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It will take more than Floyd to end racism

Bikram Vohra
Filed on June 15, 2020

No one is born racist or a bigot. We learn it and it is a lesson we blithely pass on to our children.

George Floyd would have probably lived and died unknown and unsung. He would hardly ever have imagined that he would possibly be the last straw that broke the camel's back so far as racism was concerned. That one could argue this anonymous average Joe was martyred at a time when the ripened boil was primed to burst and out has flowed the putrid toxic effluence of hatred. True. It was the timing. The built up rage at breaking point. The savagery and hubris of the assault.

It was a long time coming.

Never will the gap be so wide again nor the coloured of the earth apologise for who they are.

At least one can hope it is the end and not just the timeless beginning of the end since the first 19 slaves were landed in chains to reach Point Comfort, Virginia, near Jamestown, in 1619. We have watched the modern day horror of racism through Thurgood Marshall's good fight, Rosa Park's courage on the bus, the Selma march, Martin Luther King's dream, Mississippi burning, Sammy Davis and Britt Ekland, the work of the NAACP from its formation in 1909, the shooting of Malcolm X in 1965, the Black Panthers and the clenched fist at the Olympics, the 1992 riots in LA, the Million Man march, the riots in Birmingham and Watts, the coming of Jesse Jackson, the White House and Obama, milestones that did not collectively change the equation to any profound extent. Apartheid in South Africa and the former Rhodesia, social ostracisation in Europe, cultural viciousness in the Indian subcontinent, tribal wars in Africa, xenophobia in Europe, the yellow peril of China, the residual hang ups of colonial empires, all links in the same ghastly chain .I am a better man than you, Gunga Din.

In symbolic terms if not in endeavour Floyd has been an unwittingly greater force for change than Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela combined. Between technology and instant communication and the shared visual outrage from 8 minutes and 46 seconds of supreme arrogance, the combination was lethal. But there was this time around another major factor that kicked in and continues to kick in. The relatively privileged world of white people that has lazily and indolently paid lip service to racial equality and carried on their lives at a superior level suddenly stopped and said, wait a minute, is this who and what we are? No, no, no this has to change.

Not just your token liberals and bleeding hearts and the occasional anti-racist zealot but the man on the street, the average Joe who denied racism even as he espoused it by doing nothing to stop its proliferation is looking within himself. Many of us are like that, not just white people, but brown and yellow and cream and even black and whatever other pigment level you opt for. We have been indifferent and casual about the sting of racism. Even sport was not spared. From the time Hitler refused to shake hands with Jesse Owens in 1936 to Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their arms on the podium at the Mexico Olympics in 1968 we have seen footballers ridiculed with banana peels, been privy to racial abuse and vilification from the stands and recently had West Indian cricketer Darren Sammy question the IPL's Sunrisers for using a racial epithet against him. That is why stand-up comic Hasan Minaj can so squarely indict half the world for its hypocrisy and its fake concern while practicing colour-oriented hostility to others and, ironically, their own people.

All too often the trick has been to con oneself into expressing racism and then saying it was all in good fun, just a joke, no intent, only locker room high jinks. That insidious cover wore thin and tore when the Derek Chauvin knee choked Floyd. The gloves are off for now, but as the sentiment of more things change, the more they stay the same. It will be up to every individual to search his and her own heart and ask: Am I a racist, even in a world when patronising is racism.  

The answer might surprise us. That mirror on the wall may not any longer say the fairest of us all.

We are, as a people, good students when it comes to racial prejudice. No one is born racist or a bigot. We learn it and it is a lesson we blithely pass on to our children. So diligently that last week Sesame Street had to do a special on this subject ostensibly to balance things out.

The answer does not lie in being politically correct. That is just folderol and flawed as an attitude.

The road ahead will not be easy. Maybe we need to bring down this evil from its foundation. Create laws that ban skin lightening cream, advertising that promotes the virtues of fairness, clear our minds of latent prejudice, stop shunning those who are different from us, hurting siblings who are darker, cutting out the token acceptance for a new era where racism is a foolish and laughable divider.

We all bleed red. Why is it so difficult to accept that premise? -bikram@khaleejtimes.com

 


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