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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

OP-ED: Here’s why you should care about Black Lives Matter

We must look to undo racism within our own communities

Update : 07 Jun 2020, 07:52 PM

Sleeping undisturbed these past few nights has been a luxury. I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota -- which has been dominating the news since a black man, George Floyd was murdered after being handcuffed on the street by the Minneapolis police, while an officer held him down and pressed a knee on his neck for over eight minutes. 

Since the video of Floyd’s killing emerged, the response to yet another example of police brutality has acted as a grenade pin -- the city I have made my home over the past two years has erupted in anger. 

There are passionate and peaceful protests throughout the day, but there were also violent demonstrations of fury once the sunset -- local businesses damaged and looted; post offices burned; large chain stores like Target and Walgreens completely demolished. 

The most volatile was Thursday night, May 28, when protestors overran the third precinct police department (the city’s largest precinct) and set it on fire. Setting the police station aflame was not only frightening for residents but a turning point in terms of how the city of Minneapolis responded to the protests. 

The governor of Minnesota, Tim Walz activated the full National Guard, the first time in state history, which included a force of about 13,000 members to keep the peace at night. Through the night, I heard helicopters flying low overhead, sirens of ambulances, and fire trucks ringing till dawn.

What do these events mean for us?

For me, as an international student from Bangladesh, I honestly did not know very much about Minneapolis, the Twin Cities, or Minnesota before starting my PhD at the University of Minnesota. 

I picked my program because of its stellar reputation, and because it has some of the best faculties in my field. I have come to love the state’s bountiful lakes, beautiful landscapes, and friendly people. Slowly, however, I have learned that this is part of the “Minnesota paradox.” 

The Twin Cities has one of the country’s highest standards of living -- high incomes; long life expectancy; a rich cultural scene. But it also has some of the largest racial inequities in the US -- enormous gaps between black and white people in terms of income, employment, and education. But racism is not just a Minnesotan problem. 

Many Bangladeshi families would not have been able to immigrate to the US if it weren’t for the civil rights advocacy done by African Americans. In the 1920s, US immigration laws established a quota for each country, favouring immigrants from northwestern Europe, and restricting non-white immigration. 

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, passed in the backdrop of Civil Rights legislation in the late 1960s, eliminated these restrictive quotas. 

This act prioritized immigrants who were either family members of American citizens or those with high levels of education and professionals. For the first time, those from Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia, including Bangladesh constituted dominant immigrant groups, changing the face of American demographics forever. 

If you or someone you know is living their best life in the US, you have black people fighting for equality to thank for that. But make no mistake, racism against black people is also not just an American problem. 

There is rampant anti-blackness within our Bangladeshi communities. As Bangladeshis, we may not understand the struggles faced by those who are black, but we understand what it means to be colonized, to be oppressed, to be thought of as less because of our mother tongue, or what we look like in comparison to others who are lighter-skinned. 

Our society has very much bought into the colonial mindset that darker is worse, and lighter is better. You don’t have to look too far for how our media perpetuates such examples of colourism through fairness creams, and how being whiter is aligned with the idea of gaining a better economic position in life. 

Such anti-black standards and rhetoric are harmful, and place whiteness as somehow objectively superior and something to aspire to -- hence, playing into the notions of white supremacy. 

You might be thinking, what about fighting against other injustices such as Islamophobia? Yes, that definitely matters. But solidarity with, and supporting the liberation of black people is not meant to substitute other struggles, but to include them within the larger framework of oppression we face as non-white people, in a global system that upholds the supremacy of those who are white. 

What can we do?

The hardest, but most fruitful work is the work within ourselves and our communities. The work means recognizing how racism is destructive for all people of colour, including Bangladeshis. The work means calling out ways we ourselves perpetuate anti-blackness, such as throwing around the N-word to sound cool or using derogatory words against others based on their skin tone. 

It means acknowledging that by aspiring to whiteness, through only associating with certain people, or for example, not accepting black suitors for our children, we are reinforcing systems of oppression that harm Bangladeshis as well. 

Finally, the work also means using love and kindness to converse with our families to undo racism within our own communities. This won’t happen overnight but the recent events triggered in Minneapolis have opened a window of possibility for us -- to stand in solidarity with black communities, read widely to educate ourselves, and undo anti-blackness within our own people. 

So yes, while I am unable to sleep very well as helicopters and police cars rip through my neighbourhood, I feel hopeful that this moment right now is different, and that an alternative world where black people can simply live without being oppressed, is now closer on the horizon.

Nisma Elias is a PhD Student at the University of Minnesota.

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