Moving Beyond the US: #BlackLivesMatter and Decolonization

Syrian artists Aziz Asmar and Anis Hamdoun painted a memorial to George Floyd on the remainder of a destroyed wall in Binnish, Idlib (Syria’s northwest).
Source: RepublicWorld

George Floyd’s murder revived the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, but also the #AllLivesMatter hashtag and its various offshoots. Thus, when I saw a photo of a Lebanese protester holding a sign that said #LebaneseLivesMatter on Twitter, the first thing I thought was just how unaware of the global conversation this person is. In fact, I retweeted the photo with the caption: “READ THE ROOM.”

Given the conversation on the poor judgement of some people—many of whom are well-intentioned—in trying to advocate for all lives and not just Black lives, I had a negative knee-jerk reaction to the image. But it lingered in my memory. It is undeniable that such a poster in the U.S. would be out of tune; that said, thinking about #BlackLivesMatter, a primarily U.S. movement, concurrently with other global issues is essential to understanding and thus dismantling U.S./white hegemony — which in and of itself is a global and not a U.S.-only issue.

Since October 2019, Lebanon has been suffering from its worst financial crisis since the Civil War (1975–90), which has been now exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. With inflation soaring and nearly 50% of Lebanese living under the poverty line, people hit the streets to demand their rights. I tried putting myself in their shoes: they’re watching social media explode with overwhelming support for #BlackLivesMatter, triggered, in their eyes as people unaware of the U.S. context, by the murder of one man, while thousands and thousands of people starved in Lebanon without anyone flinching.

I do not say this to undermine the Black Lives Matter movement, or to dismiss that George Floyd’s murder is symptomatic of a larger systemic issue in the United States and around the world. Anti-Black racism exists in Lebanon too. Lebanon, and the Arab world at large, are notorious for their unjust, racist kafala system—amongst many other symptoms of deep-seated racism, such as Western beauty standards, lack of representation of people of color in the media, and the like. But the issue, for those who claim that “Lebanese Lives Matter”, is about the lack of media attention— they are not denying anti-Black racism.

Social media is dominated by U.S. voices and perspectives. For instance, the country with most Twitter users is the U.S. at 64 million, followed by Japan at 48 million, and Russia at 24 million, even though the U.S. clearly isn’t the most populated country in the world. Thus, what goes viral on social media and other media outlets is often dictated by trends in the U.S. As such, people in Lebanon, and elsewhere, may see the Black Lives Matter movement as hegemonic vis-à-vis their struggles: while the whole world is talking about George Floyd and Black lives, no one seems to care about Lebanon.

(responses against Lebanese Lives Matter)

Appropriating the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag or slogan for other social justice movements dilutes people’s attention; it is a sort of hijacking of the Black Lives Matter movement. Yet it is important to note that the intention of the Lebanese people, or any oppressed group, is not malicious; their intentions are very different from those of racist Americans who advocate for #AllLivesMatter.

What we are witnessing—outside the U.S., in Lebanon and elsewhere—is a process by which the lives of minorities in the U.S. matter to the world more than non-U.S. lives, let alone lives of minorities outside the U.S. The reason the world cares about George Floyd now more than we ever did about Palestine, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, and Venezuela—the list can go on forever—is because of U.S. hegemony, a hegemony inextricable from the systemic hold of white superiority and supremacy on the entire globe.

What we have here, therefore, is white supremacy benefitting the U.S.-turned-global fight against Black racism and police brutality. This may not seem like a problem, but the fight against racism cannot happen without global solidarity against U.S. hegemony. In a recent interview, Black activist Angela Davis “hop[ed] that today’s young activists recognize how important Palestinian solidarity has been to the Black cause, and that they recognize that we have a profound responsibility to support Palestinian struggles, as well.” She also pointed in the direction of Brazil, saying “if we think we have a problem with racist police violence in the United States of America, look at Brazil. . . . I think 4,000 people were killed last year alone by the police in Brazil.”

