BY RAZMIG SARKISSIAN and ALIK OURFALIAN, Azbarez, 1 June 2020
It’s hard to turn a blind eye to what’s going on around us in the United States. A minority group in pain, continuously persecuted for centuries in the Land of the Free. As Armenians living in a diaspora community, current events in America should speak loud and clear to us.
Our ancestors were systematically discriminated against. They were singled out for their identity. They were considered inferior. They were deported, tortured, raped, and killed simply because they were Armenian. A campaign of genocide was carried out against them by the state.
We still feel the consequences today. Western Armenia and our ancestral homes were seized from us. We were born in countries that are foreign to us. In America, we have felt un-welcomed at times. We have endured bigotry and hatred, stereotypes and prejudice.
But the reality is that we don’t face the kind of stigmatization or discrimination that African-Americans face. We don’t feel the fear African-Americans in this country face every day, the fear that they will be killed for simply existing. We have privilege. In America, it speaks volumes that our skin and racial identity often passes for white. We don’t live in marginalized communities. We aren’t victim to institutionalized racism and discrimination anywhere near as often. We don’t know what it’s like to be a person of color in America.
But we know that pain. We should know that pain. Our ancestors felt that pain. We should empathize with that pain.
African-Americans, too, feel the generational trauma that has carried with them for centuries. Slavery, segregation, racism: these are things we learn in our history classes but they are far from being history. Slavery may not exist today, but its trauma persists. Segregation is unlawful today, but its ramifications continue marginalizing and disproportionately affecting African-American communities. Racism? Racism definitely exists today. A white woman in Central Park calling the police because she feels threatened by the mere presence of a black man. White men fatally shooting a black man jogging on the street. A white police officer suffocating a black man to death despite him pleading that he can’t breathe. And these happened just in the past few weeks.
For what? The color of their skin? Stereotypes they face because the system has failed them time and time again?
This oft-repeated quote from Desmond Tutu, a South African anti-apartheid and human rights activits, says it best: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
How can we demand justice for inhumane crimes committed against our people if we won’t do the same for another persecuted minority, for injustice happening before our eyes in the very country we live in?
The fight for racial equality in America is not just the fight of African-Americans. It is the fight of every American against oppression and injustice. As ourselves a minority group in this country, a people that have faced similar persecution in the past, how can we stay silent? How can we not be outraged when we see African-Americans killed before our eyes, literally, on video?
Let us not fall into the trap of viewing this as a two-party American partisan issue, where one party can claim superiority over the other one. We know better as a community how bipartisan the status quo is, seeing successive presidents of both parties deny the Armenian Genocide time and again. This is not a Red State or Blue State issue. At its root, this is an issue about the thin blue line that spreads across every state, city, and county. The status quo is maintained by both parties. Though the brunt of police brutality disproportionately affects African-Americans, Native Americans, Latinos and other minority groups, this is an issue that potentially can affect everyone. Last week it was the Minneapolis Police Department, next week it could be the Glendale Police Department. It could be anyone’s son or daughter.
The civil rights movement in part was successful at changing the attitudes of the public by putting into the news images representing the violence they experienced. When police would beat nonviolent protesters, it shocked the public to its core. Today, the point of many protesters is being proven by video clips emerging from protests of police being violent toward clearly non-violent protesters. Many reacted to footage of a CNN journalist arbitrarily arrested on live television, but more violent and gut-wrenching police attacks on journalists have occurred since, including one who is permanently blind in one eye after being shot in the eye by a rubber bullet.
These images provide ample evidence of a need to reconsider the role of police and policing practices across the nation, and the gargantuan budgets they are handed by taxpayers. Police geared toward de-escalation rather than brute force. They should not look like an occupying military force in the communities they are supposed to protect and serve. Minorities should not fear for their lives with every police encounter.
Some seek examples of looting and property damage as a way to generalize and represent every protester involved. First, it is important to remember that the vast majority of protesters are peaceful. Second, it’s one thing to disagree over protest tactics, it’s another thing to pretend that these underlying issues of racism and police are overexaggerated or nonexistent. Let’s not, for a second, be distracted from the real message this movement conveys. While it’s unfortunate that some are taking advantage of the situation, that should not discredit the movement. Nor should it be an excuse for us not to be outraged, not to stand in solidarity with the protesters fighting the innate systematic racism in this country. For every looter, there are tens of thousands peacefully protesting a grave injustice.
Property damage may not necessarily make skeptics about the existence of these issues more sympathetic to the cause, and they aren’t meant to. The people who were triggered by peacefully kneeling celebrities have thin standing to lecture how the oppressed should respond to their oppression.
As Dr. Cornel West stated in a recent CNN interview: “The Black Lives Matter movement emerged under a black president, black Attorney General and black Homeland Security and they couldn’t deliver, you see. So, that when you talk about the masses of black people, the precious poor and working class black people, poor and working class brown, red, yellow, whatever color, they’re the ones who are left out, and they feel so thoroughly powerless, helpless, hopeless, then you get rebellion. And we’ve reached the point now that it’s a choice between non-violent revolution and by revolution, what I mean is the democratic sharing of power, resources, wealth and respect. If we don’t get that kind of sharing, you’re going to get more violent explosions.”
What these explosions of community anger do is put pressure on local, county, state, and federal officials to take the issues of policing seriously, to stop brushing them under the rug, and to understand the level of rage that is bubbling beneath the surface if they allow another police officer to act with impunity and take another life. The state violence on human life cannot be ignored when wondering where the reaction of violence from the people are coming from.
Is it really a surprise that a group of people who have been targeted and oppressed for so long revolt back? Is it really a shock that they have had enough? Because it is enough. It is outrageous. Even if every city in America burns to the ground, it will remain outrageous. Focus on the real issue. A black man was lynched in broad daylight. Enough is enough. All the rage, anger, desperation of the African-American community have runneth over. It’s time to listen to them and stand by their side.
«Ընդունուած ճշմարտութիւն մըն է, թէ ապստամբութիւնները կը նմանին հրաբուխներու, յանկարծ կը պայթին, մինչդեռ անոնց լաւան տարիներու ընթացքին կը կազմուի»:
“It is an accepted reality that revolts are like volcanoes; they erupt suddenly, meanwhile their lava brews over the course of years.”