Riots in a time of covid-19 | Pakistan Today

Riots in a time of covid-19

  • Trump has only made matters worse


O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware. (49: 13)

The USA is now showing signs that race has coming to the fore. The protests in over 600 American cities over the killing of one African-American in Minneapolis have now started to become riots, with incidents of arson and looting. This should not be happening, because the USA has gone through the throes of the civil rights movement about half a century ago, and African-Americans are making headway in public life, with one, Barack Obama, even becoming President.

However, just as the USA was the last bastion of anti-black discrimination, race remains an issue there. Blacks have been overtaken by yellows and browns, both of whom have faced discrimination from the dominant whites. It has been called ‘culture’ or ‘values’, but they are always under attack from outside. The USA remains the home of political correctness. Now extending to any kind of minority group, it started with the conscious decision to abandon certain words (most notably the n-word, a very strong no-no, used apparently only by black stand-up comedians) which were hurtful to blacks.

One of the most significant issues in the USA is what constitutes a ‘black’. Actually, he (or she) might be white, even blond. It is perhaps symbolic that the USA’s first black President had a white mother. The difference between the average American black and a West African shows that there was considerable miscegenation in the past, with white masters mating with black slaves. This had happened with Arabs too, but whereas the children of slave mothers were free if their father was, in the Western world, they were born slaves.

According to the Abrahamic faiths, all Mankind is descended from one couple, and after the Deluge, from the three sons of Noah. The descendants of those three make up the races of Mankind. There are obvious differences between a West African, an Indian and a Chinese, but what about mixtures? Not Obama, but all Myanmarese, who are apparently a mixture of Indian and Chinese.

The race issue is likely to tear the USA apart, not just because it is a matter of justice, but because it shows immigrant minorities that if a minority which has fully internalized ‘American culture’ and has lived in the USA for more three centuries that they will not be accepted as full citizens, just because of their skin-colour, what chance have they?

Colour plays a role, but race is now seen as a social construct, which can only be used to fulfill certain racial stereotypes. Like basketballers or heavyweight boxers are blacks. They are short blacks as well as tall whites, and light blacks and huge whites too. For example, the surprise by some that Minnesota, where a lot of Nordic immigrants settled, should have a black population large enough to riot, is stereotypical in its assumptions.

The USA included the blacks in its constitution, equating six of them with one white, when it specified that the allocation of seats in the House of Representatives would be according to the population of free people plus a sixth of the slave population. The slaves counted for representation, but did not have the vote.

The USA went through a Civil War before slavery was abolished, but the end of slavery did not mean an empowerment of blacks. In the south, they remained subject to a severe colour bar, and there were lynchings and discrimination against any ‘uppity’ blacks. The world was dominated by the white race, with very few independent non-white states, the non-white world being almost all parts of colonial empires.

The dissolution of those empires coincided with the American civil rights movement. The empires had practiced racism too, and it had helped that the rulers, whether British, French, Belgian, Dutch or other, had all been white. There was the rise of fascism during the inter-war years that preceded the end of colonialism, which has since morphed into white supremacy. The defeat of the South in the US Civil War also carried an undercurrent of racism, and neo-Nazis and white supremacists got involved in supporting the South.

Obama got elected, and that seemed like the blacks were finally getting their rights. Yet it was a spate of killings of black men, mostly youths, by white arresting officers, that marked the last years of his Presidency. Then came Trump’s election, beating a woman candidate. Women were natural allies of blacks, as they too were deprived of their rights by white males.

The liberation of blacks, women and minorities was carried out because of the Enlightenment ideals inherent in the American Revolution. The first step was not taken by either blacks or women, but by first the Irish and then the Jews. Both were white, but excluded, because they were neither Anglo-Saxon nor Protestant. But has liberation taken place? A lot of the old rhetoric has been dialed down, but as happened in Minneapolis, black men still get killed by white cops. They might not be shot, as Floyd wasn’t, but they end up dead for non-capital offences. As recently as January, a black jogger was shot by a father-and-son passing by, who were not even cops.

That is an old tactic. A couple of blacks became Roman Emperors, the first, being Macrinus, a Berber, who became Emperor after taking over in April 217. He was assassinated in June 218. Then there was Phillip the Arab, who reigned 222-249. Both had first commanded the Paetorian Guard, and then taken over for themselves. Colonies were freed, and turned over to Westernised elites.

The words of the Quran establish Islam as an anti-racist religion, but it is not against the division of Mankind into nations and tribes, but it does so for a reason ‘that you may recognize one another’. This accepts that one’s inheritance matters, but there is an important qualification, that what matters in the sight of the Almighty, is one’s conduct. This is as strong a rejection of racial stereotypes as can be made.

Not all religions take this stand. Christianity and Judaism used the Bible to justify slavery, and Hinduism is actually the only religion to base itself on racial divisions. It can be debated whether there is more to Hinduism that the four castes, but in this era of the BJP, it is doubtful if that debate matters. The BJP consists basically of caste Hindus trying to fight back against the Enlightenment ideals of the Congress Party (via Nehru’s Fabian socialism). It is symptomatic that the word for ‘caste’, varna, means colour. No wonder then that Indians (whether at home or in the diaspora) are racial bigots. Pakistanis are too, but this is an inheritance from a Hindu past. Higher castes which converted to Islam carried over their old castes, and preserved them by the practice of caste-endogamy. Lower castes were never allowed by their neighbours to forget their caste. Only now has there been some blurring of caste lines.

One factor that has been mentioned only in passing has been the covid-19 epidemic. The race riots are seen as a distraction, which has perhaps concealed the role of the lockdown in the USA of creating the atmosphere for people to protest. Also, it should be noted that blacks have been hit that much harder, not because of some predisposition, but because they are poorer, suffer a higher proportion of predisposing morbidities, and are in more exposed professions like nursing or goods delivery.

Will the USA survive? It probably will, but at the same time, the present riots have shown that race is an issue. The coming presidential election shows that blacks do not sit well with US democracy, which seems to be designed only for WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) males. If on the one hand, Donald Trump is linked to white supremacists, Joe Biden has very old links to the KKK (Ku Klux Klan). He might have been Obama’s Vice-President, but that was probably because he was supposed to have been the designated adult in the room.

The race issue is likely to tear the USA apart, not just because it is a matter of justice, but because it shows immigrant minorities that if a minority which has fully internalized ‘American culture’ and has lived in the USA for more than three centuries that they will not be accepted as full citizens, just because of their skin-colour, what chance have they?