Addressing systemic racism within us requires difficult conversations
In light of George Floyd’s death in the United States, we have seen the whole country come together to fight against an issue that has robbed black people of opportunities for so many centuries: Systemic racism. We have experienced a powerful month of solidarity through peaceful protesting, signing petitions, donating, and raising awareness on social media.
As we transition into going back to our normal lives, it is important for us to return to a new normal where we have a hunger for change, are more educated on the Black Lives Matter movement, and are constantly questioning the prevalence of systemic racism within our cultures. Although this uprising happened in the United States, it is important to question the existence and the effects of systemic racism in Bangladesh. We should care because black people deserve the same level of respect not only in the US, but also all around the world.
Systemic racism is defined as an issue that is deeply ingrained in an existing system. Racism can exist in several different forms; it can exist in institutional policies or on an interpersonal level where microaggressions can be perpetuated towards different communities due to internalized racist beliefs.
Like many other Bangladeshi students in the United States, I came here because I believe that America is a land of opportunities. However, these opportunities would not be so easily accessible to us if black people did not fight for all people of colour and pave the path for us to climb the ladder of success during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.
It is because of civil rights activists like Rosa Parks and Edgar Nixon, who spoke up and resisted segregation in 1955, that we are considered a model minority and not the oppressed. We, as people of colour, have our own struggles but our struggles are very miniscule in comparison to the oppression that black people face on a daily basis.
We can support the Black Lives Matter movement without invalidating our struggles. Oppression is a lived reality for black people. So, let us talk about what Black Lives Matter should mean in Bangladesh and how we, the youth, can help even after the protests have ended.
Bangladesh became an independent country in 1971. However, before that it was under the United Kingdom’s empire for 190 years and became East Pakistan in 1947. Bangladesh is built on very Euro-centric standards of education, beauty, and beliefs. For centuries, stemming from colonialist ideals, we have glorified whiteness and considered “white” to be superior.
This resulted in the skin-whitening industry to be worth billions of dollars and a rise in the usage of anti-black rhetoric in our colloquial language. The Bangla word “kalo” was invented to define a colour in literal terms.
However, it became problematic when we started to use words such as “kalo” “kaula” or “kala” to convey a derogatory meaning and to condescend to a specific race. These words, when used in a derogatory manner, have negative connotations that lead us to having racial biases. We are also contributing towards the microaggression and oppression of black lives every time we decide to use these rhetorics.
These words have been continuously used colloquially and passed down by so many generations without being questioned that being petrified after seeing a black person is considered “normal;” marrying a Black person is not “normal;” using fairness creams is “normal” and calling a darker-skinned Bangladeshi “kalo” condescendingly is normal. These should not equate to normalcy.
Given the current climate where race is on the frontline of our conversations, it becomes the youth’s moral obligation to provide perspective on how we can do better. Change starts at the comfort of our homes or our second homes, schools. Parents and children need to have difficult conversations regarding the Black Lives Matter movement, racial discrimination, and police brutality.
Since Bangladeshi parents work tirelessly with hopes of being able to afford an American education for their children, it is vital to integrate African American history in school curriculums. Firstly, it is important for children to learn that America is literally built on the backs of black labour and this will also help generate healthy understanding in future generations as to why black people have earned their right to be respected.
Secondly, we need to use entertainment as an educational tool but also identify any racist statements perpetuated through a movie, song, or advertisement. Thirdly, it is important to call your loved ones out if they are using the word “kalo” to mock someone in a degrading manner. Also, call out the aunties who are continuously degrading girls who are darker-skinned.
Lastly, do not forget to boycott any skin-whitening beauty product. Also, it is absolutely vital to call out anyone who uses the “N-word” to assimilate themselves into black culture or contribute to cultural appropriation. It will be a difficult change when we have allowed anti-black rhetoric to be part of our everyday language for years; however, the key is identifying, unlearning, and breaking the cycle of ignorance. For a just society, we must unlearn anti-black bias perpetuated in our culture every day.
We have to continue fighting for sustainable change. Would you ever want to be treated as unfairly as black people are?
Rest in power, George Floyd.
Swikriti Dasgupta recently graduated with a degree in Biology and Public Policy and is currently working in Chicago, Illinois.