What should Black Lives Matter mean to non-Americans?

JUNE 7 — This past week, the world watched as parts of the United States were literally set on fire. Protests erupted following the killing of George Floyd, a black man, by a white policeman in St Paul, Minnesota. 

Protestors decried years of discrimination against Black Americans who continue to remain socially and economically disadvantaged compared to their white peers. 

Black Americans are also much more likely to be targets of police violence than White Americans and protests called for an end to police brutality targetting minority communities.  

The distressing footage of the policeman callously extinguishing an unarmed and unresisting George Floyd’s life by kneeling on his neck would circulate around the world.

As Americans took to the streets, people everywhere took to social media to show solidarity with status updates, hashtags, or black squares in place of a profile photo.

It is an important movement and I hope they succeed in getting the justice they deserve because what we have all seen is unacceptable. 

It isn’t just George Floyd – there are so many cases recently including the murder of Breona Taylor. Shot dead in her own house because the police had the wrong address. So, it is good to see so many Americans speak out against police violence online. 

But it wasn’t just Americans who took to social media. Many Singaporean friends of mine did too and some even went so far as to donate to funds which would help to pay bail and legal costs for those arrested in the USA while protesting. 

The extent the #blacklivesmatter cause found resonance in Singapore was impressive and heartening. It is always good when people recognise injustice in other parts of the world, and I applaud their generosity.

I also hope it is part of a larger commitment to fighting injustice everywhere because it is notable that so many of us seem to be far less concerned about injustice at home or in our local region. This is not a competition; this is about solidarity.  

For example, the obvious matter of the foreign workers. These workers are in this country legally performing vital services but their living conditions, wages and general treatment is markedly inferior to that enjoyed by the local population. 

As foreign workers and non-citizens it can be argued they should not expect equal pay but even if you accept that – these workers currently have a Covid-19 infection rate that seems to be over 100X higher than that reported by the general population. 

Over 30,000 of around 300,000 foreign construction workers in Singapore have been diagnosed with Covid-19 -- 10 per cent of their total population.   

Of the general population of Singaporeans and Permanent Residents, there have been around 3,000 Covid-19 cases out of around 5 million people or about 0.06 per cent of the population. 

The disparity is stunning; it’s not a few per cent. Can that be explained by anything other than a lack of equal conditions and care?  

Yet, support for foreign workers in Singapore has been less visible than support for #blacklivesmatter in our corner of the world. 

Now, of course, part of this is just the awesome cultural power of the USA. Millions of us spend more time watching and hearing about America on TV than we do looking at our own countries. 

Perhaps this is why what happens in America seems to be happening to us and so hopefully the lessons being learned there will resonate and come to be applied at home. 

This would be the best outcome. 

The worst case would be many of us are simply jumping on a “virtue signalling” bandwagon with little thought given to the underlying lessons and situations at home. 

It is too early to tell but I really do hope the outpouring of activism and interest we are currently seeing will bring positive change at home too. 

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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