My Brother…Nikhil (Onir, 2005) is a Hindi film about Nikhil, who is handsome, charming, jolly State champion of Goa. His family adores him. His father has pushed him to become a swimming champion since he was a little boy even though he doesn’t wish to be a swimmer. He’d rather be an artist because he loves to paint. He finds himself on a pedestal from which he cannot get down. His sister Anu however, isn’t noticed or adored like him, and can choose what she wants to do, whom she dates [quite atypical for an Indian family] but it is Nikhil’s marriage which is arranged. Nikhil rejects marriage with a girl because he has a relationship with Nigel da Costa.
In typical Bollywood, when a man faces adversity, he comes back strong, a winner at the end, but Nikhil is not just a ‘bad boy’, and he has AIDS. Perhaps that is worse than adversity to Indians. Perhaps it is more like being a widow, cast out, locked up, suddenly untouchable. Nikhil becomes an untouchable. He can die for all they care, and he does in fact.
Nikhil falls from grace because he is socially ostracized by everyone at large except Anu and Nigel. Unable to face social humiliation, his parents take off to Bombay for two years during which Nikhil is dead to them. Nikhil’s mother tells him she wishes he’d never been born when they ask him to leave the house, and just before the police locks him up in a rat infested solitary room, far from home. Anu defies her parents [also atypical of a Hindi film] and stays back in Goa seeing Nikhil through his degenerating disease to the bitter end.
As an audience, we wonder how and why Nikhil got AIDS because he is a good person. But Onir never explains that. Perhaps this omission is deliberate. Onir only shows Nikhil’s pain from ostracism from those who loved him most. But it can easily be the abandonment he feels by his parents which kills him slowly.
In almost all films – eastern and western- when someone is sick they go to the hospital, get better or die and the film ends. And life goes on. But Nikhil’s grief swallows you up because of the longing and sadness he feels. In this film, life ends for Nikhil; it also ends for the parents because their regret won’t get them through life and for us, too, as the audience. Nikhil’s grief made me think about a film I recently saw. 475 Treve de Silence (Hind Bensari, 2014) was made following Amina Filali’s tragic suicide. She was raped at 16, forced to marry her rapist, beaten by her rapist/husband, abandoned by her parents when she sought shelter from beatings and committed suicide. Amina Filali took her life because there was no way out for her.
For Nikhil, there was no way out either, but he had the unconditional love of Anu and Nigel despite his parents’ deep absence. Nikhil’s heart-wrenching story made me think of Amina Filali’s life because Amina’s life could have been saved, unlike Nikhil’s. What enables Nikhil to die feeling more love and acceptance was his parents’ love and support, even though it was too late. Amina does not have that.
In Morocco, Statute 475 protects underage girls from marrying their rapists – but it does not protect from girls from being raped. There has to be such a law because raping underage girls is common practice. A girl has 2 choices to save herself or live from the “self-inflicted dishonor” of rape: marry her rapist or commit suicide. Girls like Amina Filali do both: marry then commit suicide. Unmarried girls, too commit suicide. The reason I thought of Amina and others like her while watching Nikhil is the abandonment they both endure. Not only does the legal system abandon Amina by placing loopholes to acquit men from rape, but the girl is abandoned by parents and siblings, too which could mean the difference between putting her soul to rest and dying miserably broken and alone. Women in Morocco know that if they are raped they don’t go back home for shelter or protection from their parents. But do girls know that?
In Morocco, it is taken for granted that girls marry their rapists or commit suicide because the only thing that matters is saving a girl’s honor. A girl is only worth her virginity. Nikhil is only worth his heterosexuality, not homosexuality. Before Onir, no one spoke about homosexuality. Before Bensari, no one felt obliged to take up a raped girl’s cause before an international audience. Bensari lets raped women speak for themselves and Onir lets Anu speak for Nikhil and in the two films, the pain is unbearable. In My brother… Nikhil his pain is explored and in 475: Treve de Silence the pain remains silent, so the voice could be heard.
