#Blacklivesmatter and the African Imperative -By Adewale Ajadi

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Adewale Ajadi

Adewale Ajadi

 

The causes of African Americans present a platform for moral leadership and pulpit to the African continent to define African values and principles to the world. All these are the fundamentals of enlightened self-interest that should make this a foreign policy imperative for African governments. One thing is for certain, in a world order in which white supremacy is deeply embedded and often mixed with obvious African failures, it creates a daunting asymmetry in our global relations. This is one area where African leadership should be clear, unambiguous and achievable.

A title or campaign that black lives matter is a misnomer for many reasons but not least because there are no black or white people or races but one humanity with an African origin. This is a scientific fact that’s withstood many new paleontological discoveries, confirmed in genetic profiles and affirmed in etymological studies across the world. Phenotype i.e skin colour, which is rarely as described in so called back or white, is simply about adaptation to an environment.

The fact that the European culture, so removed from its African origin, has turned its inferiority complex into marketing a false supremacy should not trap us into this warped notion of reality. Such is the nature and effectiveness of marketing this madness that this use of phenotype to categorise our humanity is seen as the norm. The illness that it spawns has become the standard using the notions of Blackness as an identity and is often the only way to people of visible African descent, without appearing to water down the commitment to fight against the injustices related too and emerging from the categorical vilification and objectification of the African heritage.

Humanity is African and all the effort to disassociate is a pathology, including the entire body of policies and practices that subjugate, undermine and destroy any signs and identification with Africanness. So Black lives matter is a useful shorthand to highlighting the recent mutation in the awful treatment and killing of African and African Americans in the United States.

Black lives matter is a campaign in the face of what can be characterised as a slow but constant systemic discrimination against Africans and their descendants in the United States that goes back centuries. The experience has gone from the egregious experience of sub-human bondage, Jim Crow, Separate but Equal, Extra Judicial killings, COINTELPRO, mass incarceration, and now the regular disclosure of police violence and killings rarely punished that establishes the impunity in the abuse of power and official authority.

As is usual, this pattern of systemic abuse has mutated, irrespective of the changes in who rules and in spite of iconic successes of individual African Americans. That individual discrimination is now implicit rather than explicit does not mean the system has changed. At the core of the US zeitgeist is the manufactured notion of whiteness. Many now safely forget the treatment of the Irish and Italians before they became ‘White’. This creation of a scarcity mentality and guilt looms large and is institutionalised in the very design of the country, initially consuming the aboriginal inhabitants of the land and then the persistent gradual but effective methods to cage African Americans and frame them as everything that is uncivilised and irredeemably so.

The fact that a substantial minority live out the stereotypes is not evidence of their character but of the effective promotion of the stereotypes and embedding them so well within the education system, the media and critical areas of public interface. The key effect of stereotypes supported by incentive and a punishment system is that they always seem to become self-fulfilling prediction that are eventually enforced by the very people it victimises.

In a society that can only hold dichotomies and think in either/or its foil for ‘whiteness’ is ‘blackness’. This extremely poor quality of meaning-making is at the core of the US operating system. Everyone is indoctrinated into this meaning-making, lesser consciously these days and even less so with the attachment to the attendant value system. In fact, no institution or people are immune from this dynamic. It profits the majority because of the privilege it gives. However there are a significant number of so called ‘Whites’ who recognise and stand against these egregious acts. The problem is however not about individual discrimination but the systemic and institutional impunity that delivers patterns of mass incarceration, solitary confinement, death penalty, mandatory sentences, and on-the-street extra judicial killings.
#Blacklivesmatter
If this was a different country other than the United States and the victims were any other constituent ethnicity, they would be dragged before a relevant international body for sanctions. The fact that African Americans do not have a link to one Nation state means no one takes up their case and holds the government of the United States to account. Even recent immigrants from Africa discriminate to exclude African Americans because the latter’s identity has been stereotyped with poverty, crime and debauchery. The fact that a substantial minority live out the stereotypes is not evidence of their character but of the effective promotion of the stereotypes and embedding them so well within the education system, the media and critical areas of public interface. The key effect of stereotypes supported by incentive and a punishment system is that they always seem to become self-fulfilling prediction that are eventually enforced by the very people it victimises. For me in my often brief visits, mistaken for an African American on the streets of New York, standing in the rain as fellow Africans drive taxis past me to pick up other fares. I was told by a Nigerian driver (after he picked me up) that he would have passed me thinking I was African American but for the plastic bag of a Lagos store that I held in my hands.

