The long road to change | Pakistan Today

The long road to change

Can the USA surmount the challenge of race?

Freedom, a positive change in attitude, and better laws come about neither easily nor by force, and certainly not by keeping people in ignorance of the facts. They sort of slip into place after years… sometimes generations of struggle and often an uncomfortable sort of partnership between people and their government, but a partnership nevertheless, both working towards a clearly identified goal. Each side gives way gradually, often unwillingly, with concessions and conditions until the desired results are achieved. If either party digs in its heels and does not yield the result is a stagnant, unprogressive society mired in unacceptable ideas and practices.

Here’s an example. Africans first arrived in North America in 1619 as slaves, seized from a Portuguese slave ship by the British and brought to what was then a British colony. Within a period of 200 years, almost 500,000 Africans were brought as slaves to America where they laboured on plantations in the south. They were an affordable workforce; it was largely due to their labour that the colonists came to enjoy great economic and military advantages.

Several states of America became independent of the British in 1776 and the United States of America came into being.

Slavery at the time was protected by the US Constitution, but by the early 19th century the slave states had a problem: they felt that their free slaves were organising themselves to encourage escapes and revolting against their white owners. This was when the Americans started a forced migration of the erstwhile slaves to Liberia which became an American colony. That is a separate story.

For those who remained in America, they became safe from slavery to a limited extent when Abraham Lincoln came into power. Lincoln believed that the federal government could not legally forbid slavery, but as the Commander of the Armed Forces he could take action against the states rebelling against the limitation, an observation that can only come from a leader who understands the constitution and the law.  So he took action against those states, and that was the American Civil War. After the Civil War, the 13th Amendment was promulgated which abolished slavery.

The 13th Amendment was followed by the Civil Rights Act in 1866 which gave those black Americans born in the country greater civil rights. The 13th Amendment was followed by the 14th a year later which granted citizenship to black Africans in America. The 15th Amendment in 1870 allowed African-Americans (men only) voting rights, after which African-American men also started looking for office work and gaining admission into schools. The fight for women’s suffrage and other freedoms is yet another separate story.

There is a difference between protests and riots. While the latter is understandable, it is often a segment of society taking advantage of the former. It is best therefore not to put oneself in a position where one can be blamed instead of attracting support. A riot does not constitute a rational standing up for rights, it is a desperate reaction accompanied by looting, destroying, and as such it gives a convenient reason for those looking to stop the process, to use violence and force to suppress the voice of dissent. This method of dealing with unrest only leads to a temporary, unsettling kind of peace which today is Pakistan

Later on that year, extremist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan also became more powerful; their terrorist activities prevented blacks from fully utilizing their newfound status as citizens. Racist attitudes only become stronger in the 20th century with greater institutionalized racism and legal discrimination against black citizens.

Gradually however the Civil Rights Movement became stronger. Its protest mostly took the form of sit-ins, boycotts, civil disobedience, and other means of peaceful protest, and its cause was upheld by various Supreme Court judgements which was important. It all culminated…to cut a long story very short, in a black man becoming President of the country for two consecutive terms between 2009 and 2017.

It took an interaction, and an effort… not always concerted but allowed, between the superior court, the executive, the legislature and the people of the country to come to that conclusion.

Racism has not gone away in the USA. It is alive and well there and all over the world, and very much so in our country. If racism does not seem to be dislodge-able in the USA remember that the battle has at least begun. One day, when the present divisive and self-serving setback to the process currently lodged in the presidential office leaves, the issue may work itself towards a resolution, although it is not likely to go away until those who are the butt of racism are no longer downtrodden and weak. The best that can be done is to protect the rights of the victims of racism by means of the law, and by means of long, patient indoctrination of society… but mostly by means of laws that are firmly enforced.

Has that taken place in Pakistan? What happened to the constitution that said all citizens of the country were equal? Where does the Ahmadiyya sect stand now, the Hazaras, the Shiites? Where is the eastern wing of the country? What happened? Where were the protests, then and now? Where are the textbooks encouraging debate on what happened in 1971, where is the encouragement of debate in itself, as opposed to battle, protest as opposed to rioting? Have the superior courts of the country shown themselves to be unbiased and indeed superior? Has the battle here even begun?

There is a difference between protests and riots. While the latter is understandable, it is often a segment of society taking advantage of the former. It is best therefore not to put oneself in a position where one can be blamed instead of attracting support. A riot does not constitute a rational standing up for rights, it is a desperate reaction accompanied by looting, destroying, and as such it gives a convenient reason for those looking to stop the process, to use violence and force to suppress the voice of dissent. This method of dealing with unrest only leads to a temporary, unsettling kind of peace which today is Pakistan.

Rabia Ahmed

The writer is a freelance columnist. Read more by her at http://rabia-ahmed.blogspot.com/



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