Unlike Nikhil, Amina and her sisters-in-rape have NO ONE’S love or support: no one cares, no one stands by them. Bensari puts the penal code on trial for its hypocrisy and neglect of girls and women, and Onir puts the huge void caused by abandonment of loved ones on trial. No one wins in both films. Both Nikhil and Amina die in the end, even if it is from different causes.
For both Nikhil and Amina, it’s a lose-lose situation. Even after Nikhil wins the case, he loses: he does not have freedom; everyone else is free, but him. Also, when Nikhil loses a lot of weight, is very weak, can’t walk anymore and is wheelchair bound his father visits him after 2 years and he fails to get the assurance he needs. He cries, begging his father to make his bad dream go away like he would when he was little and would have bad dreams and would run to his father to make the monsters go away. That’s how he felt as a man when they abandoned him: alone in a roomful of monsters out to get him, and only his parents’ love, arms and support could protect him and offer security. Amina runs to her parents, too after she is beaten, but they sent her back to the monster.
My Brother…Nikhil makes me imagine the Aminas and Nirbhayas/Jyotis of the world [in Morocco, India and everywhere girls and women are abused] who feel utterly abandoned by society. I imagine the Aminas whose parents would not take their bad dreams away for the same reason as Nikhil’s’ parents, and whose lives end in limbo, despair, shame, dishonor, aloneness…where death is more a relief rather than their alone-ness.
It is normal to desire parents’ protection from harm, but Amina and other girls don’t have that, so it will not be something that would easily be explored in their cinema. But if Nikhil were to be Amina and her pain could be explored I cannot imagine what that movie would look like, but it would be unwatchable. If a filmmaker were to concentrate on that aspect of suffering post-rape like Onir does, it would be as devastating a film as My Brother… Nikhil, if not more.
At a time when parents and family are most needed, when a girl is raped, beaten, battered, condemned by society and most alone, these minors, these children are abandoned. They numb their pain by killing themselves because no one is around to wrap them in their arms. No one is around to help them pick up the pieces. The world of these girls and those affected by AIDs need a lot more Onirs and Bensaris to show society its ugly, inhumane reflection in casting out those who need them most.
Hollywood used to be a place and institution that wasn’t interested in female actresses after the age of 40. Hollywood has only been interested in youth culture for the last many decades. Female actresses over 40 witnessed a kind of pre death, and their phones stopped ringing. In fact, Julianne Moore who took this last Oscar is only one of the 2 actresses over 50 to be named best actress ever. Oscar winners seem to be becoming a niche category of little films about big diseases lately. Popular films like American Sniper, Guardians of the Galaxy, Lego movie and Gone Girl aren’t making the grade anymore as Hollywood seems to be going the television way : wanting edifying and intimate dramas. The stories Hollywood is responding to aren’t always of youngsters on grand quests as it used to be, but of unsung heroes battling infirmities and encroaching death. Hence, Moore in Still Alice; Redmayne in Theory of Everything; Arquette in Boyhood, Keaton in Birdman and Simmons in Whiplash as a failed artist, while the latter two taking out their career frustrations in their colleagues and students. That’s a powerful narrative and obviously one which is Oscar worthy. Last year, Amour won best foreign language movie, but had a big Hollywood release. But perhaps that is because foreign audiences have no gripe with older actors the way Hollywood does. Rising actors are risky business overseas because they don’t want to be pigeon-holed into one particular genre. So they do rom coms, Indies, and action movies like Captain America, White House Down, and American Hustler and Bourne franchise. Amour’s star couple – Jean Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva – are in fact octogenarians, and Best Exotic Marigold Hotel [parts one and two] by British John Madden feature all golden agers: Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Richard Gere, and Maggie Smith [from Harry Potter films] who is in her twilight year. Swedish Lasse Hallstrom’ s is another director who feature Helen Mirren who’ll be 70 in July and Om Puri who will be 65 this year in Hundred Foot Journey. Hollywood, too, has many examples of casting older actors:
