One thing sub-continental post-colonial thinkers, especially Indians, emphasized in the global academic discourses is an awareness of colonialism. In doing so, the Indian think tank, sub-continental thinkers included, reduced the larger colonial fatalities and undermined the consequences where it mattered most: in Africa, the Americas, and the Oceania. Not surprisingly though, to one’s amusement, one could find India (again sub-continent included) as the most, if not only, successful outcome of what the colonizers propagated and claimed for as their ‘civilizing mission’. That the Indian thinkers in general, and postcolonial thinkers in particular, are leading in the universities in the Global North, especially in programs of humanities and social studies, portrays a perfect picture of this ‘civilization process’. Without a critical awareness of the knowledge production of the entire global system, it is impossible to look clearly into the current crisis. In doing so, we must not only think of the institutionalized knowledge, produced in the global academia and research organizations, but also take account of the comprehensive public discourses around the globe.
Racism, unlike what most of the common Westerners believe to understand, is far too complex in this part of the world. It is interesting to see how Gandhi is portrayed as a central catalyst for ANC (African National Congress) in Indian scholarship and history, while the adverse attitude about (or against) African population in general prevails in the same time. There are apologists who are likely to bring the experiences from Idi Amin’s Uganda, that mark complex counter-racist activities. That, however, cannot explain the sub-continental hatred towards the African population. However, the colonial mindset does. I am referring to the Indian scholarship and academia specifically for its overwhelming impact over the psyche not only of its own subjects, but also of a larger population. Within its ‘own’ population, this region conserves some serious methodical derogatory practices. The system of hereditary status, though erroneously believed to prevail only among the Hindus, is still institutionalized in many ways in the sub-continent. ‘Tribal studies’ continues to triumph as an exclusive academic practice and as an administrative doctrine. Myths about particular communities or locations are so resilient that they often take place not only in the public sphere but sometimes also play a crucial role in electoral betting. These complex internal hierarchical systems persist in this region that typically focuses on its position as the victim of colonialism, as the receiving end of a torture mechanism, and as the phoenix that came out of some historical animosities.
The postcolonial West, post WWII precisely, sought to hide ugly things under the carpet through a series of policies, including policies regarding immigration. Contrary to what it may appear, this route of miscellaneous policy-making never was an uncontested transition or a homogenous one in different nation-states. Europeans had diverse backgrounds and forms of colonial desires, benefits, and governance systems, along with some fatal wars among themselves. American history scripted a different trajectory, something Europeans apparently can distance themselves from. But that act of distancing is deceptive; it is void of historicity and politics. No matter how different American history may appear in the contemporary world, their history is a palpable outcome of European colonialism and atrocities against all the people they once ‘discovered’ and defined as ‘others’. America was the collective result of the vast desire of European expansion, the indefinite drive to conquer all humankind, the unrestrained compulsion of collecting all the resources and minerals, the enormous insecurity about their own agriculture, along with marine and firearms technology. America is the simple product of history, a fact often forgotten when examining contemporary problems. Racism in the USA is, thus, an integral part of European legacy that needs to be addressed from that end too.
The killing of George Floyd and revival of the Black Lives Matter movement have caused global consciousness against the racist foundation of the USA. That the movement has been sustaining for weeks is not something that the global middleclass people were prepared for. The NAACP’s (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) support for the movement contributed in the call for justice and non-discriminatory state machineries, unlike some other incidents in the past few years. When Michael Brown was killed in 2014, huge uproar spread across the USA for justice for black people. Police brutality, like now, was under scrutiny. Starting from Ferguson, Missouri, the plea was heard across the country, though in a smaller scale than what is occurring today. Unlike the current phase, the protests did not take place for weeks, nor did they span over so many cities in the US or in Europe, and they never toppled some statues weighed with colonial pride. One critical aspect, back then, was how the commoners across the world perceived a black president amidst the chaos, as it was named from part of the state machineries. Even for the more critical observers within and beyond the US, it was unclear how to place a US president from an African-American community in this situation. It must have been difficult for Mr. Obama himself too, to find a political stance refuting the existence of racism, or subsiding its effect to larger extent, and to finger at a malfunctioning administrative structure. Had he not been a president from colored background, he could have clearly voiced against racism — something no one is expecting from Trump since right from the beginning he took a stark position about race.
More likely than not, the movement is going to bring some changes in legislation, rules, police administration and perhaps also in some governing agendas regarding the lives of black people, so long as we are not too enthusiastic in our anticipation. At the same time, it would be enlightening if European nations would reassess some of their self-esteem, revisit their own colonial history, and reopen the manuals they had prepared when they redefined democracy by welcoming a number of immigrants from their once-colonized regions.
Nonetheless, it is naïve not to expect a covert crackdown against protesters in the USA and beyond, such as what happened after the anti-globalization or anti-WTO movement during 1998-9. Addressing malfunctioning administration, or even police brutality, is one thing; accepting deep-rooted racism is completely different. The authority might be perplexed to select which protest they would prefer to combat: the anti-(economic) globalization movements or the anti-racism movements. However, the global juggernaut knows when to pull the trigger. Make no mistake! It is time for democratic people around the world to sharpen not only their historical and political understanding of hatred, torture, inequality, and exploitation but also to get prepared for even sterner opponents. Signing a bill for a race-less society should be an easy buy for the rulers, with all the stakes in the syndicate, but allowing people to protest against a system the authorities run and benefit from is not going to be that easy.
Manosh Chowdhury teaches social anthropology at Jahangirnagar University, lectures in some other areas, writes across genres, mostly in Bangla.