Do you advocate the binary logic of black and white or logic which accommodates the shades of grey? I am and do remain an advocate of the logic of the shades of the grey. Strangely, some of the narratives coming from the innumerable articles I read on racism, #BlackLivesMatter tries to give a very different picture. There are only two options: either you are racist or you are not. Before we make a judgment, we should be willing to listen to some of the voices of black people, especially from the US, and hear their experiences.
“The entire discussion of race in America centers around the protection of white feelings…. A white person smoking pot is a ‘hippie’ and a black person doing it is a ‘criminal’. It’s evident in the school to prison pipeline and the fact that there are close to 20 people of color in prison for every white person. I’m gonna read that again: Black and Muslim killers are ‘terrorists’ and ‘thugs’. Why are white shooters called ‘mentally ill’?”, says John Metta.
“Another time, when I’d walked back to my best friend’s empty house after a party, I accidentally set off the alarm, bringing the cops buzzing to his door. I wonder if the only reason it went so smoothly is because I quickly identified myself as a member of the military, opening their ears to hear the full story of what was happening. I think of what might’ve happened if they’d mistaken me, holding my military ID in my hand as I walked out the door, for something else”, says Amesh A Nagarajah.
“To be black in America is to be born into the trauma of the constant threat of police violence, conforming, and self-censoring to navigate that unfair sidewalk and avoid the traps, says Michaella Henry.
The question is: Are you a racist? Many whites could say “I am not a racist” because I have many black friends, relatives, employees, and so on. But it is time to see racism as a systemic injustice, where the American system (Americans may not be alone here) favours the white. Thus, by being white, I am the pet of the system; I may or may not be aware of it.
Thus, racism is no more a question only connected with personal relationships. Despite it being an important component, the crucial demand is to start seeing racism as a societal construct that is systemically unjust.
“Many of the white people I know have no concept of the role they’ve played, passively or actively, in perpetuating these conditions. They have no idea how much we long to hear them speak up for us and to embrace some of the discomfort around these issues with us. Furthermore, the good ones are oblivious to the level of overt racism still out there”, says Ramesh A Nagarajah.
“Racism is so deeply embedded in this country not because of the racist right-wing radicals who practice it openly, it exists because of the silence and hurt feelings of liberal America. White people are in a position of power in this country because of racism. The question is: Are they brave enough to use that power to speak against the system that gave it to them? …. Stand up for what’s right. But first, make sure you look in the mirror long enough to see what’s wrong”, says Elyse Cizek.
Yes, I support the binary logic here. There are only two options, being a racist or not. Much more than personal relationships and choices (though they are important), it is a question of supporting a system that shows preferences based on colour. Accepting reality invites us to start doing remedial actions, which remodels the system instead of doing mere bandage work. Chris Pitre in his challenging piece gives a lot of starting points for the business leaders. Jason Weiland gives some ideas on where an unimportant white dude like him can start. A white mom speaks of the new journey she has started. Melinda Briana Epler speaks of 20 things that could be done as an ally. A quote sums it up,
“The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.” — Ijeoma Oluo
The #BlackLivesMatter movement is raising pertinent questions issuing a call to fight against all the systemic injustices around the world. It might not be easy in countries with dictators or dictatorial mentalities in the governmental systems, but it’s high time that the so-called liberal countries do take it up seriously. I would like to think from the perspective of the largest democracy in the world, India. I would look into two systemic injustices that are significant in the context of the Indian subcontinent.
One is the age-old question of casteism and the second is the question of religious minorities, especially Muslims. Even Christians experience the same. Some of the poignant questions that can be asked are:
These are significant questions and I believe that systemic injustice does exist against these two sets of communities, though it is highly dependent on the location where they live. More direct questions that need to be asked is:
A paraphrasing of the quote from Ijeoma Oluo could give us hope for the future, “The beauty of anti- ‘ism’ movements (like casteism, communalism, patriarchy) is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of those viruses to be part of those movements. It is the commitment to fight those viruses wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.”