Bla(c)k Lives Matter (BLM): A Year in Review, A  Lifetime of Change

Words by: Zayan Ismail
Art by: Monica Ouk

I remember when it all started in 2013. Black Lives Matter (BLM)  was never strictly a 2020 thing. Its (grass)roots date back to nine years ago when Trayvon Martin’s murderer was acquitted. At the time, there was strong opposition to BLM, as well as the odd belief that it was simply a fringe movement, and that all lives should matter.

I was in my mid-teens then, and it was confusing to see all the news sources that disputed the movement and called it exclusionary. As a person of colour (PoC), I know for sure that Black lives do matter. It is unacceptable that not only Black people, but many PoC die needlessly at the hands of authorities. The systems that have been in place — be it law enforcement, the judiciary, healthcare, education or even customary social norms — permeate the everyday lived realities of people of colour in the form of oppression, exclusion, violence, and exploitation. 

In 2020, when George Floyd — another Black man — was needlessly murdered, the events that unfolded resonated with me on a heightened level, where I sensed a tremendous reckoning all around us. It was deeply moving to bear witness to a struggle that was fighting for my rights. I reached a point of spiritual connectedness with my homeland and my ancestors. I knew deep down that this time, things were surely changing. It was a transformational reality that coincided with the pandemic to galvanise a permanent remaking of our societies. In 2021, I do have hope but I am still apprehensive. I am bewildered at the amount of denial and backlash against a movement that is so fundamental and affirming. Racism and its followers have been exposed and highlighted, and they have come out in large forces to avert the movement. 

Needless to say, this movement is both large and small. It is both silent and loud and in retrospect, has been going on for centuries. One must only look at the struggles of the African slaves and the anti-colonial movements in Asia and Africa and South America. For myself, it has been the struggle to get my point across in predominantly white environments — be it a classroom, a suburb, or even a train station. These mundane encounters remind me that the issues highlighted by BLM are a lived reality. 

Indeed, the beauty and resonance of BLM lies in its pertinence to everyday life. The fact that PoC face discrmination on a daily basis galvanises the movement further. BLM after George Floyd’s passing became a global movement, not just a hashtag. It was partly catalysed by years of mistrust towards those that hold unyielding power. These forces do not listen to the voices of those that are ostracised from society, but instead aid and abate subjugation without any intention of dismantling the system. In Australia, Blak lives have always mattered, but the crying call became even louder when I saw protests in Naarm and elsewhere all over the country. The renewed call to address the alarming number of Indigenous deaths in custody (at least 441) and the much-needed rapprochement towards the Pathway to Justice Report suggests a realisation that what we are still doing is unavailing. The fight for country and acceptance of the first languages, cultures and systems requires much more than a report by a majority White government. Seeing people of all ages recognise the covert ways in which the government substantiates their oppression, through mere ideology and centuries of ‘civilised behaviour’, is heartening.   

Indigenous people in Australia still face challenges in getting access to appropriate healthcare, housing and infrastructure. Only 59 per cent of Indigenous students graduate high school compared to 84 per cent of their non-Indigenous counterparts. According to Gunia (2020), “they are 14 times more likely to be homeless. They earn about 33 per cent less and face unemployment rates almost twice as high. They are more likely to struggle with mental health issues, four times more likely to die by suicide, and they live, on average, eight fewer years than other Australians.” 

A year on, the reckoning has been that this is not just about Black lives. It transcends the colour of the skin. It permeates through governing systems, be it capitalism or neo-liberal democracy. It dates back to the days of the imperial project that transformed and destroyed the coloured lives of many, not just in the United States but everywhere around the world. Sure, the police officer that murdered George Floyd got 22 years — but does that suffice for oppression that has lasted centuries? I still feel unsafe in predominantly White environments, and I still find it difficult to get my point across. The odd stares and daft questions still continue. For a White person, it is hard to even fathom how much ‘evidence, data and facts’ I need to substantiate a simple point. The struggle to legitimise myself and live to my fullest potential as a person of colour (or even a human being) is the greatest battle of my life. 

If a person of Maldivian heritage can write an article on BLM in 2021, this is a firm affirmation that the cause resonates and reaches far beyond the lives of just Black people. It is a movement for an inclusive and just society. A call to action to do away with old, decaying, archaic institutions that no longer serve humanity. It is a space for young, queer and unique individuals to express themselves and voice concern over their bodily autonomy and reproductive health rights. It is a vessel in which those that have been ostracised by society charter a new path towards equity. It is the last nail in the coffin for unjust laws that seek to divide and marginalise. For me, it’s a beacon and anchor of hope that keeps me moving forward. 

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