“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
The United States is currently undergoing a period of reckoning. Apart from the devastating COVID outbreak, the nation is finally “bending the knee” for those who’ve faced systemic racism for generations, African Americans.
The Black Lives Matter movement has gained momentum and spread all over. But for some folks, it just became an opportunity to look woke. This morning, while I was checking my Twitter feed, I saw a user calling out Sara Ali Khan’s Instagram post which said “all lives matter”. Adding insult to injury, the post had the word “black” struck out and replaced with “all”.
The post was meant to be a response to the Black Lives Matter movement which was conjured after the brutal murder of an African American, George Floyd, by a Caucasian police officer who hadn’t been arrested until the outrage. Added to that, the death of a pregnant elephant in Kerala led to outrage in India, and Sara’s Instagram post was meant to throw light on that incident as well.
While her filmography and charisma exhibit someone with potential, her sheer ignorance is reflected in that statement. Black Lives Matter, as a movement, gained momentum in 2013 after the murder of an African American named Trayvon Martin. The man who killed him, George Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watch captain, pulled him over because he was wearing a pullover and looked “suspicious”. Zimmerman was acquitted, but the case opened eyes to systemic racism, where African Americans are simply profiled as a potential “danger”.
So, killing an African American, with a prior criminal record or for being confrontational, might not lead to prosecution. Whereas, Caucasians might get a lenient sentence for crimes as brutal as rape. The Brock Turner case is a perfect example; he was given six months (which got reduced to three months) for raping an unconscious woman, who “happened” to be a woman of colour.
Recently, Breonna Taylor was shot dead in her own apartment by three police officers and no one was charged. Ahmaud Arbery was killed by two white men, but they were not arrested until the video of the incident went viral. Even during the current protests related to George Floyd’s murder, there have been reports of protestors being shot by the police. The point is, saying Black Lives Matter is like saying “save your houses by throwing water on homes that are on fire instead of all homes“. “All Lives Matter” only neutralises the narratives around racism.
Now, celebrities who were silent when it came to a lot of systemic atrocities (against DBA communities, deaths during the migrant exodus, etc.) at home, jumped in to participate in this debate. What is painful is the hypocrisy displayed because the folks who have endorsed fairness cream ads are now batting for “all colours”.
Tamannaah Bhatia, an actress, has acted in a fairness cream commercial where a darker version of herself looked unhappy while the fairer version looked happier. I also saw an interview where she talked about a problematic version of beauty standards. While promoting her film Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy, Tamannaah said that she was aware of her status as a “beauty role model” and would think twice before doing something like eating a doughnut. So, if you want to say “all lives matter”, maybe don’t perpetuate stereotypes that suggest otherwise, especially to women.
Sara Ali Khan, in an interview with Barkha Dutt at We The Women, dropped a tone-deaf statement suggesting that people should change themselves instead of trying to change the world. “If you wanna be tan, just put some on some bronzer, and if you wanna be fair, put on some powder. It’s not the end of the world, and it shouldn’t define you at all,” she said. She was even called out for doing an ad shoot and using a tribesman as a prop.
Deepika Padukone, Sonam Kapoor, Disha Patani, and Priyanka Chopra shared ‘BlackLivesMatter‘ posts, and all of them have done fairness cream ads. Priyanka was specifically called out for a scene from her movie Fashion.
Influential stars such as Shah Rukh Khan, John Abraham, Alia Bhatt, etc. have also starred in fairness cream ads. Yami Gautam, when called out by Abhay Deol for endorsing Fair and Lovely, argued that it was her choice. Fairness as a beauty standard also acts as a plague in Indian society, leading to systemic racism.
From matrimonial ads to rides on a metro, systemic racism has been fed and is reflected through people’s reactions. Now, the Black Lives Matter movement has been reduced to an opportunity to look “progressive”, instead of taking a stand. Added to that, “all lives matter” is often used by racists, with a clear intention of neutralising arguments related to racism instead of being held accountable.
Just like saying “men get raped too” in conversation related to violence against women, instead of standing up for male rape survivors. Information is at our fingertips, and Bollywood stars should take a moment to understand these issues. Sonam Kapoor and Deepika Padukone have been talking about social issues like LGBTQIA+ and mental health respectively but didn’t take a stand on the racist aspects of fairness cream advertisements. Check your own mistakes and hold yourself accountable, or else the arguments are just fruitless.