by Syahirah Anwar
If history has taught us anything, it is that colour matters. The world has seen a long-standing struggle in trying to create colour equality, and one would think that since we are living in the 21st century, we would have moved on from the obsession of what a person’s skin colour is. But that is far from the truth. In fact, we are sadly living in a world where a person’s skin colour determines the value of his or her life.
Back in Islamic history, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), in his final sermon, made a poignant statement: “There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor for a non-Arab over an Arab. Neither is the white superior over the black, nor is the black superior over the white — except by piety.” This strong statement shows Islam’s stance against discrimination based on one’s skin colour, but the reality today shows otherwise, both from the non-Muslim and the Muslim world.
Taking a step back into history, the world saw how Africans in America were treated as slaves, and dehumanized. In Namibia, British policy allowed for the hunting and indiscriminate killing of the San, a bushmen tribe of the area. In Australia, the Aboriginal community was not considered to be Australian citizens, and had their culture and traditions reduced to nothingness, as it was governed by the Flora and Fauna Act. Derogatory terms were used to described people of colour, and the world saw this blatant hatred that was perpetrated by the whites, without any repercussions. People of colour fought, and struggled, to gain a level playing field for their community, and on paper, it looks like they have succeeded, but the reality certainly begs to differ.
Today, we are living in a world where being white has been raised to an almost ‘god-like’ status, ‘worshipped’ around the world, while being a person of colour meant that you are nothing more than a plebian, vilified and propagated as the ignorant communities of the world. The life of someone who is white is valued more than the life of a person of colour; and this is not a grandiose statement as it has been unfortunately proven time and time again over the years and across the globe.
Bloodshed and the Media
Over the recent years, the world has witnessed an obscene amount of unnecessary bloodshed, from incidences of terrorism, brutal violence to senseless wars. The victims of these crimes was not saturated in just one locale, it was widespread from the United States, to Europe, the African region, the Middle East and Asia. But despite all these victims bleeding the same red colour blood and dying of horrible brutality, the media coverage was significantly different.
The year 2016 saw a slew of attacks across the world, from Pakistan to Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Yemen, France, the United States and more. The death toll was gross, to say the least. But yet, the media coverage of these inhumanity centered heavily on the attacks that took place in white countries, where the body count was predominantly white.
The attacks that happened in Nice, France, which killed 85 people and injured 434 others, was constantly flashing on the news for many days, published in newspapers and online, gaining prominence on Facebook and other social media platforms, and the media tried its best to cover the stories of the victims and their lives.
However, just a week and a half before the Nice attack, on the 3rd of July, 2016, Iraq took a big hit to its country and people. A series of coordinated bomb attacks had killed in excess of 300 people and injured over 300 more, but sadly to say, it was shown on the news on the day it happened, and then subsequently tapered down and forgotten.
In that same period, Syria, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia had also suffered attacks within its borders, where almost a total of 200 lives were lost and many others, injured. But yet, the coverage of these attacks are usually brief and then forgotten.
Where was the media in digging out more about these innocent victims – about that hardworking father trying to support his family, or that teacher who works hard to educate the poor, or that young child who dreams of being a doctor? Where was the world in mourning the loss of these lives? When the Nice attack happened, Facebook profile pictures were changed in support of the victims, people dedicated posts to these innocent lives lost, but what about the people of Syria, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and all these other non-white countries that losses its people to senseless violence consistently? Do they not matter? Do their families and the lives they led not matter?
The same thing happened when the United States suffered from an attack against its people during the Orlando nightclub shooting in June 2016, where almost 50 people died. Turkey, in that same period had been dealt with another blow, where its Ataturk Airport was attacked, resulting in the death of almost 50 people as well, and many others injured. Again, the media coverage was similar as to what I had described earlier. The emphasis was placed on the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting, in comparison to the victims of the Ataturk Airport attack.
Currently, the world is witnessing the persecution of hundreds of thousands of people of colour, from the innocent men, women and children in Syria to the brutally persecuted minority group of Rohingya in Myanmar, the Christians in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the severely oppressed Palestinians, and more. But the voices raised for these people are barely a murmur, in comparisons to the loud anger and blame game that emerges when white lives are lost.
Where is the intervention from the superpowers? Where is the much needed help? Where are the leaders that stand together and march in solidarity to oppose these senseless loss of lives, as they did when the Charlie Hebdo attack happened in France? Where is the “Je suis Alan Kurdi” or the “Je suis Rohingya” that was evident in the “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) slogan that emerged soon after the January 2015 attack? Granted, the slogan was to support the freedom of speech, but do these individuals who are dying by the dozens each day not have the freedom to live?
