I have refrained from speaking about the #blacklivesmatter movement for many reasons. A more reactive response would be to establish that I am black and should show a passionate interest in the movement. I agree. However, I would rather hopefully, make my contribution as dispassionate as possible to provide a constructive direction to those in the trenches and to every African who has experienced racism.
So, here is my take. As an extraction from an obviously darker race, I too have experienced the sting of racism. I would be the first to acknowledge that I have not lived with it as my African-American relatives in the West have. However, I can recount my own tales of an acute sense of fear, humiliation or a keen sense that I am less valued or less undeserving than the next person for the simple reason that I am of a different skin shade.
I acknowledge the brave ones at the frontlines of change and I cannot help feeling anxious for them as well. I worry that demonstrations, though necessary, are a quick fix and celebrating a conviction of #GeorgeFloyd’s murderers, will be too early a conquest. I am, most of all, concerned about a silent multiple who hold on to a racist belief system and know not to verbalize their thoughts.
I want to make clear that enemies are not white folk or people of other races. Its too easy to throw blame and aspersions at others because of the colour of their skin. No. The real challenge is the hidden and unseen beliefs, culture, attitudes that is passed down generations and affect how people perceive the black race. From my perspective, I see racism as not just a conversation about colour but a complex backdrop that informs how any “black” person is perceived and how those perceptions have been institutionalized into a concrete enduring system.
Demonstrations are a first level solution to dismantle this system. It is causing a wave change. Already, American CEOS are commendably rushing to pitch their tent with the apparent winning party and saying the right things. A couple of social media posts have suggested economic boycotts. Yes they work and have in the past. In the US, it brought about attention to the Rosa Parks inspired equality campaign. In South Africa, it brought apartheid to its knees. Sadly though, both instances brought short term results and racism continues to thrive.
Since racism has been exposed as a systemic issue, then by all means it needs a systemic solution. There is talk of breaking the cycle of economic, education, and housing policies that deepens prejudices. However, economics, education and housing still does not explain why a wealthy, highly educated “black” person could be discriminated against or mistreated.
In my opinion, the real issue here is the culture, perception and mindset of the average person. Yes, I mean everyone! White against black. Asian against black. And black against black (yes, that happens as well)
I believe that the context of the “black person” needs to be shifted. The whole narrative around the black man needs to be made visible and laid bare if there should be any meaningful change. A key to the drivers of change is to explore what the unsaid conversations are. How can African-Americans actively engage themselves and generations in shifting not only the system that perpetuates racism but also the culture, beliefs and behaviours associated with it? What are the conversations being had and how, where and with whom are they being had?
But I hesitate because I can only imagine a comeback to this post saying “you don’t know what we are dealing with or what we have done so far!” Yes, I agree. I am not American and not exposed to the system on a daily basis. I only visit and remotely impacted by the context to which blacks are forced to survive- not thrive.
Yet, I am convinced that how Africa is perceived can have a role to play in creating context as well. Here is another context-shifting opportunity – a strong homeland is a powerful backdrop to inspire a shift in perceptions. Apart from the skin colour, perceptions of poverty, violence, corruption, incompetence, crime (just name it!) unfortunately trail our current African narrative. The black race needs a stronger representative to stand for being African or black. It needs a collective global community that takes a bold stand for the race, to energise, fraternize and unify. All Africans need to understand this – we all have experienced racism and we teach our children to expect racism. This means that regardless of national divides, African leaders and citizens owe it to its descendants to not only speak up about race, but to actively engage in creating a new narrative that gives its people (wherever they are in the world) the impetus to demand equality.
The solution is in our hands. We have got to step out from being victims and take charge of our lives! A shift in Africa, can contribute to the turnaround we want to see for the black race. Its time for all Africans to double down and get to work, we are in for the long hull!
Dede Kadiri a Senior Consultant at JMJ Associates writes from Lagos- Nigeria.
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