Why Black Lives Matter protests spread across the world this year.
The summer of 2015, I watched from overseas as fires set Ferguson ablaze and “Black Lives Matter” became the rallying cry of Black Americans. These cries were mostly confined to the Missouri city and other metropolitan areas, and came from the voices of Black Americans. They didn’t ring out in Trinidad and Tobago, where I was living and had fled to due to systemic racism.
Now, years later, social unrest is gripping the US in response to the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police, and racism has come under the microscope once again. But this time, the uprisings are happening across the world.
Earlier this month, hundreds took to the streets to stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter in Poland. On the same day, Tokyo protesters marched and carried signs that read “Stop racism in Japan!” and “Black Lives Matter.” In Bogota, Colombia, local protesters burned an American flag and also called attention to police brutality and racism within its own borders, including the death of Anderson Arboleda, who was killed by Colombian police for violating quarantine. From London to South Africa, thousands are taking a stand in solidarity with African Americans in the fight against police brutality.
As an American expat, it’s been awe-inspiring to witness a nascent anti-racism movement being born in real time here in Trinidad and Tobago, once again brought about by the activism of tireless African Americans. Although a country that boasts multiculturalism and acceptance, my small island home still faces its fair share of hurdles in freeing us from racism and the legacy of slavery.
As #BlackOutTuesday — a call for Black Americans to show strength in dollars by not purchasing goods for 24 hours — took hold on June 2, Trinidadians called for the boycott of businesses owned by men who made racist remarks about Black people in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Black entrepreneurs also pulled their products from the store’s shelves and many began circulating lists of Black-owned enterprises on social media. On June 8, more than 500 people showed up to protest in front of the United States Embassy in the country’s capital, Port of Spain. It was the second protest in a few days where Trinidadians took a stand in solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter.
It’s become clear that what started as a hashtag movement has now morphed into a worldwide phenomenon, and we cannot even begin to assess the scope of the impact it will have on global politics and political ideology. Black Lives Matter is now a cry heard around the world that has prompted response and action from global citizens in a way that hasn’t been seen since the 1960s civil rights era. Protests in each country have taken on different issues, but at their core they represent the struggle against white supremacy across the world.
It’s not so different from what happened half a century ago when mass protests across America led to political gains for African Americans, like the passage of voting rights laws and the end of Jim Crow. Similar to Black Lives Matter, the influence of the movement for Black rights in America was not confined to its borders. The ideologies of Black liberation, peaceful protest, and the fight to secure Black rights spread across the world, inspiring global political change.
It is within this context that Ghana became the first African nation to gain its freedom in March 1957, a political victory heralded with celebrations attended by Martin Luther King Jr. In 1963, a young Black British social worker named Paul Stephenson employed the bus boycott tactics of Martin Luther King Jr. to desegregate Bristol Omnibus Co., forcing the company to hire Black and Asian bus drivers. In the same decade, various Black Caribbean nations emancipated themselves from European colonialism — including Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, which both won their independence from British rule in 1962, followed by Barbados (1966), Bahamas (1973), Grenada (1974), Dominica (1978) and so on.
The plain fact is that the momentum of the civil rights era certainly created the climate for change all around the world, and the same rings true of Black Lives Matter today. In Johannesburg, South Africa, 100 protesters disrupted thoroughfare in front of the US consulate when they knelt in the street for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — the length of time the Minneapolis police officer had his knee on the neck of George Floyd. Another march to the US Embassy was joined by the partner of Collins Khosa, a Black South African man who died after soldiers beat him during the country’s lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Residents of a poor Nairobi, Kenya, district held Black Lives Matter-inspired protests to call attention to their own plight with police violence, where at least 15 people were killed by police after the country imposed curfews to contain the spread of Covid-19, according to the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA).
For Europeans, the emergence of Black Lives Matter has forced many across the continent to grapple with its ugly history of racism. In Bristol, UK, protesters dumped a statue of Edward Colston, a 17th-century slave trader, into the nearby River Avon. Though decried by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as a “criminal act,” many Britons have heralded the final demise of the statue as “necessary,” after years of cries demanding its removal and the removal of Colston’s name from public buildings fell on deaf ears. In Belgium, a statue of King Leopold II was taken down and rehomed after sustaining damage from protesters who vandalized and burned the monument. Leopold’s colonial regime claimed the lives of millions of Congolese people who were tortured by the Belgian king at the turn of the 20th century.
Meanwhile, in Brazil, an anti-racist and anti-facist rally was held in solidarity with Black Lives Matter that also called attention to the country’s own problem with police brutality. In 2019, 1,810 people were reportedly killed by cops in Rio de Janeiro. Australians also used the moment to protest against the deaths of Aboriginals while in police custody.
When I left America and moved to Trinidad and Tobago, I wanted a life free of the systemic racism where I grew up. My life is better here — I don’t worry about constant police harassment. I walk through my neighborhood with my children and am surrounded by people of color.
But these protests are a reminder of the fact that no matter where I live, there is still plenty of work that has to be done in order to rid this world of racist hate. Yet where there is global white supremacy, there is also global resistance.
Tiffanie Drayton is a freelance writer. Find her on Twitter @draytontiffanie.
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