Shorts In The Dark

What India can learn from the US protests

The liberals say their plates are already full with Sudha Bhardwaj and Safoora Zargar. The rest think there is nothing wrong with calling Darren Sammy 'Kaalu'.

 |  Shorts In The Dark  |  4-minute read |   13-06-2020
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As the human race learns to coexist with a pandemic that threatens to wipe it out, the killing of George Floyd brings to the fore a more immediate and age-old question: how do different races co-exist on this planet. As the protests played out (and continue to do so) on the streets of America (and the world), there were times it felt that one was watching a film, a cross between the disease-ridden dystopia of Joker and the anti-capitalist anarchism of Fight Club, which ends with banks being blown to smithereens.

Old affliction

Around when Derek Chauvin had his knee pressed on Big Floyd's carotid, leading him to call out for his mother and utter the famous last words that have led to a mass movement, two white astronauts blasted off into space to the soundtrack of white heavy metal bands. I was reminded of the race riots of the 1960s, and the significance of the year 1969 when Armstrong and Aldrin first set foot on the moon. In 1970, Gil Scott-Heron released his spoken word poem 'Whitey on the Moon', which resonates as much today as it did then: "I can't pay no doctor bill /(but Whitey's on the moon)/Ten years from now I'll be payin' still/ (while Whitey's on the moon)/ The man jus' upped my rent las' night/ ('cause Whitey's on the moon)/No hot water, no toilets, no lights/(but Whitey's on the moon)."

When the protests began, the white anchors on local American TV stations were busy focusing on two red herrings: will the protests lead to a surge in Covid-19 infections, and the looting. One CBS anchor kept asking the cameraman to zoom in on the number plate of a truck that was making away with an ATM machine in the back. She wanted to pass on the information to the police. As the world rose in united protest, here was a white person still hell bent on sending the black person to the slammer. What balances this out though is that, for the first time, white kids are out in the streets joining hands with their black counterparts.

The violence was spontaneous and some would argue necessary. The breakdown of order sends out a clear signal. A handful of people could have come out in ordered lines, shouted anodyne slogans and gone home. Nothing would have come of it apart from cosmetic measures. It was cute to see how some people cared more for Apple stores and Mercedes showrooms than the systemic oppression of an entire community which has led to countless lives being lost. Black people's businesses were looted too but all of them, from the Ethiopian owner of a pharmacy to that of a Sole Shoes outlet, said they will recover their losses through insurance; the movement was far bigger and infinitely more urgent.

Spontaneous uprising

As Forrest Hylton wrote in an LRB blog, "The local government and media do not understand this as an uprising, because they worship private property and the mythology-ideology of small business -they cannot understand riots as political acts, however inchoate." He goes on to quote Leslie Redmond, the president of the Minneapolis NAACP, "I can't tell you how many governors I've sat down with, how many mayors we've sat down with. And we've warned them that if you keep murdering black people, the city will burn. We have stopped the city from burning numerous times, and we are not responsible for it burning now.' Sceptics said that the protests were the result of people being cooped up inside due to the pandemic and letting off steam. Well, the protests were hardly a hippy party. The protesters were out despite the pandemic, underlining the genuine outrage that they felt. They were sprayed with rubber bullets, chemicals and baton charged, even as Trump threatened to unleash 'vicious dogs and ominous weapons.'

In fact, the police used such disproportionate force that changes have already been made to the law. The DC city council unanimously passed a police reform passage that bans neck restraints, pepper spray, rubber bullets, stun guns and tear gas. As Confederacy flags are removed and statues of slave owners dumped into the river, we shouldn't be too optimistic about racism being wiped out completely. Human beings are bigoted creatures, no one more so than Indians who have remained strangely indifferent to what's happening in America. The liberals say their plates are already full with Sudha Bhardwaj and Safoora Zargar. The rest think there is nothing wrong with calling Darren Sammy 'Kaalu'. Indians are the right shade of white.

Police excesses

What can be fixed is police brutality in the US. The black teenager grows up in terror of the police. If you run, you are arrested for evading arrest. The police barges into your home at midnight, like with Breona Taylor, and pumps you with bullets. Black people are thrown into a privatised prison system by allwhite juries for the flimsiest reasons. Others have the cops called on them for sitting in a park and birdwatching. Let black people breathe. This moment marks a tipping point in human history. Black lives matter, period.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: I can't breathe: Black men and white-caller crimes


Palash Krishna Mehrotra Palash Krishna Mehrotra @palashmehrotra

The writer is the editor of 'House Spirit: Drinking in India'

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