Monday was MLK Day in the US – and also a Federal Holiday. It’s an acknowledgement of the great man’s signal achievement in galvanising the seminal Civil Rights Movement (CRM) – starting in the 50s – to such heights that, within a decade, the landmark Civil Rights (and Voting Rights) Acts were passed. These Acts outlawed discrimination based on a number of ascriptive features – the main one being race and colour. As important as the ends he sought – that people should be “judged by the content of their character, and not the colour of their skin” – were the means. This was the civil disobedience or “truth force/Satyagraha” method adopted from Gandhi in India to free that country from colonial rule.
As such, MLK was implicitly acknowledging that African- Americans were actually living in an internal “colony” within America; where they were denied basic human rights, like voting, living where they wanted, and having access to all that America offered, like every other citizen. He noted, “The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter.”
“Civil Disobedience” meant laws like those, which violated the “inalienable rights” guaranteed by the American Constitution, were to be disobeyed. Like when Rosa Parks simply sat in the front of a bus, and refused to move to the back – as was the rule in the south!! MLK took up that seeming mundane act and brought it to the attention of the world – and America had to back down.
Because he wasn’t making some esoteric argument, but was exposing particular discriminatory ACTS that the world could see for what they were, his boycott of the Montgomery bus system was successful, because folks could not only understand its discriminatory nature, but could do something about it – without harming others. But MLK was more than a one-trick pony, as the Americans would say – he was very creative in his civil disobedience. There was a garbage strike in Memphis, a March on Washington, and other marches plus numerous sit-ins. He was willing to go to jail, and used that incarceration to mobilise by writing his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. All in all, it was his MORAL stance that made his speak truth to power so effectively.
Taking a different stance at the time was Malcolm X – who not only drew his inspiration from a different religious tradition – but advised a more violent, confrontational approach. King stood his ground. He understood that charlatans come in all colours.
And we must avoid those who use hate, hypocrisy, lies, and violence for positive ends.
…and systemic hurdles
Nowadays, the word “systemic” is ubiquitous – especially “systemic discrimination” or “systemic racism”, in particular. Now, when a phenomenon’s “systemic”, all it means is it’s not confined to that phenomenon itself – but is a product of the entire SYSTEM. So, if we say there’s “systemic racism”, we mean the racism is embedded in the laws, mores, habits, culture etc of the society, so that racist acts against a particular race are committed without the actor necessarily THINKING about it!!
So how about the PNC accusations that the “PPP is racist” to African-Guyanese systemically? Your Eyewitness believes that such accusations cannot just be scoffed at and dismissed by saying “we’re not racists”. Maybe they don’t know! What has to happen is the persons making the accusation – say that the “flood relief grants” weren’t distributed to African-Guyanese households or villages – must identify the particular instances of discrimination.
And the Government must then produce contra evidence – if they can – that the accusations aren’t true.
It can’t remain “he seh, she seh”
Maybe the assassination of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise will find closure now that the prime suspect, former Haitian Senator John Joseph, was just arrested in Jamaica – as was Colombian soldier Marco Palacios – and extradited to the US?
Let’s not hold our breath.