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OP-ED: The big reveal of institutional racism

  • Published at 09:06 pm June 15th, 2020
London-US protests-Minneapolis
Photo: Reuters

A problem that continues to persist home and abroad

On May 25, George Floyd, an African American man, was killed by Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer. Officers Thomas Lane, J Alexander Kueng, and Tao Thou were accessories to the crime. All four officers are in custody.

Floyd’s murder re-energized the Black Lives Matter movement. Over the past couple of weeks, protests have erupted across the largest cities in the US, including Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. Presidential candidate Joe Biden has publicly voiced his support for the protests. Even through this pandemic, people felt compelled to protest racism and oppression, knowing that they are endangering themselves by taking part in gatherings. Sympathetic protests have been staged in Montreal, London, Sydney, and other cities.

Conversely, many US states have mobilized their national guard to suppress the protesters; President Donald Trump has tweeted that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” The protests were peaceful at first, but violence escalated in many cities after police used tear gas, rubber bullets, and capsaicin spray to disperse crowds.

Theft, vandalism, and arson have become widespread. Critics of the hard policing approach suggest that peaceful protests should simply have been allowed to take place, just as peaceful protests against coronavirus lockdowns had recently been allowed to take place.

Protesters demand social reform to address the unjust status quo of institutional racism and the defunding of law enforcement agencies. They argue that the money would be better used to fund services such as education and health care, which would improve opportunities for disadvantaged communities. As a direct result of the protests, the Minneapolis City Council has voted to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department.

Since the Civil Rights Movement, US federal law has made it a criminal offense to discriminate against a person on the basis of race; however, institutional racism is much more difficult to address. Police allow white protesters to bear arms in public, while using lethal force against unarmed black men. Still, many white Americans flatly deny the existence of institutional racism.

Tucker Carlson, an ultra-conservative political commentator for Fox News, states that the protesters “don’t believe in order or fairness, they reject society itself. Reason and process and precedent mean nothing to them. They use violence to get what they want immediately.”

Carlson, like many white Americans, obviously feels that black people should trust the criminal justice system to charge and punish the policemen who killed Floyd. He ignores the fact that white juries often do not convict white policemen accused of using excessive force against unarmed black men; ignoring the existence of institutional racism.

In the light of George Floyd’s murder, it is time for Carlson and the American right to stop denying the existence of institutional racism. The establishment that marginalizes people based on the colour of their skin can no longer turn a deaf ear to voices of dissent.

The predecessor to the Black Lives Matter movement, the Civil Rights Movement, was as important for other people of colour (including Bangladeshis) as it was for black Americans. In 1924, the Asian Exclusion Act banned all Asian immigrants into the US. This law was in force until President Lyndon B Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, a direct result of the Civil Rights Movement.

Without the Civil Rights Movement, Bangladeshis and other people of colour would not be allowed to live and work in the US. The Civil Rights Movement ensured that hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis, and millions of other immigrants of colour were allowed to emigrate into the US.

While we criticize America, we must not forget to clean up our own house. Institutional racism and police brutality exists even in Bangladesh.

In Bangladesh, the authorities have ordered marriage registrars not to allow Rohingya refugees to marry Bangladeshi citizens. This is a direct infringement of the rights of the Rohingya, and of the Bangladeshi citizens who wish to marry Rohingya, too.

Furthermore, land laws of Bangladesh have never recognized the traditional landholding arrangements of the Pahari people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. As they never had any legal documents proving their land ownership, their lands were grabbed by Bengali settlers (who were under the protection of our armed forces).

We need a movement to protect the rights of minorities in Bangladesh, as they suffer from discrimination as a result of institutional racism similar to black Americans in the US. We can use the immense power given to us by social media to raise awareness of our own people, to make Bangladesh more equitable. Most importantly, by engaging in a conversation, we can learn from each other about these issues.

Racism as a political ideology has not aged well; however, institutional racism is still alive. We must take this opportunity to obliterate institutional racism at home and around the globe. Every movement starts with a handful of committed people.

Aveir Alam is an undergraduate student at Occidental College, living in Los Angeles, California. His email is [email protected]

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