Reader Submission: The Assault On Blackness Is Transnational
By: Richaela Iyanti
The culture of brutality against Black bodies is transnational- it is not only restricted to our U.S. borders but also fully alive in other nations. This brutality is becoming even more evident thanks to social media. Over the weekend, South African social media was ablaze with #coffinAlive, following the circulation of a 20-second video showing two white South African men forcing a Black man into a coffin.
On November 16, the violators, Willem Oosthuizen and Theo Martins Jackson, were brought before the Middleberg Magistrate’s Court in Pretoria to face assault charges. Outside the court, the victim, Victor Rethabile Mlotshwa, explained the terrifying ordeal: “They were accusing me of trespassing. They beat me up and forced me into the coffin.” In the video, the men are also heard threatening to pour petroleum on Mlotshaw, suggesting setting him on fire. While the case was postponed until January 2017, demonstrators rallied outside the court in a protest organized by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) – the South African revolutionary socialist political party lead by Julius Malema.
EFF politician and party spokesperson, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, affectionately known as the People’s Bae, described the racial nature of the case: “This humiliation can be based on nothing else but his blackness, which means it is in actual fact a humiliation of Black people as a whole.” It appears odd that the humiliation of Black people would exist in South Africa, a country were the majority of the population is Black, but this is also a reality in Brazil too.
People of African descent also make up the majority of the population in Brazil, however, 80 % of people killed by police under the age of 29 were Afro-Brazilians. In bringing attention to police brutality against black bodies and violence by racist, young political and social justice activists started the campaign “Jovem Negro Vivo” meaning “Young Black Alive.” The Black Lives Matter movement influenced the campaign.
According to Black Women Of Brazil (BWOB) – a site dedicated to Afro-Brazilian women and racial injustice- anti-blackness has been growing in the country ever since the introduction of Affirmative Action. Affirmative action in Brazil, similar to the U.S., reserves quotas for people from African descent, Indigenous descent or low-income families to attend the federal universities.
In a recent BWOB report, two black women were assaulted and harassed by a white male student on the day of an anti-racism protest at Federal University of Santa Catarina. The university protest was organized by Afro-Brazilian students to speak against Nazi symbolism and racism on campus. The students reported the attacks to university officials and it still being investigated, though it is significant that a crime of racism in Brazil is punishable by up to 5 years in prison. Similarly in Tunisia, a bill was passed in June to criminalize racism, because black people also face discrimination in the North African country.
Earlier this year, Aljazeera broadcasted a film, Tunisia’s Dirty Little Secret, investigating cases of racism in Tunisia. Blacks make up 15% of the Tunisian population, though it could be higher since most citizens choose identify as white. The filmmaker, Nada Issa, observed white Tunisians referring to blacks as servants (wasif in Arabic) and blackie (kahlouch in Arabic), very demeaning terms in Arabic society. A poignant story from the film focused on an elderly couple, Mehdi and Mabrouka Mohmoudi, who were physically and verbally abused by a racist neighbor. The film also revealed that black and white students in one town were purposely segregated on buses going to the same school. In spite of these observations, some political and law enforcement officials interviewed for the film denied racism being a problem in Tunisia.
Overall, evidence on the assault of Black bodies -though not new- continues to be more visible in nations around the world. It feels as though almost every week we are bombarded by these images in social media and popular media. Yet, anti-racism and social justice movements are fighting back to contradict these atrocities and influencing a climate of hope.
What has been your experience as a Black person outside of the U.S.?
Richaela Iyanti is a Grenadian-American writer from East Flatbush, Brooklyn, NY. She enjoys writing about the African diaspora and the intersections of race,gender and class.