By Dr. Azly Rahman and Murray Hunter
If we are to reflect upon the issue of the Black Lives-White Lives- Blue Lives or Whomever-Lives Matter, as it became an explosive one in an aftermath of the unfortunate George Floyd case, how might we see the “movement” today, both in the United States and quite insignificantly in Malaysia, as to how Malaysians in the academic and media circles responded? Below are our thoughts. We wish to explore a contradiction.
Slavery and Complexity
As we are aware that the Black Lives Matter movement, though a complex matter ideologically, is conceptually a noble one: to have Americans be aware of the hundreds of years of injustice done to African-Americans, primarily, through slavery the manifestations of the institution in more complex and advanced forms today. From the day the first shipment of slaves was brought from Africa more than 300 years ago, through the Atlantic Slave trade and earlier, through slavery practiced even more widely by the Arab-Muslims, to the use of these human utilities (sold by African tribal leaders themselves) in plantations of the South, to the institutionalization of Jim Crow Laws, to the Civil, War, the Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, to Plessey vs. Ferguson, to the overturning of it through Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, to the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama to more developments that attempt to liberate those enslaved mentally hence, to the LA Riots after the beating of Rodney King, to the Obama presidential ascendency, and today the post-George Floyd Affair – these frame the issue of resistance and revolution versus the American response to it. Is the issue all Black and White today? What is happening to the debate set in the summer when the Black Lives Matter movement started, as both a noble message of liberation and a violent-burning down-the-house-and-cities-at-night program allegedly orchestrated by “trained Marxist leaders” of the BLM gang members? This is the question we ask in our brief essay.
We feel that there is a deathlessness in how we see the BLM-ALM issue, especially when viewed from outside the United States. In Malaysia, social scientists with their “wokeism” and the impulse and franticness to look “radical” “Freirian” “liberatory”, or even “on-the-side-of-the masses” without understanding the totality and complexity of matters. The idea of “transcultural wokeism” leads to “cancel-culture” and banning of this and that. This has been reinforced by social media where a person has the option to block people they don’t like, publishers leaning towards wokeist ideology and academic gangs of shallow theorists think that they have the power to demean critics of the BLM movement.
We need to be aware that recent revelations concerning the leaders of the BLM movement cohort hijacked this narrative capitalizing on “white privilege” and guilt for their scam. This anti-racist movement ironically became anti-Asian and Anti-Semitic. The idea of whiteness and coloredness as well as blackness, when analyzed from a semiotic and socio-psychological point of view – ideas about race and skin color as construction of perception – remains problematic as a reason to mount the agenda of hate for persons of this and that skin color.
The idea that “all lives matter” as an educator as we subscribe to, and as many believe what religion such as Islam, Christianity, and Judaism teaches us, do not apply to these “wokes.” But after three years of the BLM issue, we see the hypocrisy coming out with the “Buy Large Mansion” exposure, for the personal gains of the “trained-Marxists” founders. The funds that are supposed to be used entirely for the Black community go to the founders seeking glamour and wishing to live the lives of gangsta rappers who gained fame and fortune.
And thus, what would the Malaysian woke or “academic Talibans” (those passionate about cancel culture and amputating opinions) say about this? In the US today, the BLM leaders are facing the wrath of the Black community who feel betrayed. Those who supported the Summer of BLM’s “revolution of the proletariat” are beginning to question where actually their multi-million-dollar donations went.
On a more conceptual aspect, it was ironic to see these woke groups demanding a revision of history, they themselves didn’t understand. One example of this is how some LBGT groups were supporting Hamas which is anti-LBGT. The words of black rights heroes like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were criticized and any conservative black person who the mob didn’t agree with was labeled as someone with “white privilege wrapped in black skin”
After the death of George Floyd, the liberal legacy media took up the woke cause along with a number of corporations and turned wokeism into an unquestionable “mainstream” political philosophy. A philosophy that could not be questioned.
Malaysian Academic Wokesim is Born
Malaysian wokeism is the keyword to understand how Malaysians, especially in the academic and media circles responded to the American-BLM uproar. From trained Marxists to truly bling-bling fraudsters— how might we ask this question of the sincerity of the BLM leaders? In Malaysia, we saw the surfacing of, like Loch Ness monsters of Lake Cini of Pahang, shallow (Paulo) Freirian followers’ knee-jerking in their response to anyone who takes sides against the BLM.