As Africans, we are both historically and currently complicit in these discriminatory practices, from our own historical participation in the transatlantic slave trade (including those who got enslaved, had the good fortune of escaping, returning to the continent, and continuing in the trade). The rarity of our intervention to stop the trade, with notable exceptions like that of the Oba of Lagos, Kosoko who sent Chief Oshodi Tapa in 1847 to facilitate the journey back of returnees from Brazil and Cuba. An example that led to the immense contribution to the modernisation of Lagos in the late 1800s by the returnees.

Today we have by omission accepted that our material problems and domestic injustices justify our detachment and leadership failure in this critical area. Our illusion that the challenge is a civil and not human rights one exacerbates what we could call cowardice. Our fantasy that having a person of African descent as president of the US make these problems solved or nullifies any serious concern. Does it occur to us that the spate of murders is driven by a sub-conscious desire to assassinate the US president himself? This breakthrough has done real damage to the stereotype of mental, intellectual and leadership interiority of the African American, putting at risk the assumed privilege of ‘whiteness’ opening up these pathological responses!

It should be argued that linkages between the African diasporas, both old and new in the US, South America and the Caribbean create the architecture of a Diaspora Economy that could catapult Africa and her economies into these markets as well as improving competitiveness. The African brand is an implicit benefactor from the successes of African Americans as well as a bearer of burdens from their perceived failings.

The African governments cannot be passive observers since our future and the standing of Africans in the 21st century might depend on the role we play in this battle. It is a battle.

We should remember the colonisation of the African continent was ignited by the successful enslavement, rape, torture and subjugation of her people in the Americas. The African Americans have, in spite of years of the worst patterns of treatment documented against any people for such an incredible number of years, become the cultural superpower of the entire world with unrivalled leadership and innovation. This has invested the United States with unprecedented soft power, even amongst its explicit enemies. Their influence over the mindset, behaviour and choices of the world, inclusive of young continental Africans is unrivalled by any government institution or platform on the continent. We cannot afford to ignore the eventual effect of the pathologies that these treatment creates in African Americans and eventually for us.

It should be argued that linkages between the African diasporas, both old and new in the US, South America and the Caribbean create the architecture of a Diaspora Economy that could catapult Africa and her economies into these markets as well as improving competitiveness. The African brand is an implicit benefactor from the successes of African Americans as well as a bearer of burdens from their perceived failings.

The causes of African Americans present a platform for moral leadership and pulpit to the African continent to define African values and principles to the world. All these are the fundamentals of enlightened self-interest that should make this a foreign policy imperative for African governments. One thing is for certain, in a world order in which white supremacy is deeply embedded and often mixed with obvious African failures, it creates a daunting asymmetry in our global relations. This is one area where African leadership should be clear, unambiguous and achievable.

To define the role of African in the world and to frame the African vision of the world there is no greater or more credible pilot than starting with one of the most incredible people who have stood with very little support for centuries against the most powerful and ruthless system that is known to world. In spite of being victimised African Americans have taught the world to rise above adversity and create with majesty as well as dignity.

This leadership should focus on some priorities including establishing in the United Nations and all global forums that the systematic discrimination and regular killings of unarmed African Americans through the criminal justice system is a massive human rights violation that must be addressed. Further the African Union (AU) should establish visa and wider consular privileges for African Americans that bind every African country. Working with African Americans and other African Diaspora, we should develop a Pan-African diaspora curriculum and exchanges that restore historic and current standards that give viability and options to Africans wherever they live. There should also be a collaborative design and development of a regime of economic investment and access benefits to encourage more African Americans to build business relations with Africa. We can also develop a broader socio-economic framework that supports these relations and exchanges into one of the most diverse and strategic markets in the world.

There will be many people who will say do we not have enough on our plates? Are African Americans not enjoying a better material existence than continental Africans? Or even the more egregious can they not stop being victims? All these are possibly credible questions to answer but here are some thoughts. Historically the treatment and responses of African Americans has shaped the African world view from Mohammed Ali, Malcolm X, WEB Dubious, Marcus Garvey. The Independence movements, the repositioning of blackness, the Anti Apartheid movement amongst many others. We are far more interdependent than we record or admit. To define the role of African in the world and to frame the African vision of the world there is no greater or more credible pilot than starting with one of the most incredible people who have stood with very little support for centuries against the most powerful and ruthless system that is known to world. In spite of being victimised African Americans have taught the world to rise above adversity and create with majesty as well as dignity. We should not just stand with them but also show they matter not just to the United States but the world at large. We will not only stand with them but also stand for all, teaching the world that when #Blacklivesmatter then all life will matter.

Adewale Ajadi, a lawyer, creative consultant and leadership expert, is author of Omoluwabi 2.0: A Code of Transformation in 21st Century Nigeria.

 

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