Letters of the Past

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Label Volunteer Rahul, shares his ‘Letters of the Past’.

I am not black. Let’s get that out of the way. I have not faced the same issues of oppression and subjugation. All my perspective is coming from a “person of colour” who identifies as Indian-South African, with Dual British/South African Nationality, and who is a British Citizen – a Third-Culture kid heritage of which I am intensely passionate and immensely proud. Right now though, Black Lives Matter.

Disclaimer out of the way.

POC.
BIPOC.
BAME.
BME.

Why are we a series of non-uniform letters?

When I stand up alongside so many of my enlightened peers, fighting for social justice through sharing of positive messages, petitions, and donations, am I doing so as a “vocal member of the (insert letters here) community” or just a person of the world? It’s not an easy question to answer because members of such communities have been told they are and have always had to fight as a group to be heard. Outdated notions of separation based on historical atrocity, triangle trade, imperialism, and systemic suppression of inclusive identity have led these communities to be “herded” together under the illusion of a strong community. We pass it off as “human nature”, as of course people will gravitate to things which seem familiar, right?

My heritage, as is true for billions of people, is something that is very personal. It is based on a combination of history, family, environment, experience, and identity. For some people, establishing a community for shared experiences and to create a unified voice is very important. It allows a unionised approach to fighting for issues. To me, it doesn’t even compute as to how or why any person can see someone else as inferior based on any aesthetic or cultural basis… How Black human beings have been subjected to intense misery for centuries is something that is completely unfathomable to me. It doesn’t mean it isn’t still happening though.

The Black Lives Matter movement is currently very visible and is gathering momentum. Civil unrest in the form of protests, both violent and peaceful, supported by the 21st-century landscape of digital proliferation means that global issues have the potential to be stronger than ever.
Why though: so a series of social justice digital warriors, masquerading as the voices of progression can fit in and add to the noise at a surface level?
Black Lives Matter should not have to be a movement. It should be a constant state of being. Black people are people. They are not a sub-community that should have to stand together to be heard in the first place. The ridiculous irony of “All Lives Matter” closet-neo-conservatives feeling affronted simply highlights that asking for unity on the surface only serves to divide our global community even more. If we don’t believe what we’re saying, then we might as well just sit in silence.

The Black Lives Matter foundation was founded in 2013. (https://blacklivesmatter.com/)
When 17-year-old Trayvon Martin lost his life, another young black man lost the ability to fully see out his potential. George Zimmerman took this from him and, following his acquittal, the hashtag went viral. After Michael Brown and Eric Garner found the same unjust fate as Trayvon Martin, the protests in Ferguson took the movement nationally, and then international, with the foundation working not only in the US but the UK and Canada as well. What’s the point of these facts? Well, we were in this exact situation 7 years ago. Why are we here again? What good is shouting your indignation if in 5-10 years’ time we’re just going to have to do it all again?

Well we have to do something,” the offended will shout angrily. Of course, we do, but Black lives are not a trend. The fact we have to campaign for Black citizens of the world to be treated with the same basic rights to life in 2020 is utterly ridiculous. Centuries of systemic oppression; systems designed to reinforce the separation of different communities; and the hierarchy of natural characteristics are all things that we’re still having to fight.

“Enough is enough,” cry the voices of allies – until the next time that enough will be enough, or the time after that, or after that…

Labels of communities into letters or hashtags are something that is still controversial even at an academic level. [1] It’s a complicated issue that weighs the enabling and empowering of a unified voice against the argument of simply creating a further level of “voluntary segregation”. Are we just reinforcing the idea that we need to be separated? The intersectional fact of the matter is that because of the historical conditions placed on these communities means that we will forever be lumped together as “minorities”. A term that is just as patronising as it is empowering. Black Lives Matter, BAME employment rates and quotas, and Ethnic Minority Networks are all fantastic ways of highlighting that entire populations of people needs to be recognised and respected… at the same level as Caucasian/White/European… We’re still in colonies, the borders are just social instead of physical.

The propagation of defining these communities reinforces the idea that we are separate, which in turn assigns values, which creates a system that sees Black Lives Matter having to fight for visibility just so that it can stand for basic rights. And the cycle goes on.

August 1834. July 1964. April 1994. On paper, these are all “positive steps” to the ending of slavery, segregation, and apartheid. In practice, at the core of our society, it seems like we haven’t learned anything at all and still have a long way to go.

I for one am not a letter and refuse to be a statistic. I am a human being.

So protest, donate, share, #blackout, #BlackLivesMatter, stand up, and actively fight racism… Do whatever you can and whatever feels right for you… but don’t forget to actually believe in it and remember not to forget it, otherwise, what’s the point?

#BlackLivesMatter – don’t forget it this time.

[1] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01419870.2013.831932#_i3

Artwork by Sofia Azcona

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Label Editor 2019-20

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