The Asian and Asian American Studies Institute partnered with the Nazrul Fund for Decolonial Art in a virtual discussion with scholars titled, “Black Lives Matter and Asian Pacific Decolonization” from 12 to 2 p.m. yesterday afternoon.
“So, today’s event takes the Black Lives Matter Movement as an inflection point to visit upon Asian Pacific context on the struggle for peace, liberation and the dismantling of racial domination,” Jason Chang, associate professor of history and director of the Asian Asian American Institute at UConn who moderated the discussion, said.
The discussion spoke about how social movements like the Black Lives Matter movement can be seen outside of the U.S like in the Asia Pacific region. Jordan Camp, a visiting scholar at Harvard and Co-Director of Racial Capitalism, drew attention to how America’s struggle against racism and police brutality is a fight against the elite in the country but also seen against other right-wing politicians like Narendra Modi in India and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines.
Camp explained that the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, promised to restore law and order but under his government, there was more violence and over 3,000 killings by police in the country. Camp mentioned that in India, President Narendra Modi vilified Muslims and embraced the militant brand of brutal police and culture is said to be a trait that dates back to when India was colonized by Great Britain. According to Camp, there’s evidence of widespread violence and extrajudicial killings across India including over 1,700 people in 2019 alone with the majority being Muslim.
Camp said every time there is an economic crisis there always seems to be a division in the state; he gave the example of the 1920s and 1930s when White supremacy organizations like the Klan, or dictators like Mussolini and Hitler rose to power.
“Trump’s seemingly endless tweets demonstrate the racist construction of enemies that ranged from Black Lives Matter protesters to foreigners to migrants and to refugees,” Camp said. “This neo-fascist common sense obscures the source of political and economic problems the culturalist and national narratives about race, gender, sexuality, religion the family freedom corruption the law and order and these narratives have been mobilized to secure consent to coercive resolutions through police-military interventions and guns.”
“Trump’s seemingly endless tweets demonstrate the racist construction of enemies that ranged from Black Lives Matter protesters to foreigners to migrants and to refugees,”Jordan Camp, a visiting scholar at Harvard and Co-Director of Racial Capitalism
Christina Heatherton, assistant professor of American Studies at Barnard College and Columbia University, explained a scene she witnessed while teaching at Trinity College in Hartford, CT.
“I saw a student climb up onto a table after another murder of another Black person by police on film and the student shouted ‘How can we continue just going on walking around sitting in classes as if everything is normal, I feel like I am going crazy,’” Heatherton said. “I thought her statement was incredible, it was a provocation that her education should be accountable to the rage of the world. This I think is the heart of engaged pedagogy. It is one of our prime responsibilities as educators to link the lived experiences of theorizing to the process of self-recovery and social transformation.”
Heatherton talked about how Yuri Kochiyama, an Asian American activist and Malcolm X often had long conversations about the Vietnam War, poverty and other social injustices in what became a long friendship between the two. The discussion often touched on the importance of poetry and arts which helped amplify a lot of voices.
“Poetry becomes essential for theorists and activists because it recognizes conditions that are widely felt that remain inexpressible through available categories,” Heatherton said. “Rather than moving towards certainty, we have to find a way to move towards what we don’t yet know, perhaps what we don’t yet know how to know. I believe that poetry moved us in this direction being able to feel our rage and being able to see where there is no light.”
Quito Swan, a professor of Africana studies and a visiting scholar at Pennsylvania State University, described that many Europeans at the time thought Papua New Guinea was backward in the 1970s. But, Swan said that Papua New Guinea was actually on the cusp of change, as it was about to claim its independence. The University of Papua New Guinea at the time produced artists and poets who used their platform as a beacon of Melanesian nationalism across the Pacific world. He said that the New Guinea Black Power movement’s co-founder, Leo Hannett, described the movement as being a movement influenced by the United States’ Black power and African Negritude philosophy, but not being enslaved by these ideas.
He explained the importance of the University of New Guinea and Quito Swan brings up the topic of Melanesia and their important role in facilitating Black Empowerment. Swan mentioned Kath Walker was a key activist in playing a role in promoting a Black culture
“By the 1960s, University of Papua New Guinea was at the forefront of transforming Melanesia into a powerful turn of Black modernity which attracted activists and scholars from Oceania and the global south,” Swan said.
Gulshan Ara, the founder of the Nazrul Fund for Decolonial Art, described activist Kazi Nazrul Islam, a Bangladeshi poet and activist who advocated for decolonization from Britain. Nazrul demanded independence, was arrested and even delivered a testimony where he played an impact on Britain’s decolonization. She later described how there were instances in both India and America can be compared.
Heatherton later quoted a statement that Cedric Robinson, a University of California professor in the department of Black Studies and political science, said to university students who were faced with discrimination.
“When they were mad that the university did not reflect them or the world they wanted to see when they came to him with their anger or hurt and betrayal, he would say to them the following ‘You’re searching for a place that doesn’t love you, what are you going to do to create spaces that do?’” Heatherton said.