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Discussing Race and America’s Protests From Abroad

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Discussing Race and America’s Protests From Abroad

Isabella: What also may be different this time is that the power of this movement has transcended the American conversation to become a global conversation. In Australia, which is still feeling the consequences of a colonial past that dehumanized Indigenous people, a protest on Tuesday drew hundreds of people. If you’re angry about the U.S., many Indigenous Australians have said, you can’t ignore the problems at home. Calls for a treaty have renewed. “Be angry for us. Stand with us. Protest with us. Because we need you. I don’t want to live in a country where names become numbers,” said Nakkiah Lui, a writer and playwright (we talked to her in 2017 about some of these issues.)

Damien: Seeing the huge protests in Amsterdam and other European cities has been really striking. In New Zealand, too, there was quite a powerful Haka for Black Lives Matter as well, which I saw on Twitter. Social media is so dominant with all of this. It’s spreading the movement but I worry that it’s also contributing to divisions as each side shares only what confirms their pre-existing beliefs — and there’s a lot of misinformation around as well. The BBC had a pretty good rundown of misleading footage and conspiracy theories to avoid. What do you make of the role of social media?

Isabella: It’s complicated because social media has also brought out some frustrations about the most constructive actions to move forward. People have been encouraged to protest, show solidarity and share resources online. But outside of that, what’s next? Where is in most need of funding? How can policing be changed?

A common phrase I see is that silence is complicity, and it seems like more people than ever declaring their support. We had Black Out Tuesday this week on Instagram, where many people posted a black square with the hashtag #blacklivesmatter. But others then pointed out that if you include that hashtag, it changes the conversation that goes along with it, ultimately drowning out black voices and useful educational context — and that while a black square is a start, change has to be more than a trend.

That point has also been extended to brands and celebrities who have jumped in to express solidarity — only to have former black employees and colleagues point out their hypocrisy. What’s clear is that the conversation is now moving beyond social media to what’s concrete — listening, lobbying, donating, voting. James Baldwin said it plainly: “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

Damien: I was pretty impressed by what I saw in Newark, New Jersey. It’s the first city I covered as a reporter for The Times, and when I was there about 15 years ago, police brutality was a major issue and the anger at the government was intense. They had a bout of violent unrest there in 1967 after a black cabdriver was beaten up by the police. But this time, the mayor, Ras Baraka, and the chief of police, who is white, walked with protesters and after years of improvements with training, community policing and accountability for problematic police officers, there was no violence, no looting, just peaceful shared outrage and marching, at least for now.

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