At this point, everyone should know about the global protest sparked by the brutal murder of George Floyd, at the hands of Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin. These protests have started important conversations about racism, and the structures of white supremacy that enable it. Which led me to reflect on the following questions. What is the African experience with racism? In what ways are Africans complicit in the systems & structures that enable anti-Black racism? What can we do to support the Black Lives Matter movement, and call for an end to the oppression of Black people around the world?
As someone who was born and bred in Nigeria, the largest Black nation in the world, I saw Black people everywhere! In the media, heading companies, and just being generally badass. I grew up comfortable with my racial identity, because it didn’t have much influence on my lived experiences, and I never had to really think about racism until I moved to Canada for my studies. From watching movies though, it was clear that other people didn’t live this way. There are Africans who deal with institutional racism even here on the continent. The example that comes to mind is South Africa, where apartheid laws entrenched a system of racial segregation. The country is still dealing with the after-effects of apartheid, as white South Africans own most of the country’s land, despite being the racial minority in the country. Africans in the diaspora also have a different experience with racism. The system doesn’t necessarily identify them as African (because there’s no way to tell by just looking at them) and so Black Africans face similar experiences as the ‘regular’ Black people in these countries.
Because this blog focuses on African literature, it would be remiss to discuss this topic without examining how racism is explored in African text. Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime is at the top of my mind, because I just mentioned South Africa. In this memoir, Trevor details his childhood experience, as a biracial boy, born during a time when interracial unions were criminalised. Noah’s story is much more than apartheid and racism, but those two definitely had an impact on his upbringing. In Broken Places & Outer Spaces Nnedi Okorafor recalled an incident where she was chased in her neighbourhood by white people hurling racial slurs. Like Born a Crime, Okorafor’s story goes beyond the hurtful racism she experienced during her childhood in Chicago. She discusses the various limitations that have led her to the person that she is today, an amazingly talented Africanfuturist writer. For a fictional perspective, Amma Darko’s Beyond the Horizon tells the story of a Ghanaian woman who moves to Germany, and is tricked into becoming a prostitute by her husband. The novel offers a feminist perspective on the struggles of African migrants who flee to Europe, expecting relief from the hardship in their home country, only to be exploited. Then of course, there’s Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah which tells the story of two lovers, Ifemelu and Obinze, who move to the US and UK respectively, and have to navigate the immigrant experience in these countries. With this novel, Adichie offers striking commentary on race relations in America, while offering a delicious love story.
Though Africans don’t have the same generational trauma that comes with slavery and the racism that followed for descendants of enslaved Africans in the West, it is important to share these stories and speak out against racism. Firstly because it’s the right thing to do, but also because a lot of people (erroneously) think that racism ended with slavery and the Civil Rights movement, and these stories clearly show that that isn’t the case. Don’t get me started on the fact that slavery is still happening in Libya right now! That’s a discussion for another day.
Anyways, Africans need to stop perpetuating anti-Black racism. I don’t want to get into the whole topic of ‘diaspora wars’ between Africans and African-Americans, but any African who is reading this blog post should reflect on the images and stereotypes that they have about non-African Black people. A lot of us have been fed the same images that are shown in the West, of Black people as poor, uncultured, criminals. I think there’s been a shift in more recent times, but we do need to actively question the prejudicial ideas that we might have, and get rid of them, because they only serve to distract us from the larger fight against racism and white supremacy.
If you have been active on social media for the past month, I’m sure you have already come across all sorts of resources on how to join the fight against anti-Black racism. I don’t have anything revolutionary to say, as there’s an abundance of amazing resources out there. This link is a good place to start, it lists different fundraisers that you can donate to, petitions to sign, and answers to frequently asked questions.
In case you were wondering, a bunch of our favourite African writers signed an open letter expressing their solidarity with African-Americans, earlier this month. So consider what part you’re going to play to get justice for the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and all the other African-Americans who have lost their lives to police brutality.
As a final note, I’d like to acknowledge that Nigerians (and other Africans who don’t have to deal with racism in their country) still perpetuate systems that oppress other groups of people, including ethnic or tribal minorities, poor people, disabled people, and of course, queer people (Happy Pride Month y’all!). Just because people aren’t oppressed based on their race, doesn’t mean that there is no oppression, and I’d like to remind us all to speak out against all forms of oppression as we stand in solidarity with Black Americans.
Thanks for reading! I’m sorry I haven’t posted anything in a while. It’s a little hard to do so, when it feels like the world is falling apart (not to be dramatic or anything). I promise I’ve been active on my goodreads account, so send me a friend request there for more regular updates. In the comments, share what steps you’re taking to question and dismantle prejudicial thoughts that you have against other groups of people, and to lighten the mood a little bit, share some examples of Black joy that you have come across on the internet recently.