As George Floyd begged for his life that day, so does everyone that looks like him around the world begs for their lives daily. Our brother George is the face of the new movement that is asking for change, but systematic racism and hate that took his life is not confined to the street of Minneapolis or the United States. This ugly monster has a long history and parades itself everywhere around the world in different shapes and forms.
As an African immigrant living in the United States, I can feel the knee on my throat in two ways. I grew up in a continent that is in shambles due to the oppression of slavery and colonialism. I also live in a place where I get a daily dose of hatred and poison of racism. It is an everyday experience for black people around the world, even in their lands, to be looted, choked, and oppressed daily.
As we continue this discussion of racism, we should not forget the genesis of the problem. I believe that we cannot solve this problem without having a thorough understanding of its foundation. The history of racism goes back more than 400 years ago when the evil idea of seeing black people as inferior effectively came to life. The continent of Africa was invaded, robbed, and stripped of dignity, right, freedom, and opportunities. The colonial masters ruled Africa and looted the continent. The intelligent and articulate leaders that could ask questions were subdued, killed, or enslaved. By the time the colonial masters left most African countries around 50 years ago, it was too late for the continent to recover. It has been downhill from that point and still getting worse because of the policies towards Africa.
The descendants of the enslaved Africans and the Africans that migrated for opportunities still face discrimination in America and other places around the world. I was talking to a Caucasian man sometimes ago. He was impressed by the way I analyzed a topic. He then said, “When I saw you, I thought you are an African American, but I see that you are an African. I am not surprised because many of you are very focused and educated.”
I did not understand the discussion until a few years later. Whether the man understood what he was saying, I don’t know, but I do know that it is the narrative that pitches people with the same experience and background against each other. African Americans are told that African immigrants are taking their jobs, while African immigrants are told that they are more serious-minded and focused. Unfortunately, many people within both communities have subscribed to the idea. While many might think that slavery only affects the direct descendants of African American slaves, it affects the African immigrants too. The great grandparents, great uncles, and aunties of some of the immigrants were the slaves. Many African immigrants left the continent that was robbed of its dignity for opportunities. On the whole, racism does not distinguish between African immigrants and African Americans when it’s time to discriminate. The color of racism is the same, and both sub-groups experience harassment and denial of opportunities in the same degree.
The effect of racism is not only felt by black people in the countries with majority Caucasians, but its impact is also profound in the continent of African. Africa remains the poorest continent in the world. The corrupt African leaders are allowed to keep the money they stole from their respective countries in the western financial institutions. Many of these corrupt leaders also see western nations as a save haven after they have looted their countries.
Racism is rooted in the global policies that create a disadvantage for Africa and people of African descent. The economic, trade, financial, political, health, and other major global policies are against Africa. Just recently, a French doctor suggested that the Coronavirus vaccine should be tested in Africa. That shows how much a supposedly educated individual values the life of Africans.
The unattractive portrayal of Africa is amplified in the media, which is the source of information for many people. The view of Africans as barbaric, unintelligent, and inferior that led to slavery and colonialism is still being amplified in the media. Bananas are thrown at black people to remind them of “where they belong” and “who they are.” Unfortunately, what the media projects is not the lived experience of 80% of the people on the continent. There is poverty in Africa, but Africans wear clothes, there are cars on the street, Africans go to school, and Africans do not live among wild animals.
The picture of Africa created by media and global policies feeds racism that we see everywhere around the world. Until the inferior view of Africa changes, discrimination against black people across the globe will continue. The comment made by Danny Ferry (former Atlanta Hawks General Manager) in 2014 about Luol Deng, an NBA star, underscores this point. Ferry said, “He’s a good guy overall, but he’s not perfect. He’s got some African in him.” What is the African in Luol Deng? That is the general unpleasant view of Africa.
I have heard many times that African countries and people of African descent need to change their narratives. How can you rise above a tide that overwhelms you daily? How do you operate in a system that is set up against you? How are you expected to rise when people tell you that the skin that you cannot change is your problem, and it is your fault? How can you get better when oppression has become your way of life? However, just like brother George was chocked with the knee of his throat and cannot do anything because he was incapacitated, the same way Africa and black people cannot change until systematic racism is eradicated by those that enacted it.
We have a lot to do at the grassroots level, but racism against black people requires a global approach. We have to tackle this issue from its root. As long as the negative view of Africa as a barbaric and good for nothing continent remains the same, racism towards black people around the world will not change. We cannot just cut the branches of the tree of racism as we have done in the past and expect racism just to disappear; we have to uproot it. Otherwise, it will bud again at the scent of water of oppression. The change starts with removing the knee from the throats of Africa as a continent. We need a global political and systematic change towards Africa and people of African descent. The media portrayal of Africa has to change. There are beautiful things about Africa and black people that people need to know.
The death of George Floyd must not be in vain, fade away, or become a lip service of sympathy. Donation of money by corporations is not enough. It must spark discussions to create an urgent need for a change that is long overdue around the world. There is a long road ahead, but the change can only happen when we start having the right conversations that focus on the root of the problem. These discussions are not calls for sympathy for black people or the African continent. They are requests for equity and an opportunity to compete without seeing our skins as a disadvantage. We are all equally created by God, and no one is inferior. Intelligence is not a function of skin color, and opportunities should not be a function of race. Eliminating racism against black people around the world starts with changing the view of Africa as a continent.