Prick Prick Boom
I was 12 or 13 years old when I had my left arm intentionally broken by racist, highly privileged white kids at the school I was going to. And by broken arm, I mean broken. I was in a cast for three months.
Though I’d been bullied for years, at the time, I didn’t even get angry – that’s not always the first feeling when you’re abused. I just wanted people to like me. All the bullies were slightly older, since I had been skipped ahead in my grade.
I was one of two brown kids in my year, and therefore, one of the most obvious targets. (Oh, and my fellow students naturally assumed we were brothers, ‘cos we were both brown – racist logic.) There was one black boy who got bullied far worse that I did. Сonstantly. Verbally, physically and emotionally. They called him dirty, n*gger; they humiliated him at every opportunity; they actively tried to get him in trouble for nothing, scheming against him and his life.
They called me Bindu (the red dot some Indian people wear) and Curry Muncher. I’m Sri Lankan, not Indian – not that that matters. I counted myself lucky I wasn’t that black boy at the time. I didn’t even make friends with him out of fear they’d bully me more too – a defensive behaviour I deeply regret to this day, which has shaped my character as a man now.
If I met those kids again today, I’d strangle them. At the very least, I’d break their left arms.
There were no real repercussions from the school, or anyone, as far as I can remember. No justice or due process. Not even an apology.
That’s what institutional and systemic racism feels like. Your right to agency, freedom and being are not always overtly threatened, but when they are, there are no ramifications for the perpetrators. No justice. No systems of society like law and good governance that apply to everyone equally. The social contracts of society are one way only.
How many white bankers see jailtime for stealing billions from the free market? Yet, we’re johnny-on-the-spot to catch poor looters stealing doilies – or whatever.
You feel that every day as a brown person. Like you’re worth less; like you deserve less. Year after year. Rejected or blocked from equal opportunity due to race, nationality, gender, your accent, your orientation – always on the backfoot.
Eventually, you explode. Pricked a hundred thousand times until eventually you won’t take it anymore That simmering frustration and induced shame boils over and turns into anger. Every time the seat next to you on the bus is the last to fill up. Every time someone follows you in a store because they think you’re a thief. Every time you’re rejected for jobs you deserve because your visa process is too troublesome and expensive. Every side-eyed glance from someone whose brain is still in that tribal, savage mode of mistrusting someone purely based on appearance. Every left-swipe on a dating app because of your colour and the stereotypes attached to it. Every time you overhear ethnic slurs. Every time you see white people come to your country and earn a month’s wage in a day to be in a TV ad because they’re white and that’s worth more for a brand in an Asian country. (I’ve never seen someone turn an offer like that down on principle, by the way.)
Prick. Prick. Prick. Prick. Prick. Boom.
A poignant example of systemic racism is travel. I wonder how everyone privileged would feel if they had to experience the added expense, scrutiny, mistrust, paperwork and process required to travel when you’re a person of colour, when the default answer to brown visa applications is rejection (that’s policy, not platitude). Being told that you’re not good enough, rich enough, connected enough to visit their glorious country. That because you’re so poor, you’ll be enamoured and never want to leave. That you’re a criminal, by inference.
The world is mostly closed, and doors are locked if you’re brown or black, for no reason other than the fact that you as an individual have to answer for all the past crimes of people of your colour. All the illegal immigrants before you who opted to bypass the (un)due process in hope of a better life are your burden to bear based on where you were born and the colour of your skin.
Every time I see a highly privileged travel ‘grammer posting about the virtues of wanderlusting, I wonder if they realise that – in the countries they are visiting (to take full advantage of the disparity in economies at that) – the people in the background of their pictures cannot and will not ever get to travel that freely. Because they’re poor. Because they have to work 10 times as hard just to put food on the table. Because it would literally take approximately 10-to-25 years for them to afford that trip you do for fun in your 20s before you even have a real job. Because you’re likely coddled by a society that was built on stolen resources from colonies your forefathers plundered, bombed, enslaved or indentured.
You’re not helping them with your tourism money. You’re trapping them in another form of servitude. A thousand apologies that your room is not yet ready for check-in, Sahib.
Let me be clear: I’m very privileged. Abnormally so, even for Sri Lankans, and I’m more than willing to acknowledge it. These problems all arise when you lack sufficient empathy to admit that others don’t have the same privilege and leg-up that you do, and that there is no reason for you to be born with such a head start over others. No reason.
Children born in Lusaka or Colombo or Woking or Dallas all have an equal right to life, opportunity and freedom. That’s why it’s infuriating when people reply to #BlackLivesMatter with the infinitely patronising, “But all lives matter!” They don’t. Not because black and brown lives matter more – it’s because at present (and since forever), they matter less, you absolute cabbage-headed twat.
Miss the point much? That’s the problem, and you’re part of the problem if you can’t empathise with that – especially seeing everything that’s unfolding around the world right now. Murder is worse than property damage. The fact that police brutality, violence and murder can take place without repercussions or justice is what needs addressing right now. We should stick to it until it’s solved, then discuss the number of flatscreens stolen and destroyed, okay?
I’d rather a revolution cost us some Target inventory than lives, which is what it’s always cost us in the past when change was needed. I’d happily sacrifice some shopfronts, Louis Vuitton bags, whatever other material things necessary if that’s the only price for moving society further towards equity, freedom, right to agency and other such universal truths.
After all, Kaepernick tried just peacefully taking a knee and got called a son of a bitch for that.
Bah f-ing humbug.