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Papuan Lives Matter: What now? An open letter

Jakarta Post - June 16, 2020

Meitilda Yaung, Darwin, Australia – The long history of systematic racism against African-Americans in the United States seems to have reached its breaking point over the last few weeks after people around world watched the horrific scene of George Floyd's life being robbed from him before their eyes. The world has finally said, "Enough."

The wave of the Black Lives Matter movement has started the conversation about how Indonesia treats its fellow black citizens, the Papuans. The country has already witnessed the anger and frustration unleashed following the now infamous racist incident in Surabaya in August 2019. The unnecessary attacks and racial slurs freely thrown at Papuan students in their dormitory was sickening. It was dehumanizing. Not one high-ranking official condemned the racist attack until protests erupted across Papua. The incident showcased one example of the many different levels and types of discrimination that Papuans have endured for decades. As a Papuan, I can say that we too have had enough. Papuan lives do matter and the question is, what now?

Where do we go from here, Indonesia?

Are Indonesians aware of what systematic discrimination looks like beyond racial slurs and anti-black stereotypes? Does this country understand the impacts of unresolved human rights abuses and the generational trauma it has caused on top of the ongoing discrimination against Papuans? When are we going to have the long-overdue dialogue to resolve ongoing conflict? Indonesia needs to pause to really listen to what Papuans have been saying and make the required changes.

Without real systematic changes, the wound of racism will continue to run deep for Papuans. Healing can only start with reconciliation, which is impossible without going back down the lane of history to tell the truth. The longer the government delays a dialogue and insists on using the same approach, the more Papuans will internalize these injustices, which will lead to growing resistance.

To the mainstream media industry in Indonesia, my message is:

You have a role to play, a powerful one. Can we count on news media to provide independent and balanced coverage on Papuan issues? For too long we have noticed an under-representation of eastern Indonesia. It

is a problem. It does not promote inclusivity, the ideology this country holds so dear. Now is the right time to reflect on the role that the media plays in creating narratives about Papuans and other Melanesians in the country. What about giving more platforms to authentic Papuan voices? We need to change narratives and beauty standards portrayed on Indonesian screens.

To my fellow Indonesians:

I give my sincere thanks to those of you who have taken the time to listen and learn more about racism against Papuans. Thanks for speaking up by using your platforms no matter how big or small they are. We see you. We see you posting on social media and receiving backlash or arguing with strangers over your "Papuan Lives Matter" post. You restore our hope in humanity.

Some of you might be confused and your comments come from a good place. We get it, it does not make sense to blame 269 million people in the country for what is happening to Papuans, especially for what happened in the past. It is not fair to bring all attention to Papua when there are millions of others in the country struggling to meet their needs. But no human deserves to be treated as less than others because of their skin color, and ignorance is part of the problem.

Papuans only make up about 1 percent of the country's total population and we often feel unheard and invisible. Many in my generation were told that the solution was to be as well-educated as possible. So we left Papua – and even Indonesia – with aspirations to be intellectuals who could express themselves well and think critically to solve problems – to be enough. But we can't even talk about the things that truly matter to us.

We are scared for our lives every time we dare to speak out against the injustice that our people experience. Why can't we speak our truth without being labelled provocateurs or separatists? It hurts to endure the pain while many watch in silence. We all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, but this is not a reality for so many Papuans.

What we are asking from you is to be open minded and to listen. Never believe the lie that this is a fight between your race and ours. It is a fight against a system that enables racism and injustice to prosper. We have never said that your lives don't matter. What we are saying is our lives matter just like yours.

Finally, our black is beautiful, and we will always wear it with pride in honor of our ancestors. We are Papuan, the Melanesians of the South Pacific, with black skin with frizzy hair. Our ancestors have lived in and protected a great land of natural beauty and richness. We have lived on the island for tens of thousands of years, and we are not changing who we are to fit your standard. Never mistake our pride and love for our cultural identity as backwardness because we never shame you for being you. We are here to speak for ourselves, and we are here to stay.

[Meitilda Yaung is a senior financial analyst.]

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/academia/2020/06/16/papuan-lives-matter-what-now-an-open-letter.html