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The Discrimi-Nation's Looking Glass

December 15, 2014

This past Saturday, on the 13th of December, there was a coordinated protest spread around the United States, triggered by the recent events at Ferguson. It's a solidarity movement to fight against police violence and racial bias, under the slogan "Black Lives Matter". A few had asked me to participate as well, but I politely refused; this post is my thoughts on this particular campaign -- what I love and disagree about it.

The protests against police brutality took place collectively in Boston, Seattle, Detroit, and other cities in the US organized by small groups. (Image sourced from the campaign's Facebook page)

If my understanding is correct, the protest is in defiance against the extremely biased police violence, or racial profiling, of the local police forces in Ferguson. And many others have taken place since, from simply wearing a shirt with the slogan to shutting down local police departments. I don't disagree with the premise at all. Racial bias in incarceration is a very real problem, starting at the level of the local police and extending up to the court decisions and prison cells. Data shows that blacks are significantly more likely to be incarcerated (placed in prison) than other races under the same crime, as well as more likely to face the death penalty and more likely to be convicted in the first place. It's a startling wake-up call to anyone who thought the 21st century United States safe from racism. But discrimination doesn't only pertain to the actions that people take against certain groups of people; it's the act of classifying a certain group of people as different from the rest because of a certain trait. Because discrimination is a mindset of sorts, there is a cycle of reinforcement that happens, where the thought that a certain group is negative makes you filter out only those stories in your perception of the world, making you even more sure of your -- perhaps flawed -- belief. In that way, it's not the reality shaping your thoughts; it's the discriminatory ideas that shape how people construct the world.

I disagree with the notion of fighting discrimination with discrimination.

With that in mind, the main reason I'm partially against campaigns such as this one is the fact that whiel fighting for the rights and justice of a certain group of people, it also singles out that group as inherently different from others. The reasons are justified, but I disagree with the idea of classifying a group of people as separate from others, because that's still a way of discrimination. By fighting for better black treatment, the campaign also suprports the differentiation of African American people from others, and that counteracts the larger purpose of the campaign that is racial equality. In essence, there is a conceptual difference between fighting for African American rights and fighting for universal human rights, and I support the latter much more than the former. The key slogan "Black Lives Matter" around which this campaign is formed only makes sense when you assume that "Black Lives" are necessarily different from the lives of others, which does nothing more than to fortify the mental boundary between the African American communities and the rest of the world. In an attempt to support one group of people, I think we may turn to supporting only one group of people, and those two views are more different than they are similar.

A similar discussion happened after the ex-Harry Potter cast member and womens' rights activist Emma Watson spoke at UN's HeForShe Event this year, stating that the battle for gender equality isn't one only about women, but about the equality between men and women**. The idea of equality itself rests on the mutual recognition from both sides of the fight, and when the battle shifts to only look at the conflict from one perspective, the fight for equality becomes less about the equality and more about the fight. The movement for black rights isn't just about the African American population; it involves everyone.

Discrimination isn't at all an event of the past, and it's a problem that's taking too much longer than it should have to resolve. Regardless of what the society paints the picture to be, the reality stand that racial bias is still buried deep in the way we as a community view the world. But I think one of the reasons the problem still persists is the ways in which we approach the issue. In fighting for the better treatment of certain people, I think we may be counteracting the idea that we want to throw away in the first place. Some of you may say I'm overanalyzing a harmless and wholly positive movement. Nonetheless, I still think it's crucial to remember that the notion of equality involves more than one group of people, and the problems can't be solved by blindly fighting on the side of the victim. A critical mistake that is far too easy to make in a maelstrom of media and news in events like this is to simply follow the crowd, look where they are going, and listen to what they say. But what's even more important is that each of us consider the situation from multiple angles, remember that while this problem and many others are problems of national policy, it's also a matter of human communication and connection, and our ability to accept and imagine others complexly, as human beings, is crucial to start looking for a solution together.


* One piece of data corroborating this comes from the prison statistic provided by the United States Department of Justice in 2008

** And others, as well, but for the sake of the argument at hand, I'll still to the flawed gender dichotomy