Racialism: The changes we need

George Floyd's casket is seen on display during a memorial service for George Floyd in Minneapolis.
George Floyd's casket is seen on display during a memorial service for George Floyd in Minneapolis.Reuters
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“The only thing that is constant is change,” probably the most cited thought on change by Heraclitus, the self-taught pre-Socratic Ionian philosopher. The word change itself has a moving force. Whenever we plunge in crisis, the forces of change move us, as in happiness or in sorrows. We all seek change.

Changes are a part of nature, too. With altering seasons, the leaves change in colour from green to yellow. With age, we grow from adult to old. Changes happen everywhere. The physics says every object in the universe is changing constantly. As assumed by the Big Bang cosmological theory, the universe will come to an end through its changing nature.

But who need to be changed? What is needed to be changed? Is change something we should attain or give up? Who should decide what degree of changes we need? And what amount of change would be justifiable for a society? Many such questions pop up when we sketch out a plan for change.

If we look into the ‘new society’, the social media community is apparently wrapped in slogans and urges of changes. Every netizen wants change. It is as if hundreds of pages are being written everyday calling for changes.

But who need to be changed? What is needed to be changed? Is change something we should attain or give up? Who should decide what degree of changes we need? And what amount of change would be justifiable for a society? Many such questions pop up when we sketch out a plan for change.

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What does the change really mean? Changing ourselves or changing others? Changing the laws or our social practices? Changing the perception we cherish or the system we belong to? Whenever we call for change we desire some laws to be enacted or removed, or some practices should be stopped or introduced. Certainly, the laws have some power. Laws can punish you, banish you or even can tarnish a life. Can laws really change us?

At the moment, the entire western hemisphere, including the vast Atlantic neighbourhood, is raging for change. The slogans for change are not the matter of the western society alone. It exits in our society, too, in a varied form. They want a change in systematic discrimination and racial laws. They want racism in their society to be eliminated forever. Racism is not a single crime. It is a form of social injustice.

But can social injustice be changed by laws? The economic status or social disparity on which we discriminate our fellow citizens or the belief by which we hate our neighbours or the ethnicity on which we kill others in our society or the colour or size on which people are exploited are inscribed in our minds and prized in our practices. These are the ways we have been keeping social injustice alive, dividing into ‘US and ‘THEY’ for hundreds of years.

But can social injustice be changed by laws? The economic status or social disparity on which we discriminate our fellow citizens or the belief by which we hate our neighbours or the ethnicity on which we kill others in our society or the colour or size on which people are exploited are inscribed in our minds and prized in our practices. These are the ways we have been keeping social injustice alive, dividing into ‘US and ‘THEY’ for hundreds of years.

Neither laws nor the protests, though raising the voices should never be stopped, can change people or the things which are engraved in their thoughts, which are fostered through their social practices, and which are carried from one general to another to give it a legacy.

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Laws never can change the police officer who choked George Floyd to death in broad daylight or the many others who are killing, discriminating and humiliating their fellow people every day in the name of race, religion or nationalism. It was his perception that made him a murderer. The laws never can awake the bystanders who observe how a man’s life groaning with ‘I can’t breathe’ came to an end.

Following the protests across the world, many political regimes have come up with so many of promises. Along with the US politicians, under-pressure the United Kingdom government has already launched a ‘Racism Commission’. Unfortunately, the French government, which took a historic decision banning chokeholds during arrests, has backed away from that after police protest.

Barack Obama voiced the call of the “Change We Need” that made him the president of the United States of America. Once again the epicentre of the anti-racism protests is jolted by the catchphrase of change. Describing the recent public discontentment over death of George Floyd, Obama said, “It's not an either/or. It's a both/and to bring about real change.” What Obama possibly wanted to say is no partial adjustment can bring the change. It needs a holistic course of action from all stakeholders in society.

The racism will remain as long as white cars are still using black tyres. Racism will never end if people still use black to symbolize bad luck and white for peace. Racism will never end if people still wear white clothes to weddings and black clothes to funerals. Racism will never end as long as those who don’t pay their bills are blacklisted not whitelisted.” As popularly ascribed to the former Zimbabwean political leader Robert Mugabe, these are in our psyche, the breeding ground of all injustice, leading us to commit the crimes against the ‘OTHERS’.

Hence, whether it is about changing the system or the laws or society it would not be possible until we clean ourselves first from the dirt. The racism or social injustice our conscience frowns upon must be eliminated, “…will remain as long as white cars are still using black tyres. Racism will never end if people still use black to symbolize bad luck and white for peace. Racism will never end if people still wear white clothes to weddings and black clothes to funerals. Racism will never end as long as those who don’t pay their bills are blacklisted not whitelisted.” As popularly ascribed to the former Zimbabwean political leader Robert Mugabe, these are in our psyche, the breeding ground of all injustice, leading us to commit the crimes against the ‘OTHERS’.

*Toriqul Islam is journalist, working at Prothom Alo. He can be reached at toriqul38@gmail.com.

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