- Liam Neeson of the many Taken fame is 62
- Sylvester Stallone is 68
- Arnold Schwarzenegger is 62
- Kevin Costner is 60
- Michael Douglas is 70
- Robert de Niro is 71
- Harrison Ford is 73 in 3 months
- Denzel Washington is 60
- Morgan Freeman is 79 in June
- Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson right behind, at 59
The list is long and can go on, but suffice it so say that all of the above actors are all still doing action movies, in leading roles, playing their own age, as wiser, older men with the history of their lives written and showing on their faces. Aging has never been a disease or hindrance for these male actors, but instead a source of wisdom and virility. In 1987, the 68 year old Danny Glover [Lethal Weapon] said “I’m too old for this s–t!” Hollywood is ready to disagree with him, almost two decades after, and not a moment too soon. Schwarzenegger knew that age was just a number when he suggested that “retirement is for sissies!” in The Last Stand . Schwarzenegger is back this year in more Terminators, as is Harrison Ford who just played his age as William Jones in the Age of Adaline opposite Adaline who is an ageless, timeless beauty, but stuck at age 29 for 8 decades – exactly the way Hollywood likes to represents its women. In this ordering of older stars in Hollywood, one sex has been missing for long or not represented : the aging woman. More women need to populate the screen; they, too, have wisdom untapped. They’re all Adalines – beautiful and wise, but in their own bodies, not a 29 year old body. Hollywood [and other mainstream male-oriented and male-authored cinemas like Bollywood] should stop sending off aging actresses elsewhere and keep them at home. Their male actors don’t go outside Hollywood, but stay at home and play leading roles as dignified, intense, slippery, grouchy, playful etc, while the women take secondary roles. It is time that Maggie Smith and others come back to Hollywood from India and elsewhere with double their wisdom and oomph to take lead roles. To shake up and change the unrealistic image of the older woman as discarded, which Hollywood has made women, men, boys and girls interiorize for far too long.
Some insights from Valerie Tarico’s “12 worst ideas religion has unleashed in the world” which I wish to share, and expound a little on, since it is already thorough and well explored:
Forms of righteous torture –
- Flagellation (Christian)
- Matam (Shia Muslims )
- Fasting (Christians, Hindus , Muslims )
- Animal sacrifice (Hindus, Muslims)
For one’s “own good” –
- Self-immolation : by one’s own willing
- Sati : forced immolation if widows, which lasted 2000 plus years in some parts of India
- Ashram for widows [after sati was abolished]
- Genital mutilation: Jews & Muslim circumcision; female genital mutilation of girls
- Karma (Hindus)
Karma is good insofar as it is good engendering good, but if it is forced – as it is in some eastern cultures – then it can cause cultural passivity and act like hell, with the same goal: to make one “not” live while on earth, but for another life. To pay for karma is unreasonable if one suffers for something one knows nothing of/about in this life. How on “earth” can one be paying in this life for a sin or wrongdoing committed in another life? Why are we held accountable for an “evil” deed when even ‘evil’ differs from place to place, situation to situation, or from era to era?
If we accept ‘destiny’, ‘maktub’, ‘kismet’ we are being ‘fixed’, already written, as though it is not us doing something, but someone else. If we accept ‘destiny’ we accept everything, and nothing can change or transform. We are born an empty slate which gets written on by others. Accepting destiny then is not always for our ‘own’ good, but often for the good or profit of someone else doing the writing on our slate. We should be aware, too, that we are the ‘chosen one’ for our blindness to new or other ideas.
We must be vigilant that religion NOT make us passive Godots: waiting for someone/ something who / that may never come.
“Bullycide” is a word that underlines the fatal side of bullying: it’s bullying + suicide = bullycide.
