Sunday, June 21, 2020

Black Lives Matter: Solidarity protests in Western Europe

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“Black Life Matters” Protest at Southampton, UK | Source: Thomas Allsop via Unsplash

The killing of the African-American George Floyd in the hands of Minneapolis police commanded world attention. It witnessed Pan-American protests against police brutality and racism. Countries across the world have stood in support of these protests against racial violence. These protests in America have triggered a number of protests across Western Europe to localise them and condemn racism in their own countries.

Protests against racial violence and police brutality drew large numbers across European capitals and other prominent cities as well. Paris protests alone saw an estimated 20000 people near the Eiffel Tower who protested against the death of George Floyd. These protesters tried to localise the issue of racial violence and police brutality by taking up the case of Traoré, a young black man whose family claims that he died due to suffocation under police custody at Persan (north of Paris) in 2016. These protests have been going on consistently for over a week. Despite the police ban on demonstrations in Paris due to the risk of COVID-19, the demonstrations couldn’t be curbed. Parallel protests were also reported in other cities of France like Lyon, Rennes and Marseille.

Berlin also has been sustaining its ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests for over a week. Demonstrations were held in other German cities such as Cologne, Frankfurt and Dusseldorf. The Bayern Munich footballers wore T-shirts with slogans that read ‘Red card against racism- Black Lives Matter’ in their match against Leverkusen to raise awareness against racial violence. Various German activists believe Floyd’s death has not only triggered anti-racist protests but also multiple questions regarding equitable distribution of resources and representation of diverse races that co-habit in Germany.

In the United Kingdom, too, despite the COVID-19 risk, a large number of protestors stood in solidarity with the U.S protests. In Bristol, demonstrators pulled down the statue of slave trader Edward Colston on 7 June, 2020. Even though these protests were against racial violence, the chords of the protests mainly struck with issues of blacks during COVID-19. British government data showed that blacks living in British were four times more likely to die from COVID-19 as compared to whites. This discrimination by the virus can be attributed to the institutionalised nature of racism and the lack of equitable access to resources for minorities living in Britain.

Protests were held widely in Spain. The U.S embassy outside Madrid has become one of the hotspots for protestors to gather. Hundreds gathered to mourn the death of Floyd and observed silence for him. The city of Budapest too observed silence and chanted songs outside its U.S embassy.

European media has also played a key role in actively condemning Trump for his actions of using military force to tackle the protests. While the French Newspaper Le Monde in its editorials has dubbed Trump as ‘President of division’ the Spanish newspaper El Pais’s headlines read ‘The U.S. Faces Its Worst Racial Conflict in Half a Century’. Trump’s actions to use federal force and active duty military personnel have made the European media to cover the protests more extensively. Newspapers coupled with social media have acted as catalysts in spreading the cause of the protests at a much faster rate.

Floyd’s killing sparked protests against racial violence and systematic racism around the world. However, it resonated at a deeper level with Western European countries primarily due to their rising number of immigrants from African and Arab countries. These countries, for decades, have struggled with accommodating these minorities equally with the mainstream population. The approach to localise these protests has helped to not only denounce racial violence in America but also in their own home country. The nature and extent of these protests have pointed out that governments no longer have the luxury of gradualism and have to instead take up swift actions to eliminate institutionalised racism and police brutality.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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