APSN Banner

Global fight against racism: Papuan lives also matter

Jakarta Post - June 4, 2020

Elvira Rumkabu, Jayapura – The death of George Floyd, an African-American who was brutally murdered by a policeman in an American city, is not an isolated incident but a sign of deeply entrenched and normalized outright racism.

Structural and institutionalized societies and systems that project whiteness as superior and dominant, while portraying blackness as the exact opposite, continue to build a racial boundary that resonates throughout the world.

The video of Floyd's daylight murder, which went viral globally, shows the white officer kneeling on Floyd's neck, ignoring his pleas that he could not breathe.

Floyd's tragic death, which sparked widespread outrage and demonstrations despite the pandemic, has been deeply felt by the people of Papua who relate to Floyd's killing, connected through a sense of common oppression and painful personal and collective memories.

One was the story of Obby Kogoya, a Papuan student who was dragged to the ground and continuously stepped on by Indonesian police in Yogyakarta on July 15, 2016, following student rallies commemorating the undemocratic 1969 referendum leading to Papua's integration into Indonesia.

Obby's body was dragged on asphalt, kicked and punched while one officer pushed his fingers into Obby's nostrils. Another officer stepped on Obby's head and continued stepping on his back too. He was an unarmed student posing no threat to the officers or the bystanders yet they treated him as if he was a common criminal. Obby survived but was sentenced to four months for resisting and assaulting two police officers, even though he was the victim.

For Papuans, both Floyd and Obby represent their own stories and struggles, similarly fighting for justice, dignity and respect. While Indonesians also took to social media platforms to support the "Black Lives Matter" campaign, Papuans perceive the case even more deeply. For Papuans who have been living within systemic racism and oppression for decades, Floyd's death resonates deeply, showing they have brothers and sisters on the other side of the world enduring similar injustices.

Both cases are powerful examples of structural racism. The inhumane treatment by the police officers implied hierarchical relations between two different identities and ethnicities. Racial division between the "superior" white and the "inferior" black has existed for hundreds of years, deepened by structures and institutions that were established and enforced by people to maintain the status quo.

Similar to African-Americans, Papuans have been a product of a racial construct since the Dutch colonial era.

As cited by historian Richard Chauvel, Papuan's sense of separateness from Indonesia can be attributed at least in part to the Dutch colonial system where natives and Papuans ranked as the second and third layers of society respectively, while the Dutch colonizers occupied the top with Westerners, and the ethnic Chinese below them.

The perception worsened when Papua was integrated into Indonesia. Marginalization, racism, development practices benefiting migrants rather than local populations, human rights violations, economic exploitation and the reduced proportion of indigenous populations in several cities have contributed to the increased dichotomy of Papuan and Indonesian identities.

Papuans at all levels of society have experienced being oppressed, with their lives fully determined by Indonesians who think they know what's best for so-called ignorant Papuans.

Furthermore, the structural racism deeply rooted in both African-American and Papuan societies has led to the normalization of police brutality and targeted violence. The most disturbing fact from Floyd's murder video is the calmness shown on the police officer's face while kneeling on Floyd's neck as the victim begged for mercy.

In Obby's experience, both police officers also acted quite calmly. This indicates the police officers in both cases had presumptions of guilt because of Floyd's and Obby's "blackness". Such preconceived notions and prejudice have supported the normalization of violence against blacks, both in Indonesia and in the United States.

A prime example in the context of Papua is when the government deployed thousands of troops to the region, stopped internet access and criminalized many activists who responded to the widespread antiracism protests in August 2019.

The dominant security approach resulted from a stigmatization of Papuans as separatists and destructive people.

The main problem of systemic racism in Papua is the tagging and diversion of racism mixed with separatism and nationalism; it is embedded in policy and major state institutions that justify the use of coercive power by a perceived superior identity.

Moreover, Floyd's abuse by the police represented dehumanization – a process by which certain individuals and/or social groups are denied complete human status – which is also strongly felt by Papuans.

The long history of violence by Indonesian authorities has resulted in Papuans losing a sense of control of their lives, leading to the sense of being colonized and dehumanized, long after Indonesia's independence.

Papuans not only share anger and sympathy over Floyd's death, but relate well to the incident through their "blackness". Beyond a racial categorization, this is an aspiration with ambition, drive and demands that reject subjugation and dehumanization.

Therefore, while many Indonesian share their support with "Black Lives Matter" slogans on their social media accounts, Papuan people also took to social media calling for awareness that Papuans' lives matter as well.

Rather than a political goal, the call to realize the common blackness is an emotional and moral aspiration to be recognized and respected. Papuans have many stories like George Floyd's, though their sufferings are typically not fully recorded and publicly displayed.

If we still believe in humanity, our hearts and ears will allow us to hear from them without being prejudiced.

This is how we start to dismantle the supremacy and oppressive system and bring healing and justice to Papuans whose lives also matter.

The dominant security approach resulted from a stigmatization of Papuans as separatists and destructive people.

[Elvira Rumkabu is a lecturer in international relations at Cenderawasih University.]

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/academia/2020/06/04/global-fight-against-racism-papuan-lives-also-matter.html