The gruesome murder of George Floyd, an African American, while handcuffed and pinned to the ground by the knee of Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, has provoked deeper implications for the systemic racial injustice in the United States of America.
One of the powerful voices resonating with the racial crisis is the Reverend Al Sharpton. A prominent African American civil rights activist and former presidential candidate, Sharpton used the occasion of Floyd’s funeral to declare that the blacks have not prospered to their potential, because the whites have knelt on the necks of the African Americans for far too long. The admonition is beyond rebuke, no doubt, but there exists another breakneck knee that must not be ignored: The bulky knee of Africa.
Africa’s image has a lasting effect on African Americans. A symbolic nexus came during the current racial crisis when the US Congressional Democrats knelt for eight minutes and 46 seconds at the Capitol in Washington DC clad in African Kente stoles, as a solidarity for George Floyd. According to Rep. Karen Bass, Chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, “The significance of the Kente cloth is our African heritage.” Yet, beyond the banal image of slavery and beneath the Kente veil is the heritage that a generality of America sees—the very image President Donald Trump bluntly paints as “shithole.”
Trump’s incendiary race-baiting rhetoric has worsened the matter, for sure, but the shithole image had deeply permeated the U.S. systems far before him. The Americans have understandably seen Africans as people who are perpetually thirsty while in midst of water. They see a naturally endowed continent that has remained home to the world’s poorest. They see African leaders who loot their country dry only to stack the money in secret foreign vaults while their citizens at home gnash in penury and despair. These Americans see the poverty of character. They see the poverty of the mind. They assume a lack of mental fortitude. They assume an inferior race. They see little or no regard for human life. They see the African American heritage. They see George Floyd!
The seemingly lack of value for human life by African leaders was evident in the protests that trailed the brutal murder of Floyd. Despite the fact the protests were a global phenomenon, most African heads of government carried on business as usual. But the deafening indifference was not unexpected. The African leaders have a mirror. They recognize that the life of George Floyd is only a pint in the ocean when compared to the lives claimed daily in African cities through police brutality or state terror.
Though the African masses were well involved in the worldwide protests through the media, only few skeletal demonstrations were recorded on the ground. Any serious ground protests would have been crushed by various African dictatorial regimes which, like the American police, have not shown that “black lives matter.”
Yet, the most excruciating part of the African knee remains poverty. This poverty is transposed and exploited to discriminate against the African Americans in the United States—a capitalistic society where every social, economic, and political status is largely influenced by individual or group wealth. Even the U.S. Immigration and Foreign policies overly favour wealthier nations, just as the degree of racism is higher against immigrants from poorer nations. This economic disparity, more than any factor, accounts for why Africa continues to bear the brunt of U.S. immigration policy while the African Americans suffer the worst cases of racial injustice in the United States.
The forgoing view rhymes with a recent UN General Assembly report, which “emphasised that poverty is closely associated with racism and contributes to the persistence of racist attitudes and practices.”
For example, the African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to face racial injustice than their Asian counterparts. The Asian Americans, though a minority group, are commonly extolled as the “model minority”, because of their economic progress both in their native countries and in the United States.
The case of Nigerian Americans is an instructive spectacle. Though the people are the most educated ethnic group in the United States, they have not been accorded the desired social class, plausibly because of their “shithole” image. This nagging African image explains why some native blacks continue to shun the term African Americans. But Africans and blacks worldwide are intertwined for life like Siamese twins.
The solution is a unity of purpose among people of African descent worldwide to demolish the longstanding third class status commonly accorded to the black race. The missing ingredient is socio-economic empowerment. But there are abundant resources, as well as the enabling environment, to accomplish the objective. Africa, on the one hand, has vaulted as the new global economic frontier. The blacks in America and Europe, on the other hand, wield ample political power to hold African leaders accountable through lobbying, especially considering that the only voices African dictators tend to hear are the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom.
The people of African descent must also demonstrate that black lives truly matter in the comity of nations. Besides taming Donald Trump, now is the time to root out the abject racism at the United Nations. The African Union should, for a start, issue an ultimatum to the world governing body to end the mind-boggling exclusion of Africa in the permanent membership of the UN Security Council—an arm of the global watchdog where critical issues of life and death take center stage.
The barbaric murder of George Floyd has triggered the most consequential mass protests in the annals of history, quite alright, but the black race must not fail to capitalize. Though the sweeping reforms to mitigate racial injustice in the United States and Europe are encouraging, any attempt at a lasting solution without major socio-economic revolution within the African race is a castle in the air.
Ogbonnia writes from Houston, Texas, USA.