By: Barnali Bose, Editor-ICN World
KOLKATA: Last year, in Boston, as I was walking past a very old church, I retraced my steps. A writing in its front yard caught my attention. It read,”We believe that all lives matter, that every person is valuable and every individual deserves to be treated with justice and love. We live in a society that suggests otherwise. Because of the continuing injustice and violence disproportionately endured by people of colour l,we affirm that black lives matter.”
As I had stood there quietly, absorbing the implication of the statement, the harsh reality behind it came to me in a flash. The indisputable truth that colour has since time unrecorded, been a ground for discrimination worldwide, dawned upon me.
The recent spine-chilling incident of an African American’s killing in Minneapolis has once again brought to the forefront the blunt fact that racial discrimination had existed decades ago and has never since ceased to exist. The protests have spilled all over the United states of America and once again catapulted into The Black Lives Matter movement. It has now been causing ripple effects echoing louder and louder, making inroads into many parts of the globe.
“I’m black and I’m proud”, the display at the exhibition in The New York Library, spelled loud and clear. These words reiterated the pride that the blacks have in their glory and not without reason. Despite being suppressed for decades, they have emerged tall and proud.
American History boasts of Rosa Parks who came to be known as ” the mother of the Civil Rights Movement in America.” To refresh our memory, on December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks had blatantly refused to give up her seat in the “colored section” to a white passenger. It being a violation of the city’s racial segregation laws, Parks was jailed.
It ignited a call for a bus boycott by black citizens on Monday, December 5.The first day of the bus boycott was a great success, and that night the 26-year-old Rev. Martin Luther King, Junior, said “The great glory of American democracy is the right to protest for right.” King received numerous death threats from opponents. Not only that, his home was bombed, but he and his family escaped unhurt.
Parks’ act of defiance and King’s Montgomery bus boycott became significant symbols of the Civil Rights movement in America. Both of them became international icons of defiance to racial segregation.
However, it is interesting to note that an unsung rebel, Claudette Colvin was actually the first whistleblower against ‘Black’ oppression. In March, 1955, just a few months before Rosa Parks’ Montgomery bus incident, Claudette, a fifteen year old school girl was actually the first black to refuse to give up her seat to a white.
Eclipsed by Parks, her act of outright defiance went largely unnoticed. Claudette, now in her late seventies, a few months ago gave an interview to the BBC that laid bare to the world,the unknown details of the incident.
“There was segregation everywhere.The churches, buses and schools were all segregated and you couldn’t even go into the same restaurants,” Claudette Colvin lamented.
That fateful day, Claudette was ordered to give up her seat for a young white woman in the bus. She protested saying,“I have paid my fare and it is my constitutional right to remain where I am.” As a result, she had to face contempt and suffer detention for her ‘outrageous’ behaviour.
In 1947, Jackie Robinson, aged 28, became the first African-American player in Major League Baseball when he stepped onto Ebbets Field in Brooklyn to compete for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson broke the color barrier in a sport that had been preserved for whites for more than 50 years.
Sadly, notwithstanding his talent, Robinson faced tremendous racial discrimination throughout his career, from baseball fans and some fellow players.
Most of us have read the famous book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin but are perhaps not aware whose life had inspired this smashing bestseller of the time.The character Uncle Tom, from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel is based on the life of Josiah Henson.
Henson’s first memory was of his father being whipped, having his ear cut off, and sold south—all as punishment for striking a white man who had attempted to outrage his wife’s modesty.
Racist behaviour manifests into racial discrimination. Consequently, what results is outright neglect or ignoring those that are believed to be different and thus considered inferior. In extreme cases, more explicit forms of harassment, exploitation or exclusion become the norm rather than exceptions to it.
There is no dearth of such instances in History. In fact, on 7 June 1893, M.K Gandhi, was forcibly removed from a whites-only carriage on a train in Pietermaritzburg, for not obeying laws that segregated each carriage according to race.
Gandhiji, as a young Indian lawyer in South Africa at the time was deeply humiliated and shaken by this incident.Gandhi became instrumental in protesting against policies of segregation in South Africa in the early 1900s. Back in India, he condemned untouchability and embraced the so-called lower castes whom he referred to as ‘harijans’.
A discussion about colour discrimination would however be deemed incomplete without reference to Nelson Mandela and his fight against Apartheid .
Apartheid was a social system which severely disadvantaged the majority of the population, simply because they did not share the skin colour of the rulers.
Many were kept just above destitution because they were ‘non-white’ . Across the world, racism is influenced by the idea that one race must be superior to another. Such ideas are found in all population groups.
The other main reason for apartheid has been fear, as in South Africa. There the white people being the minority group, felt threatened, fearing the loss of jobs, culture and language.
“ I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” Martin Luther King, Junior had said.
We, Indians talk of racism in other countries. But are we also not racists when we advertise, ‘Wanted a fair-complexioned bride…?’ In some communities in India the unwritten rule that ” The darker the bride,the more the dowry,” still prevails.
Skin color does not make a person who he is. Although we do talk of blue blood when we refer to royal families, in reality blood has a universal colour, the colour red.
To quote Martin Luther King Junior, “ I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” I am certain any righteous individual would second Martin Luther King Junior’s thoughts. I sure do.
“All human beings are born free and are equal in dignity and rights”. These first few famous words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 60 years ago established the basic premise of International Human Rights law. Yet today, the fight against discrimination remains a perennial struggle for millions across the globe. Racism is a hurdle to humanism. To those who still believe colour to be the deciding factor in human superiority, I herein unapologetically and without hesitation would like to say ,” Stop being racists. Be human.”