Opinion

A Breath Of Fresh Air: Re-Thinking Leadership

Black Lives Matter has now become a globally unprecedented phenomenon. Of course, All Lives Matter or one can put it in two words: Lives Matter--this would include whatever grows from the womb of our common Mother Earth: the flora, fauna, birds, fruits, fish , fowl and flesh.
14 Jun 2020 11:20
A Breath Of Fresh Air: Re-Thinking Leadership
A Black Lives Matter protest outside the White House in Washington DC.

COVID-19 has caused untold suffering worldwide. To date no vaccine has been found to fight this invisible, implacable enemy.

Billions of dollars are being poured into research and development by governments and institutions. It’s a desperate search challenging our most advanced scientific minds.

Democracy’s discontents and deficiencies are patently visible in this crisis of a divided world.

All this would be deeply worrying were it not that out of great tragedy, great remedy may also be born.

Our world today

One such hopeful sign has been the worldwide protests against racism that has infected our world for at least half a billion years. Ordinary people are marching, even as dogs bark in the dark and COVID -19 threatens more than us.

The world’s richest nation was born out of that racial virus and affected our world, for good and ill, in so many ways.

Black Lives Matter has now become a globally unprecedented phenomenon. Of course, All Lives Matter or one can put it in two words: Lives Matter–this would include whatever grows from the womb of our common Mother Earth: the flora, fauna, birds, fruits, fish , fowl and flesh.

And all that flesh is heir to from stones to stars.

All lives need air – a common human property, untaxed and unlimited. And it’s the last thing we share until our last breath. The Policeman who so brutally killed a man was also breathing.

That is what makes the dying words of George Floyd so poignant, so unbearable, so suffocating and evoked so much empathy and solidarity as if our lives depended on this man’s last words crying for his mother or a bit of the air even as the ruthless Policeman – well -trained, well-armed – kept his boot on the neck of a man and his hand in his pocket.

What was the colour of his boots? What’s the colour of a corpse?

If you dare, ask the little girl whose father lay dead, his lips to the Earth.

At the end of it all a man died: a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a friend, a citizen of a super power: a human being like any of us.

The world exploded with rage and fury not seen in decades. People protested as seldom before.

The Aboriginal people, with their migrant compatriots, marched in thousands as if their lives depended on what had happened on a distant street of another continent.

The ground beneath their feet shifted in seismic ways as they became aware of systemic pain. But we were suddenly connected in a death for life.

The communication revolution is the most powerful weapon of the powerless. Today a picture is truly worth a billion lives. And words.

What next?

So what happens next? True some people, guilty of racism in their DNA, are protesting against the protesters:

Why should only Black Lives Matter more when so many others are dying on the roads as ‘migrant workers’ or as ‘asylum seekers’ pushed back into the roaring waves or transplanted in detention centres in our own region?

One is of course happy to hear that there’s almost no new infection of COVID-19 in the South Pacific. This is one good news in a long dark valley of suffering to which we all have been subjected for months and there’s really no light in sight.

Statues of slave owners and mass murderers are being torn down from their hollow pedestals.

The reason Black Lives Matter more than ever is that these lives have been devalued for centuries.

Every civilisation is built on the documents and brutal acts of barbarism: our man-written texts, both of myth and reality, demand new evaluations in new challenges.

When slavery was abolished, another system emerged, a step or two away from slavery with an expiry date. By then the West, too, was getting civilised and some indigenous peoples were spared the fate of millions in Africa and the Americas, among other regions where genocide was practised with impunity.

Race and caste are sanctioned by ‘divinely inspired’ texts, written in deserts and in caves of mountains. They say prophets come from the deserts: so do deserts from the prophets?

Colonial racism had done its worst: in a few places indigenous racism showed its ugly head. Fiji was no exception; but out of that tragedy a sense of some decency has emerged with a new constitution.

Sadly those infected by the virus of racism and religious fundamentalism are still in parliaments: one former Don and a British prime minister had described such people as ‘parliamentary lepers’.

Need for justice and equality

Black Lives Matter is simply to give some balance of justice and equality in a world of so much injustice in so many forms, faces and formats.

Think of South Africa: how easily an apartheid constitution was imposed on a nation by guns and goons, assisted from some universities, both here and there, while holding a Black Bible.

In all this enveloping tragedy what we miss today is the leadership of an Abe Lincoln, or a Martin Luther King,Jr. King, radically influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s tried and trusted techniques of fighting for justice and human rights, was shot dead by a White supremacist in 1968: twenty years after the mahatma himself was murdered by a rabid religious extremist.

The virus of religion and race had taken the lives of two of the noblest souls.

When Gandhi turned his critical torch on the ugliness of untouchability, he was killed in cold blood by a high-caste fanatic.

The consequences of both those killings we can witness today in two of the world’s wobbling democracies, by leaders full of promises.

Leadership issue

We may not have as yet found a vaccine to combat COVID-19, but more worrying is the fact that there’s no world leader on the horizon to beckon us to join in the fight for human survival: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden is from a small country; Chancellor Angela Merkel has a terrible national ethos in racial matters.

Great Britain has shrunk into Little England. Winston Churchill’s statues are being desecrated for he’s now seen as the arch racial imperialist instead of the intrepid voice against the Nazis because he saw the world as Black and White, even as soldiers of many colours fought to save England and Europe in their darkest hours.

Mahatma Gandhi (left), and former U.S. President Barack Obama.

Mahatma Gandhi (left), and former U.S. President Barack Obama.

But life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is always and everywhere indivisible and common to all humanity.

Most of the current clutch of mediocre leaders – the exaltation of the average – seem more concerned with votes and mining than lives and freedom, yours and mine.

The poverty of the poor may never end – Abe Lincoln said God so loved the poor, he made so many of them. Or as Jesus said the poor will always be with you. The vulgarity of the rich is endless.

The point is not only a healing vaccine is missing, but a leader, a light, in this nightmare.

One thought Barack Obama ,who made history by becoming the first Black President of the US, could rise to the occasion by truly becoming the world leader without the power of a president, but the prestige and mana of a great soul.

Instead his platitudinous statements may or may not help Jo Biden’s election chances in November, but it’s not doing much good towards changing the society of which he was the elected president for two terms.

He had captured the imagination of the world for a change we could have believed in.

It’s time for him to throw away the mantle of presidential pomp, and descend like Moses from the American wilderness with a few life-changing ideas, and society – shaping structures. Yes, he can.

And take Mr Donald Trump by his tweets to do something that makes America Great again; Never to Hate Again!

Miracles are always possible in a single, solitary soul in any wilderness.

Feedback: rosi.doviverata@fijisun.com.fj



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