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June 19, 2020

Talking racism

Opinion

June 19, 2020

A stand taken by a Pakistani in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests against police brutality against African-Americans in the US is often met with ridicule and dismissiveness.

The reactions invoked by this stand include non-arguments such as: The protests in a country millions of miles away do not concern us. The movement speaks to a culture and history separate from ours. We would rather concern ourselves with solidarity with our Kashmiri brothers, with the killing of innocent minorities, with the plight of the lower classes in our own country and the plethora of indigenous problems.

Normalized racism is the subtle ways through which racism or discrimination exists and is perpetuated by our day-to-day lives and interactions. It is the subtle ways in which one group is glorified and the other belittled.

The reactive assertions put forward against an anti-racist stance are not only frivolous but also disrespectful and distasteful. The narrative that plagues Western nations and promotes bigotry and normalizes racism has more to do with Pakistani society than most who put forward the aforementioned reactions believe.

The argument that Pakistanis should concern themselves with more indigenous issues rather than bringing attention to those issues that are taking place in the US and the rest of the Western world is a classic example of whataboutism.

The discriminatory practices that echo from our colonial history are embedded in Pakistani culture and are vastly evident in what can correctly be called our ‘great imperialist hangover.’ The glorification of the ‘white man’ is a phenomenon that is evidenced in all aspects of the ways in which Pakistanis identify themselves individually and fellow citizens collectively. To bring attention to a few: it is evidenced in our society’s preference for – in some cases, downright obsession with – fair skin; it is evidenced in our disconnect from our mother tongue; it is evidenced in the way we view our fellow citizens relative to white people. These ways of identifying ourselves have transcended generations and are a direct result of the subjugation of Indians during British rule.

Indians were often referred to by British officers as ‘darky.’ Being fair or light skinned then was associated with the superior race, the race of the rulers and those who sought to bring civilization to a state that was largely viewed as vulgar, foul, disorganized and less-than. To quote Winston Churchill, Indians were a ‘beastly people with a beastly religion.’ Associating and socializing with the ‘superior race’ was a sign of wealth and power as only the rajas and nawabs and nobility intermingled with the Britishers. These ideas have clearly been carried forward into the present years. One need not look any further than our use of derogatory terms to mock and ridicule those amongst us that have a darker skin tone. By carrying on this legacy of holding the white man on a higher platform, we are in effect furthering the subjugation and devaluation of ourselves.

Finally, for anyone still unconvinced that attention to, and research of, the struggle of African-Americans and the movement as it now stands is vitally important to understanding our own global standing and insightful of our own daily narrative, this article would like to point to the fact that Pakistanis are brown people. We fall under the umbrella of ‘coloured peoples’; we face discrimination at the hands of unchecked American law enforcement; we are underrepresented in the media and when representation is given, we are misrepresented; we are believed to be terrorists just by the virtue of our skin tone and our religion; we are considered ‘less than’ the white man; we are considered more dangerous and are likely to face prejudice at the hands of the law in the same manner as an African-American.

To the reader looking for examples: think Guantanamo Bay; think of every Muslim labeled a terrorist; think of the value of Pakistani and Muslim lives in America’s war against terrorism.

This article, by no means, aims to take away from the vast numbers of problems that we as a country face. Rather, it aims simply to highlight the fact that it is in fact possible, much to the surprise of many, to care about more than one issue simultaneously. It is possible to read about a multitude of socio-political issues and familiarize ourselves with the history of various countries. Finally, no circumstances warrant ridicule or dismissal as a response to caring about human life and the plight of a community in any part of the world.

The forgoing stipulations and explanations are in no particular order of importance and are not exhaustive; there are indeed far more considerations that the issue at hand invokes. It should also be noted that the argument here is by no means an anti-white argument. Rather, the purpose here is to promote self-reflection and self-education. As an ending note, the author asserts that there is nothing enlightened about choosing to be ignorant. There is nothing shameful about learning and self-correcting. One would urge those who have read it through to the end to use this as an opportunity to learn and do better.

The writer is a banker.