By Ayesha Khan
On August 11th, with Biden announcing Kamala Harris as the Vice-Presidential nominee, began the same political theatre that has defined America since it first “arrived,” carried on the backs of enslaved Black people and the graves of Indigenous people. (Kind of ironic, isn’t it? The nation built on the idea of “abandoning the imperial” was seemingly as oblivious to its imperialism then as it continues to be now.) And while it is tempting to dismiss this topic as inconsequential for South Asia, 2020 has made it more blatant that the farther and wider this populist alliance stretches, nauseatingly flirting with notions of autocracy at every turn, the greater their ability to repress and abuse marginalised people around the world, from America to South Asia.
Welcome to Bizarroland
The year 2020 saw the veil lifted on an insidious far right alliance, as populist leaders around the world, from America’s Trump to India’s Modi and Israel’s Netanyahu, built unscrupulous bridges to consolidate power and advance Big Business interests on a global scale.
So deeply entrenched are these structures of classism, that even something as arbitrary and capricious as a virus, found itself walking down pre-laid race- and poverty-based paths. Are we all so unwilling to see who is paving the road?
Black and Indigenous people are facing the heaviest burden of COVID-19 inflicted by structural racism and poverty while battling ongoing American state-sanctioned violence like police brutality. At the same time across oceans, Kashmiris, since the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, are forced into a “media” blackout and severed from medical aid during COVID-19. In the year 2020, we all got to witness first hand, how the rise of exploitative economies and predatory political systems has succeeded in producing trajectories and routes of exploitation all around the world that are perhaps beyond our own control.
Against that backdrop, one can’t help but wonder that perhaps it’s time that we consider the shifts occurring deep within America before we find ourselves surprised once again, by the shaking of our world months later, when those American shifts find themselves breaking light on an Indian day? So humor me for a moment, as we get back on that all too familiar roller-coaster called “Campaign Season in the USA.”
Lineage vs. Representation
Harris’ VP bid was deemed historic due to her Black and South Asian identities. However, is that enough? Does lineage automatically dictate representation?
South Asian elections exemplify the dangers of reducing complex communities to one identity. The “progressive” Indian parties tout secularism while reducing minorities to a monolith in order to secure the “Muslim vote”, “Dalit vote” and so on with eons of failed promises. Taking a page from the same book, the BJP, ironically, deploys the same tactic to secure the majority “Hindu vote” by stoking fear and hatred of minorities. Identity politics, from India to America, are used by wealthy and often corrupt politicians to distract voters and rid themselves of accountability to address the real issues like socioeconomic disparity, gender, health, and educational inequity that are plaguing communities. By reducing us all to the one uni-faceted issue which is easiest and cheapest to control – who we fear – they dismiss their responsibility to tackle all of the issues that are more expensive, complex, and harder to resolve – flailing education systems, corrupt institutions and infrastructures, growing income disparities, food security, housing and shelter.
Is this election about Harris’ ethnicity, or about her decisions to uphold and enforce a brutal and corrupt system.
With global uprisings calling to court the law and order systems which govern them, pointing out with brutal efficiency, the callous and careless nature of their structures, are we able to vouch for California’s self-proclaimed “top cop”? Is this election about Harris’ ethnicity, or about her decisions to uphold and enforce a brutal and corrupt system. With our global realization that police and prisons create a single tool of social control from America to India, where the marginalized are suppressed and disproportionately caged for profit and to exacerbate social inequity, can we support a top cop who unjustly incarcerated countless Black and Brown people, without dissent? Do we gloss over Biden’s white supremacist mass incarceration policies and dismiss the several woman who have accused him of sexual assault in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement to support and believe survivors?
American Political Theatre
Every 4 years, liberals perform the “civic engagement dance” only to return to upholding the status quo once election day is done, instead of abolishing these unjust systems. Just like how reforming the police with more “diversity” has never reduced police violence, giving the American empire a more palatable and diverse figurehead like Kamala Harris will not fix structural inequity, or reduce the ripple effect of global harm that will be felt in Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir. Our liberations are not tied metaphorically, but literally.
Americans pretend that revolutionary change is going to come from within a political system which is inevitably too invested in maintaining the status quo. The circumstance demands that we question how much change can come from a system that is guarding its own traditions. Every election is the “most important election yet”. Yet electoral politics remains, at heart, a colonial system built on the premise of consolidating political and financial power among the elite, and maintaining inequity veiled as stability, while exploiting the marginalized and poor for labor and capital. And while that doesn’t mean we ought to dismiss it altogether, throwing our pitchforks in the air and yelling “revolution!”, it does mean that we have a duty to question it, and to recognize its penchant toward exploitation. Because while it should come as no surprise that “injustice” is a profitable market to play in, it ought to genuinely shock us when when our political systems pander to, enable, and even promote this.
I hope this sounds familiar because over the past few years, it’s felt more like our democracies have started playing Dress Up, trying on the trousseaus’ of authoritarian oligarchs every second Wednesday of the month. The 2010’s have seen both America and India spiral increasingly into the world of authoritarian oligarchies masquerading as democracies- where a few (with money and social status) rule over the masses who lack both, while those in the middle (like me) remain complicit in upholding structural inequity.
Crumbs in the Intermission
We, the middle class, often coming from brutal or middle poverty with some iteration of a relative-rags to relative-riches story, constantly seek socioeconomic mobility, fight each other for crumbs, as capitalism and the wealthy continue to silently control the bulk of our lives. We feel blessed that our hard work secured a place for us in the middle of the capitalistic totem pole, where we lack any power but have some modicum of agency and at least are not starving. The middle class, which is majority of the electorate, are the exact voters reduced to a monolith as political parties pander to our identity-based vote to distract us from seeing that all of us will continue to suffer on some scale as long as we continue to invest in a system built with the top 1% in mind.
None of our communities are disposable. We are done fighting for crumbs.
This article is part of Lipstick Politco's 'The Noor Debates' - a series which is dedicated to portraying multiple sides of a current issue. Keep your eyes peeled for a follow up on Kamala coming out next Friday. #ConversationsThatCut
Ayesha Khan is a grassroots organizer, activist, and an infectious disease scientist at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. She is dedicated to bridging science and social justice and can be followed on Instagram @wokescientist. Views expressed are personal.