Bullycide might be a new word. And deservingly so as neither the word nor – more importantly – the concept of “bullying” has created any real change in statistics nor at schools. In a world of zero tolerance, how has bullying grown to such an extent that statistics are now saying that bullying is the “3rd leading cause” of death among children 10 and up, and a major public health problem in school?
How do kids feel so despondent and so hopeless that they’re driven to hang themselves with dog leash, jump off a bridge or end their lives by any of the other means they employ due to the impact of bullying?
Once upon a time bullying comprised of teasing, taunting, threatening, hitting, and stealing initiated by one or more students against a victim; and it was also indirect causing a student to be socially isolated through intentional exclusion. Boys typically engage in direct bullying methods, but girls are more apt to utilize more subtle indirect strategies, such as spreading rumors and enforcing social isolation (Ahmad & Smith, 1994; Smith & Sharp, 1994).
Today, in our internet age bullying could reach epic proportions. If bullying was so hard to nip in the pre internet age, imagine today, where anonymity is a rage. Digital bullying can be a nightmare for parents in a society where kids hide lots, including, and perhaps especially, being bullied for all kinds of fear. Digital bullying is a fast growing problem because many kids have smart devices and are on all kinds of sites, with little or no parental or school control. Kids don’t know and don’t believe that their profiles are everywhere in cyberspace, and if neither teachers nor parents have a say, the [cyber]sky’ s the limit.
In an age where there are so many adaptations of books, especially romantic novels [hunger games, insurgent, fault in our stars etc], making a movie out of this book is much needed. Cassidy McMillan, has begun with her documentary “Bullies and Friends”
But we are going to need to see this subject explored much more if bullycide is to diminish. If teachers, parents, kids, law enforcers are to curb it.
It needs to reach wider audiences than just young readers shelves at the library if lives are to be saved. In Thirteen Reasons Why Hannah’s bullying started by rumors. She employs as sophisticated means to end her life as bullies use today to bully, even though Jay Asher wrote the book in 2007, almost 8 years ago. she leaves behind 13 tapes explaining why she ended her life.
Books like Thirteen Reasons Why , and documentaries like Bullies and Friends, should also be made required reading or part of all schools’ curriculum, starting from middle school where bullying might be most acutely felt. Middle school kids are at a juncture in their life where looks and fitting in mean everything.
If what Jay Asher predicted 8 years ago and what McMillan is saying in her documentary is true, bullycide is a time bomb that needs to be detonated at a faster pace, by everyone: teachers & other educators, parents, directors, writers, law officers, techno-activists because the world of technology has become smarter than us and we need to ‘skill up” before more kids utter these dreadful words that Hannah did in Thirteen Reasons Why: “a lot of you cared, just not enough”.
An old English professor told me more than a year ago about the loss of letter writing. He wished someone would write him letters; he still writes letters instead of emails. He was lamenting the fact that we’ve lost touch with each other with electronic writing. But he wasn’t even alluding to touch screens and smart devices. I do know what he is referring to as a lover of fountain pens and inks, beautiful pastel papeterie and good penmanship, but I encouraged him to not hesitate so much and to join the era of digital writing because we are not reverting back to letter writing any time soon, but moving forward to faster and faster means of communication.
But the problem is not just about writing digitally. It is also about punctuation, penmanship and expression. Penmanship [our students’ and children’s] has taken quite a beating and those who have to correct papers know only too well how we suffer to get through papers. It is difficult and sometimes painful to read hand writings when we get compositions. Grammar, punctuation and everything that goes into composing a sentence are suffering because students are punctuating their papers the way they punctuate their texts and posts. The length of a paper has begun its downward descent and that is probably due to the influence or habit or both of writing short, overpunctuated sentences to which they’ve become habituated.