Davis recognizes, in pointing to Palestine and Brazil even as the Black community in the U.S. and its allies are in revolt, the importance of solidarity in dismantling transnational systems of oppression that know no borders. She gestures to the reality that one cannot selectively fight against oppression, for these systems are massive, interconnected, and inertial, requiring large amounts of force to disassemble them.

In this vein, it is also my wish that those who have now garnered a platform due to these systemic structures that privilege Western voices over non-Western ones—especially on social media—shed light on injustices that inflict much of the world now, not just the U.S. and the West. I hope that those people with influence remind those who are now so passionately protesting racist legacies—from statues to names of places and institutions—also speak up against injustices in other parts of the world in the future, as they arise.

On June 23rd of this year, Ahmed Erekat, a 27-year-old Palestinian man, was murdered by the Israeli police; he was shot and left to bleed for one and a half hours. He was accused of attempting “to ram his car into border guards” despite it being the day of his sister’s wedding. Like George Floyd, Ahmed Erekat, an unarmed Palestinian man, was assumed to be violent and left to die. But unlike Floyd’s murder, Erekat’s murder didn’t elicit a global outcry. Why is that? Where are the reading suggestions about the Palestinian struggle? Where are the “go educate yourselves” posts? Where are the “check your privilege” articles? 

This plea to talk about all forms of injustice, not those only occurring in the West, should not be seen as a means of hijacking the Black moment or the Black cause (which, admittedly, is often the unintended consequence of hashtags like #LebaneseLivesMatter or #PalestinianLivesMatter). Rather, it should be seen as part of the struggle against white supremacy and U.S. imperialism. The white hegemonic structures killing Black people in the U.S. are the same structures allowing Israel to annex Palestine. From this standpoint, it becomes imperative that we engage in a more nuanced and dynamic form of solidarity, else we would be, in our struggle for justice, still perpetrating the structures we are fighting against. 

If we only talk about George Floyd and Black lives, we will not dismantle the system that murdered him.

geomorphology

The geography of her body discovered, it didn’t matter that they’d seen a thousand breasts and that her body was largely unremarkable, that they hadn’t been tantalized by it before the photos materialized in their hands, all that mattered was that it had been unveiled to them.

Columbus wore a similar smile, his face split in triumph, when he first caught sight of a dark line, just a hint of land on the horizon, really no different from a hint of upper thigh, a scar that seemed to paint a neon arrow to the unknown, but certainly destined to be known and defined by
strangers until they were no longer strangers in a strange land

She shrouded her body in mischief and ample cloth so that she wouldn’t be discovered too.

Artwork by Paul Gaugin “By the Sea”

absence of the latina intellectual: some abstract theory for your ass

there are several ideological lines,
the first being
there are three bodies to contend with:
mine
ours
theirs

my body is really heavy
with guilt, this leaking thing
charged with sex
and stifled

our body is really heavy
i am so crushed
by the burden of bodies belonging to me,
i must occupy space for our body
i must walk as these bodies,
these naked
and piling bodies,
these bodies thick
to stack and build upon,
these equally weak
and temporary bodies,
these bodies that are
simultaneously more and less

(i was holding my copy
of the women of brewster place
too tightly,
almost wrinkling
gloria’s name
when my white coworker
lifted her nose and said
she could only read books
she actually heard of and
that were well written)

finally their body is really heavy.
the body on
and outside my body
is rendered weak
in its own construction,

as it renders itself
during and only through
its relentless creation of my body
and their body
and whatever bodies
that birth themselves
in between, outside and aside
of this central body of work
which is itself a body

my body is really heavy.
our body is really heavy.
their body is really heavy.

this theory
comes up against
what I’ve identified
as three ideological lines
in their bodies of work:

my body is weak
against their body.
my body must relent
to their body of work.
my body is only here
because of their bodies
and body of work.

