A powerful, if not well-known article by sociologist Bourdieu and Wacquant (1999) entitled On the Cunning of Imperialist Reason argues that imperialism is most potent when it takes palace at a level of ideas and control of media by those who come from a similar political, national and economic background. As someone with a vested interest in inter-race relation and international schools who wish to deliver an authentic global education the past months have been a time of critical energy.
Early in 2020, the energy appeared to be an increasingly global awareness of the need to curb single plastic use. Indeed we seemed to be making some progress when Covid-19 hit, followed by the Australian bush-fires and more recently the spectre of racial violence in the USA.
It is to this latter issue I wish to turn and offer some thought on a way forward that is global rather than national in focus. I draw upon the central thesis of Bourdieu and Wacquant. I argue that a simplistic acceptance of the #balcklivematter has the potential to simplify and stifle the complexity of issues around prejudice, of which race, gender, economics etc. are all part and parcel.
#blacklivematter, as we know, started in 2013 with the shooting of Trayvon Benjamin Martin (February 5, 1995 – February 26, 2012) to draw attention to the issues surrounding police brutality toward American citizens based on skin colour. Sadly, such incidents continue and are far too familiar. Indeed the murder of George Floyd further emphasized the need for changes to take place. While the movement has helped encourage some meaningful change on some fronts, it does nonetheless run the risk of becoming a form of cultural imperialism whereby the experience of black Americans is presented as a template for all 'blackness' globally. If this does happen, I believe we may miss a very profound opportunity to enable all those who suffer under the yoke of oppression.
That we need a hashtag and a movement to remind us that black lives indeed do matter is testament to our failure. For almost a century, the USA has remained the pinnacle of power in the world, yet it has failed to address the issue of race within its borders. Shameful. Yet here is the rub. This is not just a US problem. Prejudice and its sidekick, discrimination remain global issues and must be tackled both locally and globally.
I hold that several issues being raised by the #blacklives movement are not furthering the discussion meaningfully as a result of the creation of a pan-blackism that does not export effectively beyond the confines of the unique settings of the USA.
For example, it is arguable that the USA has remained stuck in its post antebellum era division of 'race' permitting only for a black/white divide. Other post-slavery societies in the same region practice colourism where the varying colours of their skin define one. While still racist such an approach permits for a more nuanced exploration of colour and power which a black/white dichotomy may be incapable of addressing.
Of course, by focusing on the lives of black (a highly vague and contentious term) citizens what happens to others who do not fit this duality may risk being 'white'washed. For example, Canada will often celebrate its openness to black citizens claiming that it never had slavery. It did (Walker, 1997). However, its treatment of Asian was and remains an issue causing 'squeaky bums' among wielders of power.
Additionally, the treatment of indigenous people remains sadly a topic given little public voice yet the ravages of modernization and globalization continue to destroy lives in the Pacific Islands, the Americas, China, and Japan to name but a few. In other places, the prejudice takes on religious or ethic guises as seen on the treatment of Roma in Europe or the on-going Protestant/Catholic tensions on my native Ireland. Post-colonial tensions in Zimbabwe have seen violent and political backlashes against its white citizens. The status of British citizens of Indian descent living in the UK has and continues to be an issue in need of addressing; however, the BLM marchers have arguably forgotten such voices.
It is however powerful to witness that the social justice, rather than it's purely political, aims of the BLM movement have begun, in most quarters to include ALL people of colour under its expectation of ending systemic racism. Witness the name change of the Washington NFL team, the local movements to review business practices and indeed, closer to home, the desperate need for international's schools to explore hiring practices and curriculum - matters I addressed in my article ' The Elephant in the Room' in IS Magazine, Spring 2020.
At the same time, the horrors of the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans or Rwanda offer painful reminders of work that needs to be done to prevent such catastrophes which were not grounded in 'race'.
Furthermore, tensions such as those between Pakistan/India and Israel/Palestine arguably do not share a colour coding codex but are grounded in prejudice, history and heuristics which the BLM movement cannot be expected address. Such issues are beyond the ability and resources of one movement and have roots which are centuries old (and maybe even go back to those first few steps we all took when our ancestors left Africa).
In a similar vein issue around gender inequality, sexual orientation rights remain matters of grave concern on a global scale.
The USA is not the only place on the globe where issues of prejudice require immediate addressing. Nor may the framework being offered by the BLM political agenda (e.g. such a defunding police) be best suited to address such concerns. Indeed, there is a very real possibility that the political frameworks being offered by the BLM drawing upon USA centric experience are not capable of addressing issues outside of its political, social and economic time/space.
While there is a genuine need to unveil, learn and act upon the history and consequences of American slavery, we must not be lulled to cognitive numbness - the stakes are too high! It is nevertheless, to our collective shame that such issues remain under addressed, explored and discussed within schools claiming the 'International' or 'global moniker'.
However, rather than focusing on one country's experience in addressing 'race', I believe it is essential that international schools and their communities MUST realize these are issues of global concerns. Likewise, there are alternative views such as that of Such Africa, Uganda, Brazil and Canada on other means of dressing 'race'.
It is our collective responsibility as 21st century educators to provide the correct environments and structures which enable our students and community to explore, think and act globally and locally.
While we may choose to support BLM and its political agenda, we must must believe that the social justice issues raised are relevant to all.
It is now the 21st century and to remain caught in a vicious cycle of racism, systemic and otherwise is testament to our need for real growth and moral development.
That being said we must also not be lulled into believing that the solutions and issues raised within a given country are universally exportable to others. These are complex issues that require commitment over the long haul, not just a passing has-tag on social media.
When will we recognize that we, as a species, are in this together?
Hughes, Conrad., (2017). Understanding Prejudice and Education: The challenge for future generations.
Walker, James St.G., (1997) Race, rights, and the law in the supreme court of Canada: Historical case studies.
Bourdieu, P., and L. Wacquant., (1999). On the Cunning of Imperialist Reason.
Okinawan and Japanese Budo
James M. Hatch
International Educator who happens to be passionate about Chito Ryu Karate. Born in Ireland, educated in Canada, matured in Japan