Saturday, January 23, 2021

Constantly learning: From #BlackLivesMatter to pandemic protests

If there’s anything 2020 has taught us, it’s that there’s a lot of work to be done. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

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When we popped champagne bottles and toasted to a new decade back in December, none of us expected 2020 to go this way. We’ve gone from bushfires in Australia, riots in Delhi, and the beginning of a pandemic to hoarding groceries, a recession, and who-knows-what’s-to-come.

After 2019 was the unspoken year of protests, the momentum returns this June – #BlackLivesMatter is trending around the world. For many of us even with the best intentions, these protests come and go like waves. We take to social media, drop nuggets of wisdom in conversations, and eventually move along.  ‘Systemic change’ and ‘mass mobilisation’ are trending words with a seemingly short lifespan.

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Even more noteworthy, we see our beloved Bollywood stars stepping up to the plate, joining the trend of ‘Black Out Tuesday’ and posting empowering messages like ‘all colours are beautiful’ (looking at you, Disha Patani). Truth be told, it’s a refreshing change from just two decades earlier when we saw them merely as entertainers.  

But it’s also difficult to look at their messages without at least a tinge of cynicism. Remember SRK promoting a fairness cream for men? And Priyanka Chopra, Katrina Kaif, Sonam Kapoor enthralling us with their fair, lovely (cough) complexions in television ads?

Call it a colonial hangover or anything you like; the fact remains that we’re still coming to terms with the colour of our own skin. In his latest video, Indian-American comedian Hasan Minhaj tore into this obsession amongst the South Asian community, like our go-to jibe of “kaalu” (dark-skinned).

‘But it’s just business!’ you might cry out, and on that front, you’re absolutely right. For these stars, brand endorsements are a small part of a much larger business portfolio. (Priyanka Chopra even acknowledged her commercial’s problematic nature in an interview a few years back.)

Many corporations, too are stepping up in big ways. Just last week, Ben & Jerry’s issued a powerful message in support of #BlackLivesMatter. I’d gladly eat a Chocolate Fudge sundae knowing the corporation has the right intentions… though I might be wary of companies suddenly taking on political stances.

There are so many messages, so many issues, so many debates, but so little time. It really can feel like posting a tweet is all we can do. Some brave souls have managed to convert support into action by planning countrywide protests. As long as they’re wearing masks, implementing necessary health measures, and hopefully isolating afterwards, go forth, I say. (Is there ever a ‘good’ time to protest anyway?)

While #BlackLivesMatter might seem like an American trend, it’s far too easy to shrug off our own country’s issues in the same breath. In Australia, they’ve picked up the mantle to add Indigenous Lives Matter. Perhaps we should change our tune to Muslim Lives Matter, Dalit Lives Matter, and add, of course, a necessary chorus of Migrant Lives Matter in the mix.

With the world wide web at our fingertips, we have a unique position in history to read, learn, and unlearn. Kids might seem a little too precocious these days with some of their ideas (#guilty?), but in learning how to be good allies even if it means acknowledging our own drawbacks in the process, maybe they’re on to something.

READ ALSO: America burning

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Rhea Nath
Rhea Nath
Rhea L Nath is a writer, editor, and content creator studying at the University of Sydney.

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