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Political activism alone is not enough to counter racism

15 Jun 2020 at 07:43hrs | Views
THE United States of America (USA) is in the midst of two crises; the COVID-19 pandemic and anti-racism protests triggered by the murder of George Floyd, an African American, by a white police officer. In the last three weeks, the protests have brought to the fore the debate on racism.

Racism is the belief that some racial groups are more superior over others. This is characterised by racial prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against other people because they are of a different race or ethnicity. Modern variants of racism are often based on social perceptions of biological and economic differences between peoples.

It requires more time and space to provide a detailed social and psychological analysis of how race and other prejudices such a xenophobia, nepotism and tribalism manifest in societies. For purposes of this instalment, I will briefly discuss options available to black people to redeem their dignity among other races and try to explain why political activism alone is not enough to achieve racial respect. Before doing so, let us look at how races are ranked and factors influencing that.

A recent study in the United States of America ranks whites at the top, followed by Asians, followed by native Americans and Hispanics with blacks at the bottom end of the ladder.

There are various explanations given for this ranking. Some of these include that slavery continues to have an impact on black people's status and that the poverty in Africa, the origins of black people continues to cast a dark shadow on how black people are perceived no matter how successful some of them are. The latter explanation suggests that the state of the economy of a race's place of origin determines how the people of that race are perceived, ranked and respected.

Just like most African countries, China, India and other Asian countries were once colonised in various ways at different stages of history. Both China and India unshackled themselves from this colonial past to become global economic powerhouses. Their big economies have earned their people global recognition, respect and a positive perception for their races. In other words, even their poorest people are no longer seen as symbols of poverty or problems but opportunities because of strong economies in their countries of origin. It is for this reason that a poor Indian or Chinese is generally perceived as a potential investor and treated better abroad, while a well-up or educated African is seen as a job seeker, migrant or criminal and, therefore, a problem. These perceptions also affect access to economic resources and opportunities which can be seen as racism. In a context where economies are shrinking, racial tensions and hatred tend to flare up.

This takes us back to the same debate that developing Africa is not only about improving the lives of its people but giving global respect, recognition and dignity to its race. It is for this reason I argue that political activism alone without the backing of thriving economies in Africa is futile in addressing racism against black people. In the eyes of the ‘'world" we represent problems.

Efforts to change racial perceptions must consider that colonialism and slavery were about controlling the African's mind in order to access free or cheap raw materials and labour. To achieve that, they re-configured the African mindset by emptying them of their knowledge, identity, culture, self-confidence and everything that define them. They were then filled with a new identity — one of inadequacy, a new mentality that cannot thrive without its slave master, a new culture – one of inferiority that worships anything Western. It is partly because of this acculturation that some Africans aspire to be white or to be accepted within the "white men" spheres because they think they now qualify to be "black white people". And this is partly the equality they have been fighting for and a reason why some Africans struggle to move on, let go or to decide on a course of action. That we hold grudges with the West for enslaving and colonising us while we continuously lobby for their aid and protest to be assimilated in their "sphere" characterises our confusion. We are trying to get over an abusive ex-spouse by protesting to get under that same person.

There lies the challenge with political activism in that it seeks equal racial treatment and access to the existing economic "cake". No matter the size of the economy, it is never enough to share with races historically seen as slaves. In addition, capitalism offers nothing for free simply because the capital, which forms the economy is privately-owned and cannot be shared but opportunities arising from the economy such as jobs can be shared under prescribed conditions. Those who own the means of production will always want more, set the terms and resist efforts to turn the tables upside down.

However, with African States attaining independence and the rise of egalitarianism, there is another option of turning the situation upside down without necessarily turning the tables upside down. This is what Africans need to do if they are to earn respect and their place in this unfair world.

For that we can draw inspiration from China, Japan, Mauritius, some Middle Eastern countries and others that have grown their economies without necessarily protesting to be integrated and accepted into the Western economies.

Lessons drawn from these examples are that countries can rise from the effects of colonisation, cut ties with their former colonial masters and grow their economies by making the best use of their local resources with limited or no external help instead of whining and pining over historical injustices. In short, citizens whose countries have grown their own "economic cakes" earn respect and dignity outside their borders.

This is the fastest and most sustainable way of confronting racism — putting your race at the same economic footing with the rest.

Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa. He writes here in his personal capacity.

Source - newsday
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