Just like that, life was violently snuffed out of George Floyd in the most despicable manner under the full glare of the camera. George begged desperately for his life. Oh! how badly he needed a sip of water, not even a drop to heal his drying throat. He shrieked “I can’t breathe” several times as he gasped for survival. No one came to his rescue. Unable to find help in the city of Minneapolis, George reached out in despair to Larcenia Floyd, his late mother in the world beyond for mama’s help. He found none. The man died; the world is not silent. He was murdered in broad day light by a Police Officer whose duty it was to protect him. Derek Chauvin cold-heartedly took a life that he has no power to create.
This latest act of race-related murder has again brought to the fore the open sore of racism that has blighted humanity for ages. America, the country of dreams is fast losing its economic power, but it should be more worrying that the high ground which underpins her global status as a moral beacon of freedom is falling even more steeply. As expected, the murder has drawn widespread outrage around the world. Strangely, not much has been heard from Africa.
In fairness, millions of whites and people of other races have raised their voices against the cancer of racism and are daily marching on the street with blacks. What we cannot deny is that racial injustice is widespread and institutional in most countries – on the street, in football, workplace, at the airport or in the international rules of engagement.
There are calls for reform of policing and the criminal justice system in America. While there is near unanimity that progress must be made on race relations in America through institutional reforms, this alone will not bring about momentous racial justice, sadly. Racial abuse is endemic, and it is not confined to America alone, a point to also note. If one is to err on the side of history, freedom and equality are not freely given, it takes conscious and daring efforts on the side of those at the receiving end of injustice.
Blacks have been terrorized for so long, and still go through very harrowing experiences daily. The material conditions a social mobility of a significant number of African-Americans continue to be defined by the repression suffered from slavery which the American system has reinforced through subtle (sometimes not so subtle) racist norms and institutions over the years. This period calls for reflection by every black nation. The history of blacks in the diaspora is certainly different from that of other races, but are there lessons blacks can learn from the Jews, Chinese and the Irish who, at some point, had bitter experiences with racial injustice and inhuman treatment.
There was a time the Irish were depicted in ape-like images, suffered horrendous physical attacks in countries like the United Kingdom, denied employment opportunities all over the world. Inscriptions such as “Irish Need Not Apply” by prospective employers were not uncommon. In the not too distant past, “No dogs, no blacks, no Irish” signs made bold inscriptions on properties by landlords and developers in the UK. The Irish of today are not viewed through the prism of the potato blight and the resultant food crisis in 1846 which left millions dead. To put their plight in perspective, about forty thousand starving Irish arrived in the city of Toronto, Canada within two months in 1847, twice the population of the city at the time – a total disaster for the city.
To assume that economic progress alone will completely eliminate racism is illusory but there is no doubt that it will greatly expose the stupidity of its adherents. Black nations must show and demonstrate the capacity to uplift themselves. That’s the only way blacks in diaspora will earn respect from other races
What about the Jews? They had horrible experience in exile that straddled centuries which culminated in the holocaust with millions murdered. Likewise, the Chinese. China, once a great empire with a rich history of ancient civilization, and renowned philosophers became a conquered people in the hands of the Japanese. The Chinese suffered untold humiliation. Until recently, the Chinese were not accorded much respect abroad as they currently enjoy and that is because of the country’s global economic status.
Today, the dogs have moved on, the Irish no longer depend on potatoes for a living, Israel has become a nuclear power, the Chinese are angling to assume world economic superpower status but blacks have been left behind.
These countries have re-written their history, earned recognition and reclaimed their place in the comity of nations through focused leadership and a sense of purpose. Jewish-Americans speak glowingly of their home in Israel. Irish-Americans have the Republic of Ireland as their beloved place of ancestry, a country of about 5 million people. Which African country can Blacks in diaspora proudly call home? This is precisely where African countries have failed blacks in diaspora and are complicit in the death of Mr. Floyd. African-Americans do not have honour because no black nation on earth inspires confidence and most of them are utterly confused, let’s tell ourselves the truth.
Therefore, racism is, in part, a reflection of the rudderless state of governance in Africa where leaders pursue causes that are not greater than themselves, leaving the majority of its people in grinding poverty in a world of unprecedented prosperity. The image then formed subliminally, in the prejudiced minds of most racists, is a collective characterisation of Africans as a people incapable of elevating themselves beyond the pre-historic age and mentally ill-equipped to guide himself through the crucibles of mortal challenge in a modern world. Irrespective of individual and personal achievement as blacks or whether you were born an African-American or African-Irish, this tag sticks.
To assume that economic progress alone will completely eliminate racism is illusory but there is no doubt that it will greatly expose the stupidity of its adherents. Black nations must show and demonstrate the capacity to uplift themselves. That’s the only way blacks in diaspora will earn respect from other races. The point is sometimes made that economic progress in African countries is being undermined by foreign powers and therefore the odds are stacked against blacks – true to some extent, however, the view is of a narrow kind. Unfriendly foreign powers always have willing local collaborators and not all foreign powers supported the countries earlier mentioned in their quest for freedom and economic growth. The school of thought which holds the view that what is holding Africa back is more of internal threat rather than external factors is perhaps more plausible. Just the same way Africans sold fellow Africans into slavery in distant lands in exchange for mirror and salt, history is repeating itself with reports of humongous transfer of ill-gotten wealth to foreign countries running into billions of dollars annually.
Africans have great history, no doubt. Ultimately, just like the Jews, Chinese and the Irish, the world will judge blacks collectively now and in future not by our glorious past, or by what was lost or by fleeting limitations but by how much Africans are using the imaginations of today to carve out a better future for its people. Africa needs nation-states that have more achievements than (unrealized) dreams, not countries with neither dreams nor achievements.
The gods are not to blame for the woes of man even if the gods are not innocent. Afterall, are gods not man-made? Blacks nations can and should create the conditions that inspire global respect and recognition. Africa is in dire need of a philosopher king. While not forgetting the past, the focus must be on the future with renewed optimism and daring exploits. Though our back may be trembling with red scars, and our neck held to the ground, we will not break under the weight of humiliation. Africa must rise. To do otherwise is to desecrate the grave of George Floyd.