By Aadi Gannavaram
Peaceful Black Lives Matter protests have a clear and historically-valid objective.
As a middle school student interested in US History, I was surprised by a recent article by Ravi Shanker Kapoor presenting a totally distorted picture of ongoing Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests against racial inequality.
Taking sporadic looting and stealing during the protests as evidence that the demonstrations are entirely motivated by criminal aspirations, it goes on to suggest that systemic racism could not possibly exist in the US.
However, Kapoor fails to take into account the harsh reality faced by African Americans in their everyday lives in America despite legislative efforts such as the 13th amendment and civil rights legislation that attempted to correct historic injustices.
The foundational tenet of the US constitution that all men are created equal remains a high minded ideal yet in practice never uniformly applied without regard to the skin color of the individual.
Even African Americans in the highest positions of power, such as US senators, are not immune to racism.
For instance, Tim Scott, an African American senator from South Carolina has recounted how he was pulled over seven times in a year by law enforcement officials for such trivial reasons as driving a nice car in a wealthy neighborhood.
He was also called “boy,” a derogatory term with racial connotations, by the policeman who also felt the need to have his weapon partially drawn.
On the other hand, the state’s second senator Lyndsey Graham, a caucasian, and other white lawmakers have never had to experience such treatment.
If this is how African Americans in positions of high power are treated, it’s tough to deny the existence of systemic racism.
For that matter, in over two centuries since independence, the US has had only 10 African American senators out of a total of 1,947 even though African Americans historically represented 10-12% of the population.
There is no justifiable reason other than systemic racism for this unbalanced representation of African Americans in the US Senate.
Police brutality against African Americans remains a constant problem that is compelling people from all walks of life to seek justice.
Cornell University professor Neil A. Lewis Jr. recounted recently how he gets pulled over by the police due to “dirty license plates” on his campus, a fate not so uncommon faced by millions of other African Americans.
A cursory search on social media platforms reveals thousands of memes mocking the unjust circumstances African Americans deal with routinely.
The experiences of systemic racism are not infrequent inconveniences and are widely shared by African Americans in the US.
The employment-population ratio for Black Americans has historically tended to fall quite a bit lower for whites or Latinos, according to a Business Insider report. This trend continues to persist to this day.
In the interest of balance, let us also consider other recent protests by predominantly whites in the US. If we apply Kapoor’s logic, one would have to conclude that the motivation of these protests is indeed subjugation and assertion of privilege.
For example, in Charlottesville, one of the most violent protests was carried out by “Unite the Right” a white supremacist group that disseminated anti-semitic, anti-African American, and white supremacist propaganda, all done by armed protestors displaying Nazi symbols and imagery.
“White supremacists have committed at least 73 murders since Charlottesville, 39 of which were clearly motivated by hateful, racist ideology,” according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
“These numbers include the deadly white supremacist shooting rampages in Parkland, Pittsburgh, Poway, and El Paso, the deadliest white supremacist attack in more than 50 years.”
Similarly, the May storming of Michigan state house by predominantly white groups with military-grade weapons protesting the restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic is a clear example of mob violence.
Compared to these protests that are nevertheless protected by the first amendment rights, the BLM protests were peaceful, and are clearly due to reasons that any observer of US history would conclude legitimate requiring a long overdue just response.
After comparing protests of each side and the harsh realities faced by African Americans all over the US, it’s not hard to conclude that the BLM protests were peaceful events with a clear and historically-valid objective.
Systemic Racism remains an undeniably true and horrid condition in the US, and these peaceful protests are a way of sensitizing the wider population to the urgency of solving the problem.
While some looters take advantage of the large crowds and gatherings across the nation to cause chaos, this does not make them in any way a part of the protest or its ideology.
Compared to the other end of the spectrum represented by the white-supremacist protests which used military-grade weaponry as a threat to get what they want, BLM protests are by and large civil and peaceful.
It’s absurd to oppose the BLM movement as these peaceful protests and their ideologies are a necessary step in furthering a just American society.
(Aadi Gannavaram is a student of Herbert Hoover Middle School, Potomac, Maryland)
What do I have to do with Black Lives Matter? (June 20, 2020)
Black Lives Matter: Are Indian Americans guilty of silence? (June 10, 2020)