One man’s death at the hands of law enforcement officers in the United States of America has set off a domino effect while the rest of the world watches, shaking their heads in consternation. The demonstrations currently taking in the United States are unfortunately not all surprising. The surge in police killings or rather the surge in high profile police killings that took place in the 2010s indicated that a time such as this would indeed come. Between the viral video of George Floyd’s death by asphyxiation and Donald Trump’s, well… (how do we tactfully put it now?) insensitive tweeting, the one thing that is absolutely certain is that long-held frustrations have reached boiling point, and may continue to do so.
But what does it mean for those of us who reside on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean? Are racial tensions in the United States significant in the motherland where we all face other important and pressing challenges? I think it does. While we do not face overt racism, or even racial microaggressions, daily like our counterparts in the African diaspora, we collectively suffer from the effects which rear their ugly heads in many facets of our lives. The psychological, institutional, and social effects of a century to four centuries, depending on which part of the continent you are from, of subjugation don’t disappear in just a few decades of independence and self-governance and its effects of racism have outlived the experience.
The effects of racism exist in the inherited institutions created to subjugate us and that many of our leaders still perpetuate up to this day. The effects of racism exist in tribalism, classism, and all the nasty little -isms which we witness on this continent. The Rwandan genocide continues to remain a chilling example of what happens when Africans use the colonial system of affording privileges to some tribes at the expense of others, against each other. The effects of racism exist in both the white standards we try so desperately to attain and the superficial categories that we use to measure blackness. It’s as if we are still searching for what real blackness is. Bad governance and under-development are somewhat, but not wholly, symptomatic of the effects of racism. Like George Floyd, some of us may still find ourselves struggling to breathe. The effects of racism are palpable and pervasive, sometimes framing the lens through which we see ourselves and others around us.
Because of this, there is some solidarity that we feel with black Americans fighting for justice. Rights have and will continue to be fought for, and rights have been and will continue to be won but what is also crucial is what happens after. How do we heal? I recall quite recently being in a debate with friends who thought that my “saladic” upbringing made me unrealistically believe that we can ever be on equal footing with a white man in a “white man’s world.” Granted, we may not be able to undo racial bigotry and the institutions that it gives birth to in any of our lifetimes. It’s just so embedded in our social, cultural, and global fabric. We never bought into the “post-racial society” rhetoric often spoken of in the early 2000s but we wanted to believe it could be possible. The reality is we may not be able to achieve a racial utopia so long as we are on planet Earth. However, we have control over how we respond, how we perceive others, and how we perceive ourselves. Reverse racism is inherently destructive because it makes us no different from those who mistreated us and continues the negative cycle of judging an entire race of people by the actions of a few. We can and should heal and realise our potential.
As blacks in the United States fight to dismantle the racist institutions in their country, I hope that those of us whose ancestors never crossed the Atlantic on slave ships will confront racism and its impact on us and the societies that we live in so that we have an awareness of the power we have to define ourselves.