Punctuation has in fact taken on a new effusiveness in expression, as if it is on steroids all of a sudden: hyperboles, exclamation points, question marks abound to the point that words have become fewer and these new-styled punctuation marks have invaded our screens and some students’ essays. A lowly full stop has become freighted with significance, and angry while the exclamation point has become desperate, like the ones used in comic strips and cartoons when punctuation of this style was used to convey insults or surprise or confusion. Symbols including [recurring] exclamation and question marks as well as asterisks and number signs would be emboldened to signify shouting or insulting etc. Fragments are proliferated today, and converstn abbrvtn typical of that old -style comic strips and cartoons have made a reappearance. But we aren’t speaking words out aloud. Nor are we insulting. Yet, we are writing and texting by over punctuating or under punctuating improtant and unimportant messages: to say that something is amazing exclamation marks are used, or extra ‘gs’ in ‘omg’ to show the degree of amazing or shocking; ILY for i love you; HBU for how about you; capital letters for emphasis, spaces after a word, which means something specific to its users, and then there are codes to convey boredom or straight face or aloofness…
Pauses and inflections seem to fill tonal holes in those spaces.
Sometimes, one spends an insane amount of spend time trying to decipher and decode children’s abbreviation when all one wants to do is know something quick and precise. Parents find themselves texting back asking their kids what does so-and-so abbrevtn or symbol or group of symbols mean. Apparently there are shortcuts that children use that circulate only in their little group in addition to the many other shortcuts they already employ. It is akin to learning a new language. I could add that to my CV, under the languages I know.
But to be fair to millennials and digital technology digital punctuation carry more weight than traditional writing precisely because it has to convey tone, rhythm and attitude rather than correct, beautiful and grammatical structure. It has to be one word assessments attached to eye grabbing video or image. In the texting era words are less and symbols are more. And when words fail, emojis take over, which now come in all color of skins for ‘all’ to use. The bottom line is that so much is image driven on the Internet that people are compelled to use much stronger language than they might ordinarily use to compete with the image. There’s little space for subtlety on social media and people have become more and more outrageous. It takes far more time and energy to express a nuanced relation to a personal essay than simply writing ‘heart’ or ‘omg’ etc. Plus, there’s the anonymity factor, which can further exacerbate one’s outrageousness. It is not uncommon to see one word take-downs to criticize someone rather than emphasize that person’s humanity among the rich and famous. That kind of writing makes it easier to condemn rather than communicate any reflection, causing social media to dumb down interpretations.
Still, internet speak and digital writing have probably liberated us as we are divided and taken up by work, families, school, etc. With one word posts and fragmented and overpunctuated speech we have found ways to run the rat race and still communicate and keep in touch. Yet, educators still have to teach to uphold grammar in classrooms, and that’s where the problem is. The escalating problem is that students aren’t able to separate real writing from the way they text.
If only there was some way whereby students could differentiate between concise expressions and complex sentences, and not use concise expressions resembling marginalia in middle school yearbooks when quoting Shakespeare or Baudelaire, and worse when trying to translate that already distorted language into say, french. I wish there was some system by which they would write digitally in their private worlds, yet still write correct sentences when the need arose in class or for exams in English, french and other languages, the way foreign speakers – who speak their language at home with their kids and family in the USA – go to school and write ‘only’ in correct English when they move to the US. These students are able to separate the two and do both well, and often even perform better than an English speaker.
And I wish that social media users who accumulate likes etc would be as thrilled to correct their mistakes when educators return their compositions reddened with dis-likes of grammatical errors because YOLO in college!
Or categorized? Or sorted? Or belonging?
Recently, NY times ran an article about an Afghani woman who is an artist: she’s Afghani and Lebanese by descent and name, with a Muslim father and Christian mother, the daughter of the Afghan president and born and lived in New York. She refuses to be tied down to labels.
Labels cloister: widow, professor, architect, mother, leader, student, delinquent, racist, terrorist, revolutionary…As Spike Lee once said about Bataille d’Algiers: some people see a revolutionary as a terrorist, but others see terrorists as revolutionaries. Lee wanted to underline the fact that people can be more than one label.
