Progressive, Are They?

Progressive, Are They?

2020 is a year of change. What began as a regular lackluster year with minimal drama has now escalated to be one of the most eventful and memorable years of the 21st century, and how have we responded to this sudden change? With the pandemic that hit pretty hard at the beginning of the year, displacing many in their employment and wreaking havoc in economies around the globe, it’s possible that we’ve experienced some of the worst times in history as a generation. But through this disaster, there emerged issues that we never thought would surface but was rather dealt with ages ago.

It’s said that people adapt to sudden change in a myriad of ways that cannot be particularly inserted into a frame. Some remain calm as they pick up the pieces and move on, while some might never gather the convictions to do so. A separate community might resort to violence and resentment as they blame a separate party for their own inconveniences. But not a single country around the globe managed to respond as dramatically as America did. Yes, it’s futile and rather insensitive on my side to blindside Italy for the amount of deaths they had to endure due to the pandemic, but at least they managed to hold their ground and sit out the worst. However, the current circus touring the international media seems to be the United States with a very apt clown to head it all. Considering global politics and its decision makers, one cannot deny the fact that America has reserved a seat in the center with other global powers. But when looking at the current shambles the country is in, what impression are we to take from this very ‘progressive’ and technologically advanced new world that apparently stands above us statistically in so many ways?

It’s no wonder that Novelty and Invention have made the States their permanent home. The best engineers, the best scientists from all over the world have somehow concentrated onto this one country, depriving their own motherlands of valuable and necessary service. But this makes sense when the ‘progressive’ ways of American life is given attention. When other countries have held onto their past, rich cultures and ethos, America- being a nation with a very short history filled with people from all over the world-embraced Capitalism and progression, playing the power game in the most cunning and illusive manner. However, as progressive as they say they are, the past few weeks have proved that they still have a bit of ‘culture’ to let go of.

Racial discrimination has always been present in the American society, which is ironic considering it is also one of the most diverse. With the Civil War that many thought solved the racial division in the 1860s, the predominantly white population
seemed to slightly adjust to the black community and the vibrant culture they brought with them. But the fight for acceptance was far from over. Segregation in almost every sector forced them to live separate lives with a common feeling of condescension, as they came to singularly represent the lowest rung in the social ladder. The black community constituted of drivers, maids, laborers or anything else the white community either disliked or were too prejudiced to do. The suburbs refused to sell land to anyone with a dark complexion leading them to live in areas without proper infrastructure and medical care, effectively becoming outcasts in a country that failed to recognize their basic human needs.

But the 21st century seemed to have wrought change. Come 2009, and the States had their first black president in office. The White House that had white residents since the very beginning, suddenly welcomed a black family and the cultural stereotypes took a turn for the better. Ten years later, an American woman of color married a Prince of England, instilling yet another landmark in Black History, all of which might convince one of a dissipation in racial prejudices. But it cannot be further away from the truth. George Floyd’s death at the hands of a police officer, and its consequent public uproar signaled that discrimination is still alive and well within the States. Police brutality and a myriad of other racial issues continue to survive within the society, and this incident ignited embers that had been dormant, yet never quelled for centuries.

It has to be said that this seems to be a matter of a particular generation and not an entire country. Beginning from the early 1900s, the contemporary generation of that era and its descendants saw the black community as mere slaves brought here from a foreign land primarily to serve the predominant class. It’s not uncommon for the subsequent generations to adapt the same policies and outlook on the matter if that is what they’re being force fed since childhood- which is also how several other dangerous and outdated forms of thinking are being passed down conveniently i.e. homophobia and caste systems. But what stands out the most is the simple lack of willingness among majority of the white community to accept the sudden change within African Americans. They’ve moved on from their days as servants and maids, and are now among the most elite individuals in the American social scene. They’ve conquered almost every aspect of the American Dream, and this sudden shift in the social classes apparently is a bit too much for the bigotry to comprehend. They’ve either refused to acknowledge this change, or have decided to fight against it which brings us to the current state of things. A black president running the country for two whole terms did not save African Americans from being cornered and vilified. It’s preposterous to expect a racist white president to become a savior. Despite the massive Civil Rights movement currently in motion within the States, it’s impossible to predict when this scenario will see an end, or of what nature its outcome might be.

Sri Lanka, in the past, has often found itself to be a victim of stereotypes and cultural indifferences which have resulted in various micro-aggressions eventually leading up to a war spanning for three decades, one supported by none other than this world supremacy in question. America has this habit of intervention propelled by their teeming ‘National Interest’ on foreign matters, and almost always ends up with problems of its own that are of a much bigger scale i.e. the Afghan war. What the current situation in the States has shown us all is, it’s a matter of the mindset that dominates the society which will in turn either help it prosper or fall apart. We, as Sri Lankans, are almost always in the throes of cultural limitations – ideologies that we’ve inherited from either our respectful religions, histories or philosophies. While some of these have the capacity to facilitate improvement, others might have the ability to hold us back. If the United States of America – one of the most powerful entities on the word, still fall victim to a difference as insignificant as skin color, maybe it’s time we let go of our much more intense, psychological differences and limitations that have kept us confined for so long.

Janidu Wijebandara

Editorial Team

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