Human beings are believed to have evolved from apes over millions of years. We have learnt to walk on two feet, build tools and create and understand languages very gradually. Most of this evolution, scientists have discovered, happened in the continent of Africa. And with evolution, early humans began to migrate out of the continent to other parts of the world. They are believed to have moved to Asia first, about two million years ago, after which they set out for Europe. Humans populated the rest of the world much later, according to the official website of Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
A recent report titled Face of First Brit Revealed published by the University College of London says that the Britons of 10,000 years ago were dark-skinned with black hair and blue eyes. The report tells us two things. One, all races evolved from the original, dark-skinned people–the Africans. And two, migration is as old as mankind itself. Human beings evolved depending on the landscapes and the climates they migrated through. This explains most of our physical features, including our complexion.
Indeed, the colour of our skin or the race we are born into are things we have no control over. Yet, they are a big part of our identity. Most of us may even be proud of our skin colour and our race. However, when we move to another country, where another race forms the majority of the population, there’s a chance our skin colour could be held against us.
Countries like the United States of America, for instance, are populated by people of varied ethnicities. While such diversity has made the country a potpourri of cultural richness, it has also led to a fair share of bitterness and resentment. To this day, people of colour–non-Caucasians–are seen as outsiders. They are widely discriminated against and even subjected to acts of violence. Through the ages, they have suffered injustice and indignity in countless forms. However, despite all odds, they have fought back time and again with indomitable strength and courage.
In the past, several movements were organised by oppressed races and communities across the world. They fought and succeeded in reclaiming their right to live a life of dignity. On Zero Discrimination Day, Soulveda recounts a few such movements, in the hope that someday, we will have a more equal world.
African-American Civil Rights Movement
Until the 1800s, people of African descent were enslaved and ill-treated by affluent men and women across the United States of America. This was especially prevalent–and legal–in the southern states. A rift between the states in which slavery was legal (the Confederacy) and those in which it was illegal (the Union) then led to one of the most important wars in history–the American Civil War. At the end of the war, slavery was abolished and African-Americans were given the right to vote.
Unfortunately, the Civil War was just the beginning of the struggle for the African-Americans. In the subsequent decades, they continued to suffer severe discrimination at the hands of the authorities and the public alike. They were unable to get houses on mortgage or rent, and there was segregation between black and white Americans at schools, workplaces and even the military.
By 1954, the Civil Rights Movement began. What started off with lawsuits and educational activities, to increase awareness among the public, soon turned into non-violent protests and civil disobedience. Eventually, people of different races joined the movement. Finally, their collective efforts proved fruitful. By the end of the movement in 1968, five federal laws and two amendments to the Constitution were passed in their favour. It became a legal offence for people to discriminate against anyone on the basis of skin colour, race, gender, religion or home country.
Indeed, the colour of our skin or the race we are born into are things we have no control over. Yet, they are a big part of our identity.
The Mexican-American Civil Rights Movement, also known as the Chicano Movement, was organised in the 1960s to protest discrimination against Mexican-American individuals in the USA. The term ‘chicano’ or ‘xicano’ was used by people on both sides of the border to mock the children of Mexican immigrants in America. These individuals were considered neither American, nor Mexican. They couldn’t get housing or a respectable education. They were denied fundamental rights and blatantly discriminated against.
The movement sought to change this by bringing about reforms. Soon, it was illegal for institutions and employers to segregate Mexican-American children from the rest. Voting rights for Mexicans and the right to contest elections were achieved eventually, as several new committees were formed under the movement. Today, the movement protests the stereotyping of Mexican Americans in media and popular culture.
The movement had also motivated the Mexican-American women. In the 1970s, the women of the community felt the movement was not sufficiently representing the issues faced by their gender. So, they formed a separate organisation called the Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional and fought social evils such as the non-consensual sterilisation of Mexican and Latino women which was prevalent back then.
American Indian Movement
Around the 1950s, the American administration came up with the Indian Termination Policy that was aimed at integrating the native Americans into the ‘mainstream society’. While the intention of the policy was supposedly good, its implementation ended up robbing scores of native Americans of their dignity and fundamental rights. Some accounts say these individuals were forcefully evicted from their properties and sent to government facilities called ‘reservations’ where they were severely mistreated. Thus began the American Indian Movement, in 1968, to protect members of the Native American community and ensure their rights are upheld. Eventually, the objectives of the movement evolved and its focus graduated to the economic independence, restoration of lands, and the preservation of the cultural heritage of Native Americans.
This movement started out in 2013 as a hashtag on social media–#BlackLivesMatter–to protest gun-violence against African-Americans by the police and vigilantes. What prompted the movement was the brutal murder of Treyvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old African American who was shot dead by a man called George Zimmerman. Zimmerman then claimed that he committed the crime as an act of self-defence and was acquitted by the court.
In response to this injustice, three radical black activists Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi started the BlackLivesMatter movement. Courtesy of the social media revolution, the movement spread across the world and gained the allegiance of activists from various countries. Through public rallies, protests and online campaigns, the movement continues to make Americans aware of the oppression and life-threat the African-Americans have been suffering for centuries. What sets this movement apart is its inclusivity. Besides protesting police brutality and gun violence against blacks, they seek equal rights and dignity for the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) individuals of the African-American community.