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The Financial Express

'Black slaves' matter in the 21st century

| Updated: June 18, 2020 21:52:03


--Reuters/file photo --Reuters/file photo

Had the African-American (then called 'negro' or black) lady Rosa Parks been alive today by miracle, she would have certainly felt devastated. A great bewilderment would have overcome her. It would puzzle the daredevil lady of her times that the agitated African-Americans have still to come out onto the US streets to get across a vital message, that too in one of the mammoth democracies in the world. Their message is plain, yet filled with four centuries of pain and fits of oppression. The message reads: 'Black Lives Matter'.

In most likelihood, Ms Parks would shake her head in disbelief that yet another innocent African-American had to die in a busy street, evidently unaware of his fault, at the hands of the lately uncontrollable US white police. In the US, is it still an offence to be born with black skin? Lots of such searing questions will keep troubling Rosa Parks. In fact, it was another display of the same old brutal torture and, finally, killing of African-Americans over minor incidents in a US public place. Conscientious whites come forward to save the hapless victims only to be driven out in a most brusque manner. The 'killing' of George Floyd in Minneapolis began as an act of excesses while investigating a complaint against the black youth. But none in the small white police team on patrol that evening on May 25 could have thought that the killing of Floyd would eventually flare up in a conflagration; the heat of which would travel to the major US cities. In reality, all cities in Europe with considerable black populations spent little time to express their solidarity with the African-Americans mourning the death of George Floyd. In less than a week, Floyd emerged as yet another potent symbol of both persecution and protest. The long subdued feelings turned into a flamboyant shape not seen much in the recent decades.

Rosa Parks would feel relieved, as well as happy, to realise that hers had been a silent protest with epic ramifications. It didn't immediately prompt the generally poverty-stricken and marginalised 'negro' masses to bring out protest rallies. But it's also true none of the whites who were travelling on the bus --- Ms Parks sitting on one of its first class seats and asked by a white passenger to vacate it, could realise the explosive power latent in the humiliation. The incident occurred in Montgomery in the Alabama state 65 years ago, in 1955. But it saw the sparking off of the fire of endless protests and the struggles for realising some basic demands related to rights and privileges. The future course of the American blacks took a sharp tilt towards vocal protests paving the way for activism.

As per the dictates of history, the events in the days ahead had taken their inevitable turns. Perhaps they had been in the making since 'White Lion', the first ship containing the cargo of African slaves, reached Jamestown, Virginia, in mainland North America in 1619. The time was before the start of the American War of Independence (1775-1783). Jamestown was then a British colony.

The ships in the following years had crossed seas through storms, giant waves and the muffled sounds of sobs and cries of rural black teenagers from the Sub-Saharan African countries. Most of them were hunted down like animals before being herded into the ships. The African teenagers' ordeals during these voyages, their auction at open-air markets on the American soil, and the inhuman treatment inflicted on them by their masters are all part of history. It had been a history of cruelty of the whites meted out to their black slaves over a time spanning 4 centuries. Thanks to Alex Haley's autobiographical novel 'Roots' (1976), the people around the world were able to have a detailed portrayal of these injustices. The novel, later made into an ABC TV series, narrates the backward journey of the black writer in search of his African roots.

After much effort, Haley becomes successful in finding his native village in a West African country, The Gambia. It is from a poverty-stricken village in the country, on the coast of Atlantic, the 18th century white slave traders picked Kunta Kinte, Haley's ancestor, traced as living seven generations back. The ship carrying the teenage boy Kunta and the other would-be slaves docked at Annapolis 1767, eight years before the start of the American War of Independence. The novel 'Roots' chronicles the seven-generation saga of Kunta Kinte and his descendents. The slave brought from The Gambia didn't live longer enough to see the abolition of slavery in the USA. It materialised with the 13th Amendment passed by the US Congress in 1865. The epoch-making event was pioneered by the great American President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation that termed the liberation of all slaves in the United States as "an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution ..." Many dark chapters and facts about the atrocious black slavery in the US remained unclear to the world's general people before the publication of The Roots and the broadcast of the TV serial based on it. The novel was translated into a number of major languages, with viewers of the TV serial spread all over the world.

Like Rosa Parks, an elderly Kunta Kinte would also have felt greatly incredulous "watching the George Floyd tragedy." It's because during his last age, the old Kunta had read the signs that the days of the emancipation of the black slaves were not far. Many blacks had already been enjoying freedom of sorts. But vehement oppositions by a section of white racists and supremacists vitiated the soon-to-be changed social atmosphere. The path of the Afro-American people's full liberation was strewn with lots of hurdles. For achieving today's power of being able to protest in the streets, the blacks had to traverse a long path of physical and mental ordeals. Besides, they had to pass through series of peaceful rallies and demonstrations. These unique styles of nonviolent protests notably include The Great March on Washington (1963) and The Million Man March (1995), also held in Washington DC. With the 20th century's greatest African-American leader Martin Luther King Jr alive then, the 1963 event was also attended by many whites. It was the grand assemblage of 200,000 to 300,000 people, where King Jr delivered his ever-relevant historic speech, "I have a dream …" The Million Man March was addressed by Louis Farrakhan.

Notwithstanding the injustices, the great achievers from the black American community filled almost every sector in the USA. Beginning from the arts, especially music and literature, to sport, politics and statesmanship, the vast American landscape comprising multi-faceted talent has long been witnessing the ever increasing presence of the African-Americans. The white majority of the 20th century hasn't failed to identify the inherent potential of these black Americans. Woefully, the racist segments in the white population haven't recognised the rising power of the African-Americans.

By targeting the blacks for pouring their racially-motivated hatred on, a section of American white supremacists have veritably proved themselves catalysts to the great nation's creeping divisiveness. They continue to taint the image of the country represented by the loving lady of liberty beckoning the oppressed and battered people from around the world to her land. The hangover from slavery could be termed an aberration that occurred at a volatile turn of events. The time was inhabited by wrong people who had infiltrated the natural process of history. Their descendants are still alive as ethnically biased xenophobic elements, be they Europeans, Australians, Africans and, even, segments of greater South, Southeast Asia.

shihabskr@ymail.com

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