Common Aspirations for Freedom, Dignity, Respect and Justice pursued by West Papuans and African Americans in Societies where being black has been painted as ugly, lazy and bad

The death of George Floyd, an African American who was brutally murdered by a police man like another animal without any remorse that sparked anger around the world is not an isolated incident but a sign of a deeply entranced and normalized outright racism. Structural and institutionalized societies and systems that projects whiteness as pure, wise, intelligent and holy while portraying the black as the exact opposite that continue to build a racial boundary that resonates throughout the world. The video of George’s daylight murder was widely circulated throughout the world showing the white police officer kneeling on Floyd’s head ignoring his pleading that he was not breathing. People around the world cursed the police brutality calling “Black lives matter” a slogan that is going viral to protest against the systemic white supremacy and injustice experienced by people of color for decades.

Floyd’s tragic murder has been deeply felt by the people of West Papua connected through common bond of race and experiences of painful memories under Indonesian occupation. One was the story of Obby Kogoya, a Papuan student who was dragged to the ground and continuously stepping on his body by Indonesian police in Yogyakarta on July 15th, 2016. His body was dragged on the asphalt, kicked and punched whilst one of the officers pushed his fingers into Obby’s nostrils and drag him down with no sense of guilt. Another officer put his shoes on Obby’s head and would not let him rise, continually stepping him from the back. He was only an unarmed student pose no threat to the officers or the bystanders yet they treated him as if he was a common criminal.

For Papuan people, both Floyd and Obby represent their own stories and struggles but fighting for the same cause, they want justice, dignity and respect. While most Indonesians also shared the sentiment by taking to social media platforms to support the “Black Lives Matter” campaign, Papua perceive the case even more deeply. For Papuan people who have been living within the systemic racism and oppression for decades, Floyd’s death gives deep meaning to them that they have their fellow brothers on the other side of the world suffering the same injustices like them as people of color.

Both Floyd and Obby’s cases are powerfully explicit examples of understanding racism in a structural way. The inhumane treatments by police officers implied the hierarchical relations between two different identities and ethnicities that society claim to united them together. The racial division between the superior white and the inferior black have existed hundreds of years and deepened by the structures and institutions that were established and enforced by people to maintain the status quo. Like the African Americans, West Papuans are also a product of racial construct since the Dutch colonial era. One of the historians, Richard Chauvel stated that, Dutch’s dual colonial system contributed to the West Papuan’s sense of separateness from Indonesia . The administration created the hierarchical division by putting Indonesians and West Papuans on the second and the third layers of the society respectively, whilst the Dutch colonizers occupy at the top in society. When Indonesians declared their independence in 1945, the division was deepened by the stigmatization they created and attached to the West Papuans as black monkeys from Africa, lazy, stupid, and primitive people. The perception worsened when West Papua was integrated into Indonesia for strategic and ideological reasons assisted and facilitated by another racist country the United States of America. Marginalization, racism, migrant-bias development practices, human rights violence, economic exploitation and depopulation have contributed to the increased dichotomy of West Papuan and Indonesian identities. West Papuans are oppressed at all levels whose lives were being fully determined by the superior Indonesians who think they know what is best for ignorant West Papuans.

The structural racism that deeply rooted in both African Americans and West Papuans’ societies, have led to the normalization of police brutality and targeted violence. The most disturbing fact from Floyd’s murder video being circulated was the calmness shown on the police officer’s face while kneeling on Floyd’s head amid his begging for mercy. It is similar to Obby’s experience; both police officers acted calmly feeling justified for their actions. There was no presumption of guilt shown by both police officers because of Floyd’s and Obby’s ‘blackness. Later on, those pre-conceived notions, prejudices, and racialization formed the knowledge to support the normality of violence in Black identity in Indonesia and USA the places they come from.

The best example in West Papuan context was when Indonesian government deployed thousands of troops to the region, stopped the internet access and criminalized more and more activists who responded to the widespread anti-racism protests in August 2019 . The dominant security measures resulted from the stigmatization of West Papuans as separatists and destructive people. The main problem of systemic racism in West Papua is the tagging and diversion of racism mixed with separatism and nationalism: it is embedded in the policy and main institutions of states that justify the use of coercive power by the superior identity.

Floyd’s mistreatment by the police represented the dehumanization – a process by which certain individuals and/or social groups are denied complete human status.- which also strongly felt by West Papuans. The long history of violence by Indonesian authorities resulted in West Papuans lost control of their lives that led to the sense of being colonized and dehumanized.

West Papuans do not only share anger and sympathy over Flyod’s death, but relate well with the incident through racial identity painted as negative by the society. It is not in terms of racial categorization but as an aspiration with ambition, drive and demands that refuses subjugation and dehumanization.

Therefore, when many Indonesian share their supports with Black lives matter slogan, West Papuan people took to social media calling for West Papuans lives matter as well because of common blackness. This is not a political goal, but an emotional and moral aspiration to be recognized and respected. West Papuana have many stories like George Floyd’s, the differences are that their sufferings were not fully recorded and displayed to the public. But, 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 West Papuans whose lives also matter.


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