Some folks tell themselves that they can’t do something differently because they were ‘born’ into a zodiac sign which tells them how they should be and act. One of my roommates, a pianist fairly accomplished, doing tours in Switzerland etc, annually, sometimes twice annually, often dealt tarot cards to read her present and future, and wouldn’t do certain things because the cards ‘told’ her she had to do them a certain way, on a certain day, at a certain time. But she is not the only one to think like that. Hindus as well as Russians, Chinese, Arabs and others do that. If we only adhere to the Zodiacs, we hole ourselves into the emotional label because we’re Cancer. Or indecisive labels because we’re Libran or stubborn labels if we’re Aries or Taurus and so forth. And while astrology “can” zero in on marriages with regard to compatibility, isn’t compatibility what we eventually seek when we’re wiser and have been hurt a few times? Some people’s grip on lives is so thin that they’ll embrace any preposterous delusional category rather than get out and embrace other ideas.
Not so long ago, and pre-digital age, we had magazines [like Cosmo] telling us how to be the best lover, or catch the best or hottest lover, how to dress to appeal to men. Such magazines and books would tell us how to act to attract the types of men or women we want in our lives [as though that will ‘make’ us magically into someone else]. Or where to go to pick up the kind of men and women we want, when to smile, how to smile, what to say, when to say…how not to appear weak, how to be coquette… blah blah blah. All of these magazines were replete with images so we could see who we could potentially become: all size 4 models, waifs, made up a certain way. In short, these images told us we had to look like mannequins. Nothing else. Imagine a world full of women look-alikes. Creepy!
Skip to the digital age and we see that it is not as different; we’re now taking quizzes on internet so we could see to /in what category we belong. Category of doshas in India; archetypes in the western world etc. are all categories and labels. I’ve taken the test to find out my dosha, like other folks, but I don’t belong to one dosha, but a mix of doshas, and find myself wanting another dosha because the 4 given doshas cannot accommodate me. Needless to say, that makes it hard to listen to the advice of any one of them! Then there’s the archetypes in the west, majorly Jungian archetypes: hero, creator, lover, jester, sage, caregiver, rebel, explorer etc. Add all of these ‘types’ and ‘labels’ to our cliktivist internet generation and we are belonging to categories more and more: we rack up followers, scoring ‘likes’ everywhere, because ‘likes’ seem to dictate that we are liked. We are doing what the other is doing, announcing to the world who, where and what we are. We are placing ourselves into categories in which the others have found themselves by taking tests to define who we are.
We are letting race, gender, class, sexuality etc define our value and potential. We allow ourselves to belong to this organization and the next. Otherwise we ‘don’t’ belong. We are obsessed with labels and labeling, and categories, groups etc. Where has ‘be yourself’ gone or migrated to?
The Western world is obsessed with self, yet is always trying to belong to the tsunamis of groups, categories, orgs. We deceive ourselves into thinking we are global, creative etc while living in cultural containers because of our endless dissatisfaction with that created self, not a natural self. We are told to “be yourself”, establish a deep connection to the self in and out of yoga classes, but it is an outside self to which we are attaching ourselves, a self that will always be outside and shifting, which will always elude us precisely because it is not natural. It is like dieting; we never quite get there, because something is always incomplete or not right.
There exists a rich array of identities, multiple cultures and diasporas, multiple opps, and abundant influences in our world. Yet we limit ourselves in container and textbook categories. We crave multiplicity, yet live fixity. We teach our children to be the same as others, and if they’re not, and different, they are bullied. We don’t teach them to be different, or independently thinking, and as a result they take long to develop emotional independence and afraid to stand out. There’s great need to fit in, not stand out. And maybe labels feed our frenzies because we are not secure in ‘self’. We need to be told who we are, yet resist being told who we are. We do not see that we are porous beings capable of being many selves from all this wealth and abundance of influences. And the more these influences surround us, the more we let archetypes, labels, categories, and borders restrict us. We don’t see the possibilities of being multilayered, of “not” belonging to any one group, but existing in-between labels and categories.