This trend of extending more sympathy to victims who are predominantly white is nothing new, in fact, it is a vicious cycle that keeps going on and on, from history till today. It is almost like an expectation that being a person of colour, dying in these senseless brutality is simply not a big deal, because the so-called ‘general’ idea is that, hey, you are already maybe living in poverty, and you come from the country where all these ‘terrorists and bad guys’ are from, so it should only be expected that something bad will happen to you. This is not an idea that emerges out of thin air; it is quite a common sight on social media to see such statements being made, albeit not by all, but some white individuals.
I mean, in all honesty, we can probably list all the attacks that has happened on US soil and in Europe, in comparison to the many attacks that we have experienced on our own soil! Pakistan has taken extremely severe hits to its people, with drone attacks, bomb blasts, shootings and more that has been happening over the years, but I doubt that many can list all the attacks that has happened here. It has somehow become ‘day-to-day’ business that these attacks are happening in countries like Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Nigeria, and more, and therefore, it does not carry much weight and significance.
Black Lives Matter
In July 2013, after the apparent discrimination against African Americans in the United States, a social movement called Black Lives Matter (BLM) came to the fore. The founders of this movement, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometti, brought this movement to life after the acquittal of George Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watch coordinator, who had shot an unarmed 17-year-old African American teenage, Trayvon Martin.
It quickly gained prominence in 2014 after the deaths of several other African Americans, such as Michael Brown and Eric Garner, who were killed at the hands of American police. In most of these cases, the police officers had gotten away scot free, even though some scenarios had shown that they had used excessive force in handling an unarmed suspect. In many cases that followed, police officers across the United States, who were mainly white officers, blatantly targeted the African American community, taking unnecessary drastic actions against the former, based on their skin colour.
Again, it is to be reiterated here that this is the 21st century, where progress is supposedly to have been made in the world with regards to racism, sexism and discrimination, where iconic names, like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, have stood up against these issues. However, the ground realities are far from what has been purported on paper by the law. The fact that such a movement exists in this day and age, and originated from a country that is a superpower and the supposed international standard for democracy, speaks volumes about the importance of skin colour, or rather, the devaluation of its colour.
The Re-emergence of White Supremacy Groups
The shocking win of Donald Trump into the coveted position of President of the United States has brought to fore the re-emergence of white supremacy groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, the neo-Nazis, the White Nationalists and more.
Throughout his campaign, Trump has brazenly spoke out against people of colour, calling Mexicans “criminals” and “rapists”, labeling African Americans who were protesting in Baltimore as “thugs”, putting forth his immigration plan of barring all Muslims from entering the United States, allowing Black Live Matters activist to be attacked by his supporters during his rally, and made plenty of other racist statements that opened the door for these white hate groups to surge forward with their agenda. After all, the next President of the United States seems to be on the same page as them, privileging the whites and putting down people of colour.
Vandalisms preaching the supremacy of whites over non-whites started appearing across the country, in schools, public spaces, mosques, black churches, and more, and these white supremacy groups started warning the people of United States about the changes that are to come once Trump takes power of the country, a thought that sends shiver down many spines across the world. Then you have Richard Spencer, director of the National Policy Institute, a white supremacist think-tank, leading a crowd of white men in a “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory” salute. His group, and many other groups which are quickly sprouting across the country, view the non-whites to be inferior to them genetically, therefore, they believe that non-whites should not be entitled to any form of power.
It is scary to think that the upcoming leader of one of the world’s superpower nation has emboldened and empowered such hate-spouting groups to rise, because of his own actions, which was in no way taken to task. Rather than having Trump thrown out of the elections for his blatant racism against people of colour, the people of United States voted him into the White House.
The Tumultuous Times Ahead
Moving forward, the future for people of colour appears, ironically, to be bleak. Based on how the year 2016 has gone by, it can only be anticipated that in 2017, the world might be expecting a higher body count, significantly of people of colour. The famine in parts of Africa, wars in the Middle East, persecution in Asia, will continue claiming more lives, especially if no proper intervention is put forth.
In the United States, the framework supporting this blatant discrimination towards people of colour seems to have been set, and solidified even further, by the future President of the United States – a white man, who has been proven to be a racist and intolerant individual. Now that he will be at the helm of a superpower country, with the tools he needs to further his agenda at his disposal, one can only anticipate what the future holds for those in the United States, and across the world.