Featured Illustration: Maya Kay
Following the death of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter Movement (BLM) has become a widespread phenomenon. A movement that fights to combat police brutality against Black people and abolish white supremacy, Black Lives Matter has provided a much-needed wake-up call to many. All over the world, people are standing in solidarity with the movement, speaking up about their experiences with racism, and starting difficult conversations in their communities.
Although the Black Lives Matter movement started in America, it has catalyzed change everywhere in multi-faceted ways. People all over the world have been provoked by the movement to discuss racism, discrimination, police brutality, and more in their own countries and have made attempts to bring those conversations to the forefront.
Globally, Black Lives Matter has also brought about a conversation regarding selective activism on social media. With enormous amounts of people posting flurries of tweets, posts, petitions, and more to help and support the Black Lives Matter Movement, people have started discussing selective activism more and more. For instance, many were quick to point out that social media users, including celebrities, only chose to post about certain topics that are more global, whilst not reciprocating that level of support for issues in a more local context.
In India, the Black Lives Matter Movement has opened up a long-overdue conversation about the toxic colourism culture that is inbuilt into societies. Although racism and colourism are very distinct, the colourism complex in India has been an age-old part of Indian culture. With Euro-centric, Caucasian-oriented ideals at heart, and many people still believing fair skin as being the most desirable and darker skin being shameful and something that must be solved, there has been a market that has capitalised off brown girls and women’s insecurities of dark skin. The fairness cream industry in India is huge, with ads and billboards promoted around most corners of the country, shoving a colonial narrative of light-skin supremacy. The Black Lives Matter Movement has brought in a discussion about colourism in India itself, and the validity of fairness cream industries, with many now calling the industries out.
In addition to this, Black Lives Matter also started a conversation about casteism in India and Dalit (the lowest caste in the caste system) Lives. The Caste System is an oppressive system that divides Hindus into an echelon. At the top is the Brahmin Caste, who are traditionally priests and teachers, and at the bottom of the hierarchy is the Dalit Caste, who are traditionally street sweepers and toilet cleaners. The Caste System, although outdated, is not completely abolished, with many still upholding its values.
The plight of Dalits in India has been compared to that of Black People in the USA. “Both are historically suppressed and practically treated as second class citizens in their respective countries,” Irfan Engineer and Neha Dabhade said. Dalits were and are not able to drink water from public wells, use the same utensils as upper-caste citizens, and enter public temples. Dalit children had to and have to sit separately from upper-caste children in many schools, mirroring the ideals of segregation and discrimination. There have been many instances where Dalit Lives have been compromised and haven’t mattered. For example, in 2019, two Dalit children were beaten to death after defecating in public in the state of Madhya Pradesh. In a separate instance, Dalits who were demanding equal rights and dignity in a procession had stones pelted at them despite the protection of the police. In addition to this, two young Dalits were beaten up because they were thought to have committed a theft. One of the two Dalits was stripped and held down and had a screwdriver that was dipped in petrol put up his anus. A survey conducted by an NGO found that even in the times of the pandemic, Dalit-hate crimes hadn’t reduced. In Tamil Nadu, in May, 25 crimes against Dalits had been committed. including two murders. Most of these atrocities were honour killings of Dalit men who married upper-caste Hindus.
Another significant conversation that was brought to light was police brutality in India. An example of this would be how in mid-June, Jayaraj and Fenix, who were father and son, were allegedly tortured by police for keeping their store open 15 minutes over the COVID-19 lockdown curfew rules. Two days later, they died. Jayaraj and Fenix’s death triggered protests and outcry amongst people all across India and a deeper conversation started. Although not linked to the Black Lives Matter Movement, George Floyd’s death at the hands of police officials did shine a light on police brutality in India and showed a lot of people that police brutality is a universal occurrence.
In Japan, Black Lives Matter brought about very significant conversations that needed to be had. A public broadcaster called the NHK aired a segment to explain what was going on in America in regards to Black Lives Matter. The segment showed protesters as violent, muscly, and intimidating characters that flaunted a lot of deep-rooted racism tropes. The reaction to this segment was negative, and Baye Mcneil, a Black man who has been residing in Japan for the past sixteen years, spoke out about how insensitive the segment was. After receiving a lot of attention to his articles, Baye talked about the everyday racism he faces in Japan. “I haven’t experienced police brutality like you would in the US, but yet, there are paper cuts of racism every day and those also add up. Being other-ised on a daily basis means you still live through some tough stuff.”
When a biracial Japanese woman was crowned Miss Japan in 2015, many argued that she wasn’t Japanese enough to win the crown and was not an appropriate fit to represent Japan. Baye discussed that biracial Japanese people who are mixed with a white parent are the ones that are put on pedestals. It is the people who are half Korean or half-Black who experience racism. Nissin Instant Noodles was accused of whitewashing half-Japanese half-Haitian tennis player, Naomi Osaka, in an advert.
In addition to this, Black Lives Matter raised awareness about Blackface in Japan. Blackface is when a non-black person uses make-up to portray the facade of being Black. This is seen as highly offensive and often borderlines mockery. In the 19th century, after the USA forced Japan into opening international trade, American military missions would show minstrel shows where people would dress up in blackface for their Japanese hosts. Later in the 1930s, blackface had become a huge part of Japanese nightlife. In 2018, on a New Year’s Eve show, a well-known Japanese comedian was featured in a Beverly Hills Cop skit having his entire face painted black to impersonate Eddie Murphy.
In Brazil, the chant “Black Lives Matter here, too” has become an outcry to fight racism. A week before George Floyd’s Murder, a fourteen-year-old boy named João Pedro Mattos Pinto was killed whilst he was playing with friends during a police operation gone-wrong in a favela in Rio. His death reflected George Floyd’s, that was to come a week later.
A video of a police officer in Sao Paulo, who stepped on the neck of a fifty-year-old Black woman, surfaced and went viral. Although the lady survived, the occurrence further solidified the emphasis on Black lives that matter in Brazil. Furthermore, Guilherme, a fifteen-year-old boy in a favela in Sao Paulo, disappeared outside his house and his body was later found in the outskirts of the city. As of 24th July, one police officer has been arrested and one more is on the run. “The police should be protecting us… they don’t though, because of the colour of our skin,” one resident of the favela that Guilherme was from said.
Consequently, more awareness and recognition have been brought to police brutality. In 2019 in Brazil, the police killed six times as many people as the USA did, and most of them were Black.
Anti-Black rhetoric, racism, discrimination, police brutality, and more are not specific to a certain country or location. They are universal and happen everywhere. Although some cases may be reflections of others, racism is a worldwide virus with deathly repercussions. As the Black Lives Matter Movement has taken the world by storm and created a symbolic movement in world history, it has also started countless amounts of conversations and shed light on issues and topics that were conventionally spoken about in hushed tones. Skin colour should never be a factor, determinant, contributor, reason, or anything else for suspicion. Yet, it is. Change is long overdue.
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- Jeyaraj and Benicks: Five policemen arrested over India custody deaths
- India’s George Floyd cases shed light on police brutality in the country
- What is India’s caste system?
- Do Dalit lives matter in India?: Reflecting on condition of Dalits and apathy
- Black Lives Matter pushes Japan to confront racism
- Japanese TV show featuring blackface actor sparks anger
- #BlackLivesMatter shines light on racism in Japan and across Asia
- Brazil’s racial reckoning: ‘Black lives matter here, too’