Una flogging and violence of 2016 and Rohit Vemula’s suicide over caste-based discrimination seem like distant stories of the past. Anti-secular and segregating laws like the Citizenship Amendment Act continue to be passed and rationalized.
Forgotten horrors are overshadowed by ‘new developments’ India makes in the digital sector, in the health-insurance sector or in its bilateral relations and trade deals with super-powers like the United States. ‘Hard power’ commonly known to constitute real-politics is fallacious when casteism, communalism and sexism are the backbones of the very Hindutva ideology propagated by our ruling party. While we bolster movements in faraway lands as responsible citizens, we neglect the same issues persisting closer to home.
The oppressor and the oppressed can never, and I repeat ever, switch roles or share the same advantages and disadvantages in society. I’d love to believe in a utopic world justice, equality and liberty; the basic tenets of democratic values are allocated to each and every individual uniformly but presently, they’re absolutely not. Which is why reverse-racism or equalism as a replacement for feminism, do not exist. When you use terms like these, you disrespect and frankly discredit the validity of all anti-colonial struggles as well as waves of feminism that have attempted to restore constitutional rights for all categories of individuals. So if you’re not a white, upper-class male, it’s the reason why you can vote in the first place.
Ontologically, you as a privileged man or woman will never experience the first-hand, lived experiences of any man, woman, LGBTQIA+ community member who belongs to a racial, religious, gender, or caste minority. George Floyd doesn’t represent merely one but the many countless black voices that have been silenced, as well as voices of all those slaughtered at the hands of their oppressor.
Kudos to protestors in Australia, Berlin, Paris, Japan and various other countries who have come out to support George Floyd in their own countries, amidst a pandemic, to condemn racism worldwide. Kudos to people who believe in speaking their mind and raising their voice against flagrant infringement of basic human rights. Social media has gained popularity today and exists as an alternate mode of political and social activism to spread awareness.
If not the most, the least you can do is stop appropriating stories that aren’t yours, stop turning other people’s miseries into exploitative stepping-stones for your personal use, stop with the misplaced saviour complex, empathize more than sympathize; furthermore, acknowledge your privilege rather than basking in its glory.
Signing off with a lot of disgruntled sighs.