After analyzing the Malaysian response to the BLM issue in the United States and globally, we come to the conclusion that there is a need for social scientists to be less half-baked and trapped by sloganism and hashtags, and memes, just because it seems fashionable to be called “radicals.” The overarching entrapment is the idea of “decolonizing” and “de-Westernizing” (and even “Islamizing” everything) in order to jump onto the wagon of “the shaky caravan of Leftism,” whatever leftism means. Currently, this form of depthless-Marxism is what’s permeating some departments of History, Media, and Social Sciences in public Malaysian and Singaporean universities considered reputable, a few major media outlets and boutique publishers claiming to promote critical writings, and of course, a member of an Australian university infiltrating some Malaysian campuses with half-baked Marxism -this shallowness spreading and creating a critical mass of critical theorists of nothingness.
We feel those elements above attempt to close the mind of students and society are devoid of perspectives to look at things in all their complexities, replaced by the reductionism of the idea of “decolonization.” Already, the thinking of students in those universities are being shackled by anti-liberatory brand of intellectualism such as Salafi-ism, Wahabi-ism, and Malay-Muslim-ummah-centrism, among the ways minds are closed. With the new brand of wokeism, in the end, we will see another form of hegemony emerging, the backward-progressivism of the sociological analysis that is incomplete, only looking at Critical Theory as the end game of sociological knowledge-production, rather than offering ways for students to think freely by giving them advanced tools of social analysis. This is the ego-trip syndrome of academics bankrupt of philosophical ideas of looking at phenomena in novel ways.
This phenomenon of shallowness in sociological analysis and advocacy for liberatory thinking has created a society that now has a heightened sense of racism, hate, and retribution against people they have harbored jealousy over. The masses who supported this cause very quickly moved onto the ever-complex issue of Palestine-Israel existence, Covidism and its consequences, and now the Ukraine-Russian quagmire that has unleashed the butterfly effect of things entire. Now BLM is nowhere to be seen on social media and corporations who supported them seem to be backing off. They have also derailed the politics of the left. They have destroyed the concept of constructive socialism where parties of the left have become hateful totalitarian movements.
It is interesting that the White House itself where the Biden campaign rode on BLM support has now pushed away from the policies BLM advocated as “defund the police” which caused much harm to ethnic communities (particularly black) throughout the USA.
We are seeing the consequences of wokeism in some of the new leaders emerging. Cancel culture and BLM philosophy of violence is necessary as a means to an end, and is starting to be seen in the totalitarian way they seek to govern. This is taking the world into a new kind of Reformation.
So how do we see this contradiction of the BLM movement, transcultural flow of Malaysian wokeism, and the need to stay true to philosophical inquiry in its totality? The bottom line is, for young Malaysian academics they have been left feeling insecure, tricked by those who want to manipulate narratives and settle old professional and personal scores. What we are reading in the salons of cyberspace are endless microbial spheres of polarized and depthless debates on whether one should support BLM or ALM.
In conclusion, we are beginning to see that the response by Malaysian academics, especially, on the issue of how the BLM movement is beginning to collapse as an ethical, trusted, and liberatory instant-creation-of-the-Democrat-Leftist-outfit-to-put-post-Obama-now-Biden group into power – the response is reactionary in all its shallowness of understanding what competing sociological-analytical perspective means. In short, these academics are free riders of radical movements and mesmerized by hashtags and memes on an issue so complex America continues to be plagued with: race, freedom, and the free enterprise system.
These Malaysian academics are perhaps only armchair this and that, not having the opportunity to live within the experience of American politics let alone being and becoming in American society. Hence the knee-jerk response that points toward a Malaysian version of “wokeism.” which today has quieted down and reduced to total silence in face of the new revelation of what the BLM leaders have been up to with the 90 million dollar donations, living the bling-bling-corporate-crony capitalists buying large mansions, after profiting from the struggles with slogans such as “we are trained and committed Marxists” This is the movement’s Marxist battle-cry of dialectical materialism — of the love for materialism using the dialect of Black oppression. It is the deep shallowness that translated into a deep hatred of those who cry. “All lives matter, essentially.” It is this shallowness that is shown to the public as an image of the deepest sense of “being on the side of the oppressed.”
Without understanding that the sociological imagination has been taken over by a paradoxical and questionable Freirian-claimed- fashionable radicalism. The troubling part is that this style of theorizing ignorance is passed down to the next generation of would-be scholars, turning them into newer and slimmer, and narrower Malaysian wokes.
We suggest all educators think like philosophers and watch butterflies in the Amazon jungle flap their wings. Perhaps, in this time of intense debate about whether to teach or not to teach Critical Race Theory, hate of “whites” and “colorless people” too has no home in the corridors of academia.
As educators, our job is to teach peace and for peace. As soon as a child walks into the classroom, all opinions matter, all cultures celebrated, and without the hashtag, “all lives matter.”