Protesting Racism: A first-person perspective

Tuesday, June 9, 2020 - 5:34pm

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Graphic by Hibah Chugtai

With the Black Lives Matter movement gaining momentum in the last couple weeks, it has become routine to wake up to social media feeds brimming with infographics on “the history of racism in America,” “defunding the police” and other ways to support the cause. We scroll away on our phones, reading relevant articles and casually sharing sensational stories of police brutality as regularly as we once broadcasted our weekends at the lake. What was once the outcry from primarily Black Americans has transformed into a nationwide pursuit for systematic racial justice. Yet, as with any movement, I predict media attention will subside, people will stop posting and other news will take greater precedence.

The backdrop of “quarantine life” present within our daily lives, has left people with the easy excuse to digress from in-person activism. Reading experiences from behind a screen and having conversations within the comfort of our homes is far less engaging than hearing the voices of those in pain amplified in person. I decided to attend a protest in Detroit this past weekend to empathize, to grieve and to fight alongside Black Americans.

As a non-Black POC, I have always shied away from discussing anti-Blackness within my own South Asian community. As an individual with few Black friends, it has been difficult for me to confront the racial prejudices within my own social circles and feel confident that I was being the best ally that I could be. Trying to overcome this doubt, I felt a pit in my stomach as I traveled to Detroit knowing this will be the first time I face this discomfort in-person. 

Arriving at Eastern Market, I felt the thick heat in the air as I positioned my mask. I felt a bit disoriented and lost at first not knowing where to begin. I was met with hundreds of other individuals ready to march down to the riverfront, carrying all types of signs, from “Black Lives Matter” posters to ones donned with the names of dozens of Black Americans who died at the hands of police brutality. One sign in particular relayed the words of human rights activist Malcolm X who said, “I don’t see an American dream; I see an American nightmare.”

As the words circled in my head, I was overcome with deep sadness. Why is it that thousands needed to gather together to prove ending racism isn’t controversial? Why must it take outcries from across the world for the systems in power to pay attention? Is there any American dream at all for marginalized communities in this nation?

With these thoughts lingering in my mind, we slowly began to march. Initially, we walked in silence and spread out far apart from others; however, as time went on, we began to draw closer together. With this cohesion came synchronization, and the once muffled chanting became strong and melodic. 

“No justice” was quickly followed by a powerful punch, “no peace.”

“Hands up!” “Don’t shoot”

“Say their names?” “Which one?”

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Photo by Anurima Kumar

The sun was beating down and I could feel my voice being strained from chanting through my mask for hours. Sweat had begun to drip down the side of my face along with tears, racing towards the sides of my mouth where I could taste a faint saltiness. The efforts were largely led by Black Americans whose voices echoed the pain and injustice of the past 400 years — reminding myself and other protestors to continue pushing through the heat and fatigue. Alongside the pathway, volunteers of all ages, including young boys and girls, hung “BLM” signs off the side of their coolers as they lugged them along, offering water bottles, snacks and  popsicles to aid the protestors on their march down to the river.

Protesting can be both physically gruelling and emotionally taxing. I experienced the sheer joy of seeing racial and ethnic unity in the metro-Detroit community. I realized addressing my discomfort was a meaningful and necessary part of the process. But, I also experienced anger and confusion — at our broken down institutions, at the systems which continue to perpetuate inequality and division and at the merciless deaths of so many Black Americans across the country - and Black civilians across the world. Towards the end of the protest, I felt a mix of empowerment, feeling pride in being part of a collective movement for justice, and defeat, knowing one protest would not be enough to bring the necessary change.

Even though it is hard to see the collective impact of protests, what I recognized was these demonstrations are truly making systematic, legislative change, especially in the state of Michigan. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has expressed her approval for a stream of policy plans for police reform. She has requested that the Michigan Commision of Law Enforcement Standards provide guidance to law enforcement agencies on issues facing the community such as diversity and implicit bias training. The Michigan Senate adopted Senate Bill 945, requiring all incoming law enforcement officers to go through training on implicit bias, de-escalation techniques and mental health screenings. In accordance, the Michigan State Police has created an Equity and Inclusion Officer position and implemented recurring implicit bias training for all enforcement members.

As a result of the BLM movement, state representatives are starting to reevaluate and take steps forward in the right direction. So, stay enraged. Keep protesting. Continue fighting for the next revolution.