Lin Abdul Rahman, Opinion Editor
As Black History Month cruises to an end, one is left wondering, “What now?”
Do we simply archive the inspirational talks, movies and poetry slams we’ve witnessed all this month until February rolls around again next year?
Surely, the fervour that rose from learning about the hardships faced by the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. And Malcolm X deserves more than a month’s attention.
But we now live in an era where Jim Crow laws have been safely relegated to the back pages of history. If Rosa Parks were to plant herself on the front seat of a TTC bus today, no one would dare bat an eyelash. No one would even bother.
So why do we keep resurrecting those footage of African-American protesters clubbed by police officers in the streets of Philadelphia, or those of African-American children pressed against a chain link fence as they were sprayed with fire hoses in Alabama?
Firstly, it is to remind ourselves that racial discrimination still exists today. In fact, it’s more sinister in its current form because racial discrimination – at least, in the western hemisphere – has become insidiously systemic.
Take, for example, the case of Troy Davis.
Davis was sentenced to death for killing a police officer in 1989. Despite obvious inconsistencies in the case, Davis was given due process of the law and executed on September of 2011amidst public outcry by protesters, politicians, celebrities and international human rights organizations.
While it is tragic that an innocent man was executed, it is even more alarming to see the law working against those it is meant to protect. Troy Davis comes from a long list of African Americans who are the victims of a highly flawed justice system. When one in every three adult African Americans is at some stage of incarceration – be it in jail, on parole, on trial, in prison or awaiting execution – it is safe to say that there is systemic discrimination in the American legal system.
Secondly, it is important to realize that discrimination transcends the boundaries of race. When discrimination can be justifiably directed to one particular group of minorities, it can be easily redirected to another.
Before the civil liberties movement gained traction in the 1960s, it was common to see signs on store fronts reading “no coloureds allowed.” Before anti-Semitism was made illegal in early 19th century onwards, there were organizations whose mandates were specifically to curb the spread of Jewish influence in western societies. And as recently as the 1980s, gays and lesbians were commonly harassed, arrested and jailed by authorities for fraternizing with one another in public.
These changes in attitude towards particular groups occurred over a prolonged period of time specifically because they are so strongly embedded in our social institutions. It took the law to stamp out discriminatory practices because it was the law that enabled these types of discrimination in the first place. Legislators who passed the Jim Crow laws did not simply decide to hate blacks; they were the product of generations of looking upon blacks with hate and distaste.
Now, Muslims are joining the ranks of groups that were previously openly discriminated against.
Currently, it is already common to hear discriminatory language used to discuss Muslims in official and unofficial channels.
Earlier this year, it was exposed that the New York Police Department had been showing the film “The Third Jihad,” a strongly biased and inflammatory video about Muslims in the west, to police officers during their anti-terrorism training.
Stand-up comedian and political commentator Bill Maher openly admits that he is alarmed to know that “Muhammad” is the most popular name in 2010 for babies in Great Britain.
Most recently, the New York police are under fire for putting entire Muslim neighbourhoods under extensive surveillance; the White House allegedly funded the NYPD to spy on and infiltrate of student organizations across the North East, including Columbia University and New York University.
This covert yet blatant invasion of privacy is the product of the fear mongering that had been going on for the past decade since the 9/11 attacks. Had it been Jews, African Americans or gays who were the subject of such violations, the full force of the law would have been used to defend their rights. Alas, that is not the case. Until there are laws specifically that specifically target Islamophobia, Muslims will have to fend for themselves.