We are in the midst of a global influx and open our doors to all races and creeds. We travel to lose ourselves in others’ cultures, but then we have to travel to find ourselves, without realizing that in between those two journeys and distances, there exists many [accumulated] selves.
It is possible to extinguish the person as some Western scholars have thought, but the only “extinguishing” (the literal meaning of nirvana) we should adopt is to extinguish the flames of greed, hatred, and delusion that assail a person’s character. We don’t have to limit ourselves to the principles of Buddhism or any one faith or dogma, because labels and types imprison our potential. The possibilities can be endless, whether Taoist, Zen, Hindu, Jain or Christian, American, French or Iranian. We are something else, too. We can be many different things all at once: introvert, extrovert, creative and different, successful, spiritual and all simultaneously.
I can’t exist in a container nor can I accept one label. One day I may go to Starbucks and order a tall chai latte, with coconut milk, no water, low foam, one pump and the next day, a grande oprah chai with low foam still, 2 pumps instead of one, half coconut and half soy milk, still no water because I like my chai thick and sumptuous. That’s a lot for the cashier to write on a little cup, but I don’t like the constraints of one label. instead, I ask them to write new labels for me because I don’t like the one label on their menu. And even though it is just a chai, it illustrates perfectly well that we can shape our own world [and tastes], and if we don’t, then someone else will shape it for us. If someone else defines what we like and what we should have, we’ll be stuck with ordering a simple chai the way they decide to make it: 3 pumps [and extremely sweet], watered down with some milk for color, the way everyone else orders it. But the possibilities of taste could be endless, if we just get out of the ready-made categories created for us. A chai doesn’t just have to be a chai.
We can take joy in being the architects of our own destiny, and not be bogged down to one definition of who we are. This is our world, and we should listen to the many selves that we are.
If only racism was relegated to the KKK, NFL or the Jim Crow era!
Sadly, it isn’t. It is instead America’s core issue, the one big thing we simply cannot resolve because it is at the core of many of our lingering problems since it is institutionalized in a number of economically, educationally and socially disadvantageous ways: education, housing, justice etc. It has had a long run since the Jim Crow era which led to conditions for African-Americans that were inferior to those provided for white Americans. Jim Crow laws followed the 1800–1866 Black Codes, which had previously restricted the civil rights and civil liberties of African-Americans with no pretense of equality. The recent high-profile deaths in the killings in Ferguson and Beaver Creek etc are reenactments of civil war in USA, and testify that the constant need to assert black humanity is ongoing, unfinished, unending because we’ve built a country on its denial. The brutality and injustice displayed at the hands of police officers have exposed the sharp differences about race relations among people in the USA, and created some deep chasms, uncomfortable spaces and memories. The facts – of the plague of white cops who kill black or colored – are sickeningly repetitive and impose a psychological tariff on black minds.
We have made progress since that Jim Crow era and we do have one of the most advanced systems of gains in civil rights. Today, hospitals care for both blacks and whites, we drink out of the same fountains, bathe in the same pools, black and white babies are born in the same hospital, blacks and whites are marrying and using the same bus or toilets, and we can even assert affirmative action that many countries in the first world cannot do. But complacency must not prevent us from moving forward. We should not be disinterested in justice if an innocent man on death row is black. We should notice when injustice affects people different from us. We should be aware that we have a system that treats someone better if they’re rich and guilty than poor and innocent; a system that makes minorities feel contaminated, dirty, and worthless. The blame game must stop, too. We may not call ourselves racists, but when we accept a system that acts out in racist ways, what does that make us? The challenge is not a small number of twisted white supremacists, but something infinitely more subtle and complex: people who believe in equality, but who act in ways that perpetuate bias and inequality.
The race question is not black and white, but runs along generational, socio economic and geographical lines. Blacks and other minorities have fought shoulder to shoulder, won medals for USA in and out of wars, and have even become persons of high standing. They fight wars cross-racially, but a racist divide greets them at home. When it comes to race, blacks & other minorities and whites stand divided.
