This article is written by Anisha Chatterjee, first-year BBA LLB student at IFIM Law School, Bangalore
On May 25th, 2020, George Floyd, a 46 year old Black Man was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, knelt on his neck for almost eight minutes while Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down, begging for his life and repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe”. Officers J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane further restrained Floyd, while officer Tou Thao prevented bystanders from intervening. Chauvin refused to remove his knee from Floyd’s neck even after he was dead, and moved away only after the medics asked him to.
Multiple videos of this incident went viral, and started what we call right now, the #BlackLivesMatter protests. But George Floyd was simply the linchpin. Problems of racial abuse and discrimination have been going around for centuries in the past, and people are only now starting to take notice. In the words of famous American actor Will Smith, “Racism isn’t getting worse, it’s getting filmed”.
Although racism against black people has been an issue for centuries, the first step taken to address this issue was in 1969 when the United Nations ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. It said that “the term ‘racial discrimination’ means any distinction based on race, colour, descent, or ethnic origin which has the effect of nullifying the recognition or enjoyment, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in different fields of public life.” In December 1966, the United Nations Human Rights Council ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but it did not come into force until March 1976, in accordance with Article 49. It said that every human being had a right to enjoy their civil and political freedom. Nobody must be held in slavery, or be forced to perform compulsory labour. Anyone who has been a victim of an unlawful arrest must be entitled to compensation. All of these were introduced due to the blatant mistreatment and prejudice that black people faced then, and even now. According to research that has been conducted this year, Black people are 3x more likely to be killed by police the and 1.3x more likely to be unarmed, as compared to White people. Yet, Black people are killed by the police for no reason, while armed White people get away.
The United nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights came into force in January 1976, asking it’s member nations to treat all individuals equally, and not discriminate against anyone of the basis of their skin colour, amongst other things. This declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December, 1948, and has been translated into over 500 languages since then. This has allowed all citizens to be protected, despite their skin colour, ethnicities, and genders for many decades, but unfortunately, nobody pays heed to it anymore. The governments themselves have been backing up white people for generations, and according to research conducted last month, many white police officers and government officials are also part of racist groups on Facebook. Many white doctors and nurses have also said that if there was a black patient in need of emergency treatment, and a white patient who had come for a regular check-up, they would choose to assist the white patient first.
India too, like the rest of the world, has a plethora of anti-discrimination Acts, like the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women, 1979, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 1965, etc, among others. But despite all these acts and regulations, we have been unable to bring much of a change.
Black people, are fighting for basic human rights. Where and how do we Brown people fit into this??
ROLE OF BROWN PEOPLE IN THE BLM MOVEMENT:
As Brown people, we should be anti racist, but we aren’t. Asian groups are still held up as “model minorities,” celebrated for achieving higher levels of success. It’s an old colonisers’ tactic that has proven to cause more harm than good, but it’s one that is still very much in use. Because we were pre-determined to be successful, when we were, the media painted us as good, law-abiding citizens that were the opposite of Black people. Brown people earn more than black people and are arrested less often. Brown people are not as similar to Black people as they think they are, and the best example of this is that of UK Home Minister Priti Patel, who has Indian origins, who dismissed Black opposition MP Florence Eshalomi, who was complaining that ruling Conservative government was not taking structural racism seriously. Many Indians have been fooled by the model-minority myth that White people have taught us.
As Brown people living in India, we have never faced the kind of oppression that Black people have faced. We may look down upon White Americans, but we don’t realise that deep down, we are racist too. Systematic racism has become such a part of us, that at this point, we don’t even understand that a simple statement that we make, is racist. We are part of the problem.
REAL LIFE EXAMPLES:
Colourism has been deeply engrained in us since birth. When a baby is born whose skin is darker, relatives stand in front of the baby and say ‘he/she is dark’ as if it is a curse to be darkskin. Cartoons that we watch always show the bad people as dark skinned, and the protagonist as fair. An example of this is “Chhota Bheem”, where the bully is called “Kalia” literally translating to “black”. God forbid you go to the beach during your summer vacations… your relatives are going to say “you’ve become dark” when you see them again.
This goes on for the rest of our lives. Advertisements are full of fair models. As for women, they are always asked to put on makeup that makes them look a few shades lighter. We are asked to wear whiteface even to our own weddings.
Bollywood has taken the entire genre of rap and hip-hop music from Black culture, and those same Bollywood artists have then gone on to promote skin products like bleaching agents and fairness creams. They have perpetuated colourism and profited off these products, and considering these people as idols, the Indian population has done the same.
We don’t think twice before tweeting #BlackLivesMatter but don’t realise that we are part of the problem.
We have to dump years of internalized colonialism and stand in solidarity with black people. We need to cast the Chhota Bheem out of our own eyes before we get a mote out of anyone else’s.
Supporting the Black Lives Matter protest is not enough. We need to check ourselves and people around us for colourism before we can say anything else. Posting on social media about the protests just to seem educated, while not confronting the internalised colourism in ourselves is, quite literally, not fair.