BLM, photo of mural by Tania Sen

Cultural Inheritance Not Physical Phenotypes Please!

Kids in the park at last! Parents are still in masks. The sun is shining, warm and balmy…Helicopters circling overhead to ensure peace in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter revolution in downtown Philadelphia.  In the rest of the city, the sound of birds usher in a rather mild summer.

Having grown up on a healthy dose of beautifully illustrated Russian fairy tales in India, I was exposed to the theme of absolute regime of the all-powerful Tsar over poor suffering peasants early on. The bravery of a single underling always saved the day for the suffering masses.  Occasionally, there was help from magical flying horses and the sun bird…  The wrongful death of George Floyd from police brutality became the catalyst for worldwide uproar against racial dysfunction in the U.S. “No Justice, No Peace” being the battle cry of the movement.

The need of the hour is to shift the sensibility to ethnicity as opposed to race. Placing importance to cultural inheritance rather than physical phenotype. It may be high time to acknowledge the pleasure derived from sports, music, and food that have come from the rich heritage of the African American community by humbly kneeling like NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick during the U.S. national anthem in 2016. Celebrate the cultural diversity of the country rather than stoke divisiveness spreading cultural flack.

Regarding Floyd’s killing, The Economist reports, “his legacy is the rich promise of social reform, too precious to waste”. What started to protest police brutality, transformed into a worldwide existential crisis. The United States is not just a country, it is an idea! The situation brought focus on economic disparity that has existed in the country for decades.  The average African American household income is one tenth of the average white household income, which has kept the community stuck in unsafe neighborhoods with poor education systems, excessive policing, and poor healthcare services, simply because it is all they can afford (The Economist).

Do other parts of the world experience such bleakness as well?  In Johannesburg, a man was killed for drinking beer on his own property!  Purchasing beer became illegal since the lockdown, even though the drinking of it was not. Seventeen protesters were killed in Zimbabwe by security forces in 2019. 1810 people from informal settlements were killed by police in Rio.  June 4th, 1989 saw the slaughter of pro-democracy protesters near Tienanmen Square, Beijing, with another 10,000 arrested. An estimated 1 million members of Muslim minorities have been detained indefinitely in a network of camps in Xinjiang, China.

All these disparate situations and occurrences worldwide, like musical notes, culminated into a crescendo with Mr. Floyd’s death. The fact that it took place during a government mandated quarantine with so much pent up energy brewing, has lit a torch that is bright enough to light up a more tolerant and just path. Regardless of geographical boundaries, voicing the need for protection of basic empirical human rights.  The collective aspiration of a radically renewed consciousness of equality and human rights; one that does not rely on its hatred for those who are not the same, for the sake of identity.

Even though most of the protests for George Floyd’s death were peaceful, some of the looting of stores and torching of police vehicles were televised 24/7 by American news networks. This, in turn, revealed frustration of economic disparity and racial injustice.  Anti-American autocrats enjoyed the spectacle worldwide. In Iran, Khamenei declared that America exhibited the same wrongful acts towards Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria as well.  The Russians drew parallels with Ukrainian protesters who rose against Kremlin in 2014 causing much violence and deaths by unknown shooters.

Today, 76% of Americans, 77% of the French, and 52% of Britons acknowledge the need for the eradication of racism.  Most large corporations in the United States have proven results that racial diversity in its workforce leads to higher profit margins. Inter-racial marriage is accepted by 90% of Americans.  Why, then, does racism exist in United States?!  Race exists through human culture and human decisions. One might wonder why the use of designer hijabs in high end malls and restaurants are on the rise in the U.S. and Western Europe where there are no binding rules on such dress codes for women. Many modern Muslim women adhere to such conventions for the sake of identity and culture. Does the right-wing separatist exist for the sake of culture for the void of ethos, complete with popular slogans and symbols such as “Unite the Right” and 1488 (14=”We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”, 88=”Heil Hitler!”)

African Americans are a socially isolated group, defined as the descendants of African slaves brought to the U.S.  This category would not encompass black Africans.  “…Moreover, because the African American race originated in legally enforced sexual segregation, it is both biologically real and socially constructed” – Philip Stuart Kitcher
The need of the hour is to shift the sensibility to ethnicity as opposed to race. Placing importance to cultural inheritance rather than physical phenotype. It may be high time to acknowledge the pleasure derived from sports, music, and food that have come from the rich heritage of the African American community by humbly kneeling like NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick during the U.S. national anthem in 2016. Celebrate the cultural diversity of the country rather than stoke divisiveness spreading cultural flack.