by Doreen Atim
Just as the sun moved in the center of the sky to inflict its worst, Austria, a country famous for its magnificent architectural works came into view. Carrying everything valuable in a small suitcase, I stepped out of the plane and greeted the sight of Vienna with relief, excitement and anxiety; because my first travel experience was uncomfortable with glances and whispers from some passengers on the flight. The extensive knowledge I possessed about racial discrimination was from history lessons at school, books, and modern media. I eagerly devoured modern media to gain profound insight into the European world before leaving home but was not mentally prepared for the racial prejudice I encountered along the journey. Being judged by skin color, the one thing that I have no control of was so absurd and traumatizing. I timidly sat with numerous questions racing through my puzzled mind like what they instantly perceived when they gazed incredulously at me. Sadly, it was a continuous experience on the trains and buses where they avoided contact or sitting next to me. Upon arrival, I had a conversation with friends from diverse backgrounds who instantly shared racism experiences. They carefully advised me to mentally prepare for social discrimination and the reasonable dos and don’ts of immigrants. For the first time, I was aware of the color of my skin and that some people will judge me not by personality, qualifications, skills, or the lasting impact of my work but by complexion.
During this global health crisis of Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed black man while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota sparked protests around the world. Over thousands of people from 40 countries participated in a series of ongoing anti-racism protests and demonstrations under the #blacklivesmatter slogan. For the past weeks, the world saw the largest civil rights movement in history rallying in solidarity with the people of color in the United States to fight for justice for the killing of Floyd by Derek Chauvin, a white police officer who knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds during his arrest as he begged to breathe. Events that occurred in the USA have united the world and inevitably aroused discussions about racism and its negative impact on society.
The dictionary definition of racial discrimination is unfair treatment or bias against someone or a group of people based on race. Racism has existed throughout human history for centuries manifesting in different ways ranging from individual bigotry, stereotyping, prejudice, hate-speech, assaults, police brutality, racial profiling, anti-immigrant actions, labor market segmentation, unequal incarceration rates, and imperialistic foreign policies. Racism can be explicit, aggressive, and increasingly fatal causing death like the Rwandan genocide or implicit and nuanced to the point where it is insidious. Slavery, apartheid, and colonialism are examples where racial discrimination is inherently tied up in structural power; through the economic and social domination of minority groups by dominant races that lead to recurrent prejudice against minorities in societies. Throughout history, colonialists economically dominated other nations by the employment of manipulative schemes and strategies to displace indigenous peoples from their land for the exploitation of natural resources. Indigenous people, often labeled as primitive, backward, uncivilized, and savage experience continuous social and systematic discrimination by society. They frequently face threats to their sovereignty, economic wellbeing, and access to resources on which culture depends, limited or no access to health care systems and education, unemployment leading to alcoholism and gambling disorder.
Slavery left an indelible imprint on souls across the world predominantly African Americans who made the most substantial contribution towards the establishment of America’s economy. Ethnicity, color, and race remain social factors in the United States causing antagonism, controversy, and conflict between its racially and ethnically diverse population. Minority groups frequently experience discrimination across various institutional settings and social life where rights and opportunities are not equally accessible compared to dominant groups, facing racial systematic obstacles when searching for employment, housing, health care, education in addition to welfare dependency, drug and substance abuse, high crime rate, broken families, bad academic performance, police brutality and, unequal incarceration rates. Currently, the plight of Asian communities is experiencing rising racist sentiments during the coronavirus pandemic.
To maintain non-racist societies, we need to embrace diversity and explore other cultures outside our own. Ignorance, fear of miscommunication, and sounding racist or unintentionally causing harm are part of the reasons why many still stay silent and take no action towards the eradication of racism. Courage and humility are essential virtues we need to consistently treat each other humanely. Imagine being terrified that each day your loved ones walk out of the door that they may not return home. When concerned thousands were protesting to fight for justice and raging against centuries of oppression, I stood with them without reservation. I was proud to be part of the black lives matter protest in Vienna on Thursday, 4th June 2020 to send a message to stop racism and fight for justice for all police brutality victims who had the right to breathe and be treated with dignity. Diversity is essential and makes society stronger in every way. Now is the time to acknowledge that we are uniquely and beautifully made with distinct purposes.
In the words of Audre Lorde, ‘it is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences. Let us be a generation that stands for racial equality and empowers individual’s society has disowned.