i disagree
with these lines
in their body of work.

precisely because
they are lines
and what lines
actually make up my body?

their bodies are all line
which is why
their body of work
consists of lines
and why my body
does not fit into these lines,
its form enjoys
everything but lines

(the chapin
I’ve been fucking
on and off for four years
makes it a point
to remind me
of his love for redheads
who burn easily)

walls are supported
by their body of work
walls are made by promises
written about in their bodies
they are losing their grip
on these promises

(old white women
point at my legs
when they are crossed
on the train and in their way.
and
on three occasions
in my adult life
white women have shoved
their chests in my face
non sexually)

my body is constant
and in the way
of their body of work
and it’s lines.

my form was here before
and birthed their bodies
my body will continue
to be a body of work
more than it is just my body

reading and writing
about the body
and their body
and their bodies of work
should render
all the bodies silent,
dead
it doesn’t, I learned

(my ex
still has my copy
of borderlands
i still have her copy
of beloved)

as i wrap myself
in the flesh
of my own body
— my own, meaning i own it,
this is a line
from their body of work
that i am now forcing
on my own created body
and body of work —
I’ve learned to tell you
it isn’t there
you become accustomed
to my body of work
which is more my body
than my actual body

you will ask yourself:
where is this bitch

Artwork by Paula Rego “Mermaid Drowning Wendy”

Amma, Acha & Malayalam ft. english

അമ്മ (Amma)
My Amma’s Malayalam is Trivandrum slang,
shifting between simple
churidar and formal sari in a blink.
trishurpooram cacaphony is her laugh,
words the speed of onam boat races
on slow crashing waves of kovalam beach.
It is every spice bubbling
in my Ammuma’s cheenachatti,
both sweet sharkara and sour achar
Chutni podi with chilli podi by her hand.
Her Malayalam hits hard
Ammuma’s soft palms, Appupa’s rare playfulness;
Her Malayalam is a 22-year-old recipe, came along to flavour a desert.

My Amma’s english is accented
with Malayalam, from ancestral
beef fry to salmon grill
Other worlds and words with a twist of her own
Kovalam softened by corniche calm,
chilli podi, sounds of two cities, date syrup
and desert sand filling
the gaps in her english
“Yalla pogam!” She yells “Mafi Mushkil, Aathma!”
Sharkara lacing her laugh,
it echoes loudly in between
the buildings of Hamdan St.

Appupa said my laugh is like hers,
I carry it safe in my voice box.
My Malayalam is a mirror  
of her slang, her lullaby my tongue
Trishupooram still resounding in them.

They complain they can’t understand her,
her laugh too loud, her accent too strong for their weak ears
They demand us altered for their palate
demand silence, compliance
for their tongues to handle.

Amma did not move
for me to be silent;
our laughs are trapped ancestral joy, they died
for the spices you came to our shores for,
they died. Our laughs are eulogy
folded into our voice boxes.

Does your tongue burn?
Here, have the water–
our laughter will not drown again

അച്ഛാ (Acha)
My Acha’s malayalam drips
on the page, fountain pen sprouting
rhymes, rhythms, words
of a Love, land,
loss, gain,
home, no home, new home, old home,
dreams to come, dreams left behind,
shore he came to, shore he left,
a sea, a kadal that watched him come
and go over and over and over–
the second half of his life,
the first half he refuses to forget.

He polishes an english accent
with experience, age, command
and Malayalam slips in, a jewel found:
film comes filim, his english crashes
under Malayalam exclamation,
the language of his soul sees no barrier.

An architect of words, an architect of worlds
an architect on two shores, he built
poems, he built places,
built a love for words in his Molu,
built a home, a city for his daughter.

This new city gentrifies her tongue;
he wonders if he can build
a bridge, a boat for his daughter lost in the kadal
between the poems of his soul and
this new city she speaks of.

Artwork by Dayanita Singh “go away closer”