Our nation was built on the rule of the law, but the law is incomplete. Sometimes it seems to be a law according to the white imagination. It is racially skewed where black or colored lives don’t carry the same right as white lives. Grand juries don’t rule on guilt or innocence or on intentions or remorse; but ONLY on whether there’s enough evidence to try a case. Evidence for blacks and others take on colors when it comes to blacks and other minorities. Racism cannot be over when arguments of defense in court today include “the gun was used by accident instead of a taser” (to kill Oscar grant in Oakland California) or “the victim was in possession of weaponized concrete” ( as in the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida) or ” the possibly imperiled young woman at the front door in the dead of the night was a menace in need of immediate extermination” (as in Renisha Mcbride’s case in Michigan) or “thug music was too loud” (Jordan Davis murdered in Jacksonville Florida) or john Crawford killed in Walmart ( he licked up an air rifle off the shelf and someone called cops who shot him dead. Why were air rifles on Walmart shelf if not for customers to try, touch, inspect before buying?). Is Walmart seeing through colored filters like the law?
It is not a figment of the imagination when we hear or read that the judicial system is rigged towards minorities: it is an insane judicial system gone awry that tells a minority women to quit a PhD and get a job when she asks for child support from a white man. It is a deranged system that tells innocent people they’re “fucking drunks” and arrests them if an accident occurs and if they dare to remind the police officers that their duty is to protect and serve. It is a system which makes minorities prove their innocence; telling them they are not “innocent, but proven guilty” instead of “guilty, until proven innocent, to which their white counterparts are entitled.
Recently, Nicholas Kristof opened up space for this race conversation in a series of articles in the NY times in 2014 which are eye opening on the subject of racism in America. Aptly titled “When whites just don’t get it” the general gist of his writings was talking about racism, and not keeping quiet about it. Such articles are much needed because racism isn’t yet entombed. It is everywhere, staring minorities in the face constantly, sometimes at point blank as we’ve been seeing. We can’t convince ourselves that racism is buried if a black mother still has to say “thank god my son didn’t run!” upon leaving his upscale home to find police outside. Or, “Don’t shoot me! I’m not armed” which seems just another version of “Am I not a man and a brother?” and with killings of women “Ain’t I a woman?”
Why aren’t we talking about racism when we have enough color in America to make race part of our conversation? Obama and family; Erich Holder /1st black Supreme Court, Henry Gates, du Bois, Oprah, di Blasio’s family etc. And lately some intellectuals from behind their desks have taken to the streets or voiced out via social media: Cornel West was even arrested in Ferguson; Achille Mbembe is talking and boycotting conferences and coming out on social media.
We live in a world that believes in healing and therapy. Therapy for old memories, therapy for bad memories, therapy for abuse, therapy for trauma, therapy for changing or reversing past trends and habits to create a better present and by extension, a better future. What is the therapy for blatant racism, and the less publicized forms of structural racism which continue to be expressed in everyday ways throughout the United States?
We will continue to have the “peste noire” of race as long as people do not own their racism or confront belief their systems. We need to give voice to our own racism. Name it. Claim it. Transform it. Like Obama did when Henry Louis Gates Junior (the Harvard “race” intellectual) was arrested: they had beers at the White House. Or like we did with homosexuality, and made it accepted, by ALL, so that those who had been suffering injustices for long are now free to be who they are. Can we say the same for Blacks?
The struggle of how Black people view themselves versus how white society will see them is an internal one, shared by many racial minorities in America. The white majority may never have to deal with this, but it shouldn’t exempt them from talking about it; it is not racist to talk about it to bring about change, but it is racist to NOT talk about it and keep it inside. Talking about our ongoing racial inequality could only create awareness, the first step to healing. Time to stand up for racial progress, because other progresses have been made while racism still stands, waiting in the shadows of American progress. Time to stamp out all forms of racism because, for the whole progress to matter racialprogressmatters.