More and more young people are joining protests around the world and are playing an increasingly important role in fighting against racism, discrimination, and social inequality.
Is it possible that eight minutes and 46 seconds can change the world? From London to Lisbon, Berlin to Pretoria, as well as Nairobi, Rio de Janeiro, Rome and Toronto, thousands of people have asked for justice for George Floyd who was killed in 8 minutes and 46 seconds by four Minneapolis police officers. Since 2015, police in the US have shot and killed around 1,000 people each year, with black people twice as likely to die at the hands of law enforcement.
Protests have spread beyond the US and around the globe. Young activists and students have played a critical role in calling for change and transformation in our society. Today, these activists have turned to the streets and to social media to amplify their voices and to call attention to structural racism and police brutality across different countries. Social rights activist Desmond Tutu once stated: “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” The protests have been not only for the black people but for all who are discriminated against by a culture of dominance.
In London, Mary Gaffney attended one of the rallies. She comments: “We experienced powerful moments of kneeling along the routes and brilliant signs. We chanted: ‘No justice, no peace, no racist police’ and ‘what do we want? Justice: silence is violence.’”
“As black and minority people, we’re more at risk if we are infected with COVID-19. So in a way, we’ve got more at stake because we’re actually here,” said Caroline Craven, a black protester. Black women are 4.3 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than their white counterparts, according to U.K. government data (black men are 4.2 times more likely). “For me, it means so much that I’m willing to risk that to be out here today,” Caroline said. “The reason this has impacted around the world is that it has highlighted that we haven’t really dealt with racism, we haven’t dealt with discrimination and inequality.”
Young students are also calling for the national history curriculum in England and Wales to recognize the role of Britain in the slave trade and Empire. Francis Byron, student at University of London, pointed out: “If people have a better idea of history, then they can see how those things have now got us to where we are today, and they can see that there’s bias. They can see things are geared against certain people, and they will have a better understanding of what’s going on in the world, to know how we move forward.”
In Germany, a young activist, Afua Ekuoba of Ghanaian origin said: “The reality of racism in the country is largely swept under the rug. Many people say that because we dealt with racism in the past, for example with the Holocaust, we learnt from the history. In reality racism continues and it is very much alive”. The recent demonstration led by young people in Berlin has shown the importance of facing the problem. Thousands of people formed a human chain through Berlin in a message against racism, discrimination, and social inequality. They were linked by coloured ribbons, forming what organizers called a “ribbon of solidarity.” People appeared to keep to the hygiene restrictions during the event, which lasted just over an hour.
In Sydney, Australia, young people protested saying that Australia must reckon with its own treatment of indigenous and minority group in the country. Across Australia, thousands of anti-racism demonstrators rallied against high rates of indigenous incarceration, deaths in custody and the removal of indigenous children from their families. Aboriginal Australians make up about three percent of the population but almost a third of prison inmates are indigenous. “We are here to support our future as indigenous people and to walk against the injustice of what happened to our people,” one aboriginal woman said.
Young activists in Myanmar see it as the right time to challenge racism in the Buddhist-majority country. Launching a campaign called “Don’t call me ‘Kalar’” on Facebook, the effort seeks to end the use of a term that historically referred to people from the Indian subcontinent. But today the word is often used as a racist term for people with dark skin.
Zay Linn Mon is among the activists. He said the campaign aims to highlight racism in Myanmar. “Does the Indian community accept this word? The problem is privileged people who don’t see this as an issue,” Zay Linn said. He also added that the term has also been used to describe Tamils and Muslims. “What we are aiming for with this campaign is not to use a word that the community dislikes. Our campaign doesn’t support violence against those who continue to use the word. This is just the beginning and we need to push for the issues of minorities,” Zay Linn explained.
In Africa, students have led the protest. Young people are marching in Accra, Lagos, Pretoria and in Nairobi demanding justice after a rise in the number of police killings since a curfew was enforced in March to slow the spread of coronavirus. Recently hundreds of people came out on the streets in Nairobi to protest against police brutality and the killing of innocent people in the country. Protesters marched across the slums of the city where most of the killings have taken place and paid homage to the victims.
Anti-racist protests are also springing up across Latin America countries. In Brazil, there is rising anti-racism fervour despite the impact of the coronavirus. Matheus Mendes, a young activist of “Vidas Pretas Importam”, the Brazilian version of Black Lives Matter, said that “Black people in Brazil are tired. Every day, a black is person is being killed. We are discriminated against in work and also in the coronavirus pandemic.”
According to the latest available data from the Brazilian Forum for Public Security, more than 75 per cent of those killed by police officers in recent years were black. Brazil’s statistics institute records that black Brazilians earn about 44 per cent less than whites. Meanwhile, the Health Operations and Intelligence Centre estimates 55 per cent of those who have died of COVID-19 are black, compared with 38 per cent white. Francisco de Oliveira, another young activist, said that since President Jair Bolsonaro has been in power in 2019, he has made continuous discriminatory comments about both black and indigenous communities in the country.