Post-Floyd introspectionIt is time Nepali society also began soul-searching and introspecting about discrimination.
Today I’m going to talk about the response to George Floyd protests that spread over more than 700 American cities and how the institutional world has responded to the protests—and what it means for Nepal and South Asia in general. George Floyd's killing at the hands of four Minneapolis police offers provoked probably the largest protest so far in the United States.
The Black Lives Matter movement was born in 2013 as a social media hashtag movement after the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who had killed a black man named Trayvon Martin in Florida. But the movement really took off and spread as protests in many American cities after the killing by the police in Ferguson near St Louis, Missouri, and the killing by the police of Eric Garner in New York City in 2014. Nonetheless, Black Lives Matter took off as probably the biggest protest movement in world history after the death of George Floyd in May 2020. And this movement and the racial police brutality that gave rise to it has produced the deepest and largest soul-searching by the dominant racial group in history. Universities and corporations have issued statements, and many have instituted steps to be proactive in their organisations to be anti-racist.
Racial sensitivity training
Race has always been a sensitive issue in America. Most often, because of its violent and complicated history in the country, people don’t like to talk about it over dinner nor at the workplace. Nobody in his or her right mind wants to show themselves or acknowledge themselves as racists. There is non-discriminatory affirmative action policy in hiring at all levels and admission in education. Liberal Americans pride themselves on America’s achievements in achieving racial progress since the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and the changes it brought about in voting rights for blacks, curriculum reform in including studies of minority groups in schools, colleges and universities, and hiring of minorities. Even police departments in most places have racial sensitivity training to minimise racial prejudice in policing.
Even then, the brutal killing of George Floyd occurred. Not only that, the New York City Central Park incident of a white, University of Chicago Booth School of Business-educated, and Franklin Templeton vice-president Amy Cooper’s calling of the cops on a Harvard-educated black birder, explicitly telling him that she was going to tell the police that 'an African American man’ was threatening her life showed that educated, liberal America could so easily take recourse to racism even during an event involving a bit of stress.
Hence the eruption of spontaneous as well as organised protests with an unprecedented diverse coalition and the countrywide introspection and soul-searching at all levels of the American institutional world. These protests and the response to them marked a change in American consciousness among majority Americans. The multicoloured young face of the protests evinced the evolution in consciousness among the young, who are both emerging consumers as well as clients and students. That’s why, in addition to whatever evolution in consciousness that the corporate, higher education and professional worlds had achieved over the years, they were compelled to issue statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and peaceful protests.
Many universities in America, including my own, issued statements expressing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. My university did so despite the fact that it, as a Lasallian institution, had already proactively implemented the concept of the university campus as a 'sanctified zone'—a space where every human being, no matter their racial, religious, denominational, sexual or any other orientation, would be accorded respect to their dignity as humans. Of course, it was already very satisfying for people like me. And I never missed an opportunity to remind my students and hiring prospects of this fact about my university.
But since the George Floyd incident and the protests that followed, our president has organised a series of book discussions focused on African American works of literature with faculty and alumni. And we in English Studies, as students of a humanist enterprise, are drafting a statement outlining both short- and long-term plans to implement anti-racist pedagogy in curricular as well as co-curricular activities at all levels. I am looking forward to the discussions we will have and plans we will come up with, but we are determined to be deliberate about our blind spots.
'Us versus them' chasm
Before, we felt awkward in bringing up sensitive issues, such as race and racism that occur in subtle ways. But now we are going to be open about these issues in informal out-of-class discussions as well as in our classroom and faculty meetings. We will figure out how we are going to be more proactive in bringing in more works of African American literature in our curriculum, how we will be vigilant about our own blind spots about race and racism, including any other kinds of subtle or explicit discriminatory practices that may emerge related to differences among people.
Any society that has a deep-rooted 'us versus them' chasm, both in the social and institutional worlds, needs such deliberate, conscious social-searching initiatives. For example, it is time Nepali society also began soul-searching and introspecting about its caste discrimination and caste-related, language-related, region-related blind spots. Government offices, college and university departments must include structures and opportunities for candid discussions about caste discrimination instead of the false glorious history of the country of kings and conquerors. Indeed, the curricula from kindergarten through grade 12 and the extra-curricular structure, too, must change to reflect such opportunities. These steps will create a more harmonious and cohesive society, making the country stronger than ever before.