When you are black in the United States of America, the issue of race is usually lingering at the back of your mind. There are often those ‘quiet’ long periods of a false ‘post racial’ America, especially since the election of President Barack Obama, where one might be tricked into believing all is well. These are those instances where no major race issues are on our radar and we retreat, at least momentarily, into believing we are all the same. But then there are often those times where race issues seem to be ‘on steroids’ and partly because of the role played by the media. These tend to be instances where our 24 hour news cycle is reporting on ‘extreme’ and ‘caught on camera’ racial issues and there is outrage on why and how we could still be living in the times of Jim Crow and the likes.
To provide a timeline example, one might think about the Trayvon Martin case, and the time between that and the events of these past couple of weeks. These include the Donald Sterling case which reminded us of the stereotypical stances on black talent and the discriminative housing policies, the Cliven Bundy case and how law enforcement works different for different races, racist tweets about PKSubban centered on ‘white’ sports, Fortgang’s essay on ‘checking privilege, Melissa Harris-Perry on our collective duty to raise children, to name just a few. All of these cases illustrate the multifaceted nature of racism.
I would like to extend the race conversation, particularly in the wake of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign and try to place it in the African context where in most countries ‘race’ is not really considered as an issue. Many of us come from countries where we, as blacks, are the majority, and besides South Africans, with no history of any official racial policy. This gives a certain false idea that race does not matter or that the absence of non-state sanctioned discrimination means that everyone is treated the same. However, this could not be far from the truth, and I would argue that it might even be more dangerous. There is a difference in black identities and my conversations with fellow Africans over the years and especially over the last month have demonstrated this.
Looking back at the history of most African countries, we see the North-South divide and the unequal development that has taken and continues to take place, we know of the space and role of the colonial legacy and also of the role played by our ‘home brewed’ discriminations. According to Amnesty International, there is evidence that there is information that the Nigerian government knew about the kidnappings hours before it happened, and we know that Boko Haram has been causing havoc for a long time. Additionally, we can intelligently speculate that one of the reasons that no real action was taken by the Nigerian government is that the case involved females, Muslims and citizens of the country’srural north. In Botswana, we have certain groups that are dehumanized by rather than using the human pronoun of the local word ‘mo’ in front of their group name, the word ‘le’, used to denote an animal is used instead. An example would be instead of calling someone from the Kalanga group Mokalaka, the word Lekalaka is used.
All the ideas and discriminations do shape public policy and thus dictate how we respond, or don’t, to a group of people. When we believe some groups are inferior, are not worthy or that they do not deserve the same benefits, regardless of whether we have it in writing or not, there will be consequences and actions.
Until we can look at our fellow country mates as humans, equal to us, we will always have these frictions and I believe its time we took a second look. We need to #BringBackOurGirls and everyone that’s been left behind.
Bose Maposa is a regular Bokamoso contributor. Read her short biography and previous articles here.