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Lives Matter: Black or White

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Message Prakash Kona

When I read about "Black Lives Matter," the question that came to mind was: shouldn't they matter! And it wasn't a rhetorical response. The next question that came to mind was: do other lives, whether white or not-so-white, Jew or Arab, ought to matter as much as black lives! Yes, they do! Black lives do matter. Black lives should matter, but, more importantly, black lives also matter, as do other lives.

I am trying hard not to make a rhetorical statement out of a fact of life.

Some more not-meant-to-be rhetorical questions: which "black" life are we speaking of! The blacks in Africa! But, a black person in a predominantly black continent does not have to compare him or herself to anybody else. Therefore blackness ought not to be an issue in an environment where everyone is more or less black. The Boko Haram militants are as black as their victims. Should we be saying: both the "lives" -- those of the Boko Haram militants and their victims, ought to matter equally! Shouldn't we thinking of the victims before the perpetrators!

The blacks of the Caribbean region! How do their lives matter! What about the blacks of Latin America! I won't go into the Caribbean or Latin American racism, which goes by a hierarchy of shades of color as it is with South Asians. Strictly going by the color of the skin, there are "really" dark-skinned people in my country as well. Should they be included in the list of the "blacks" whose lives ought to matter! They too get terribly discriminated against thanks to the color of their skin.

We have a cream popularly used in India called "Fair and Lovely." It says on its website: "NOT JUST A CREAM, IT'S A FAIRNESS TREATMENT." For the guys we have: "Fair and Handsome." There is a billion-dollar industry surrounding the aesthetics of whiteness across the globe and since whites don't have to make an effort to look white, the consumers of the industry are the non-whites of the world.

The same questions I posed earlier can be asked about the whites. South Asians with light skins: should they pass off as whites! In fact we call them "white" in and around India however strange that might seem to a European or an American white. What about Arabs and Iranians! Believe me: they think they are white or at any rate whiter than the South Asians. The Soviets and Eastern Europeans are white by all standards. That however did not help prevent the Cold War. My question is: if whiteness was the central issue dominating the world, why was the Cold War such a divisive force in the 20th century!

Third-world racism is the self-hate of the colonized. Dark-skinned boys are looking for light-skinned women to compensate for a perceived inadequacy. Dark-complexioned girls are already second-class citizens adding to the degradation of being women in a patriarchal society. A Tanzanian girl recently was beaten, stripped and paraded naked by a mob in the IT capital of South India, Bangalore, which takes pride in being a "modern" city. The humiliation and degradation of the girl can only be imagined. If the mob dared to do something like that, there is good reason to believe that it is because the girl was black. There should be a Black Lives Matter in this country to begin with because the perception of blackness as negative is ingrained in the DNA of the Indian psyche and the day that comes to an end would be the beginning of a postcolonial society.

I am not only unimpressed but disappointed with the Black Lives Matter (BLM), which views itself as an "international activist movement." Identity-based movements are exclusionary by their very nature and I won't repeat myself because I published an entire article on the subject. Its results are going to be ephemeral and as a movement it is bound to lose its vitality except in the social media, where it might have its die-hard supporters.

The Black is Beautiful movement is a much more successful one because it looked inward at the person and celebrates that which is deliberately ignored. It also has an international character because it addresses those who are victims of prejudice in terms of how the color black is perceived aesthetically.

The early Gandhi in South Africa was consumed with a feeling of racial inferiority before he embarked on the course of fighting for India's freedom. He speaks eloquently of the beauty of the Zulus in Satyagraha in South Africa:

"Among the Negroes, the tallest and the most handsome are the Zulus. I have deliberately used the epithet 'handsome' in connection with Negroes. A fair complexion, and a pointed nose represent our ideal of beauty. If we discard this superstition for a moment, we feel that the Creator did not spare Himself in fashioning the Zulu to perfection. Men and women are both tall and broad-chested in proportion to their height. Their muscles are strong and well set. The calves of the legs and the arms are muscular and always well rounded. You will rarely find a man or woman walking with a stoop or with a hump back. The lips are certainly large and thick, but as they are in perfect symmetry with the entire physique, I for one would not say that they are unshapely. The eyes are round and bright. The nose is flat and large, such as becomes a large face, and the curled hair on the head sets off to advantage the Zulu's skin which is black and shining like ebony. If we ask a Zulu to which of the various races inhabiting South Africa he will award the palm for beauty, he will unhesitatingly decide in favour of his own people, and in this I would not see any want of judgement on his part. The physique of the Zulu is powerfully built and finely shaped by nature without any such effort as is made by Sandow and others in Europe in order to develop the muscles. It is a law of nature that the skin of races living near the equator should be black. And if we believe that there must be beauty in everything fashioned by nature, we would not only steer clear of all narrow and one-sided conceptions of beauty, but we in India would be free from the improper sense of shame and dislike which we feel for our own complexion if it is anything but fair."

Being a relatively dark man who could place himself in a colonial context, Gandhi understood what the racism was all about and how the colonized internalized the feelings of inferiority at the expense of their own dignity as human beings. His celebration of the beauty of the Zulus comes from his awareness that no group has a monopoly on that which is beautiful because it comes from nature. Everyone is equally entitled to it. So much of beauty is actually about how much we like people as individuals. The ability to inspire affection automatically endows one with a sense of beauty. That's the beauty which needs to be cultivated more than anything else.

The media-manufactured beauty such as with film stars is purely of an external nature. Once you know people at the personal level it is not the same thing as admiring them from a distance. Your perception will alter significantly. The BLM movement should concentrate on making an argument for inner qualities instead of notions of identity that rely on blackness to make a point.

That's precisely what a resistance movement intelligently committed to the goal of social equality and human freedom will do: it will turn the tables against the expectations of power. Power thrives on its ability to predict. By defying the predictable, resistance shows what is alternative to power. By doing the unexpected, the Carthaginian general Hannibal almost brought the powerful Roman Empire to its knees. It is a time-honored strategy used by visionary leaders at the helm of political movements.

If I were to think of a title for the movement it would be: "Lives Matter: Black or White." This should also include the cops and the law-enforcement officers. This is something that a racist establishment will not expect from a resistance movement. Therefore it must be done and strategically it does more to create a culture of inclusion than BLM, which is a response that I could predict without too much difficulty from as far away as India. Needless to say, the results of a resistance movement that refuses to fall into the trap of black or white is bound to be of a much more serious and transformative nature than what is being accomplished currently through "Black Lives Matter."

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Prakash Kona is a writer, teacher and researcher who lives in Hyderabad, India. He is currently Professor at the Department of English Literature, The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad.

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