18 November 2012

Nigeria: If You Dare Call Me Black! (I)


Most of us Nigerians don't understand the problem that we face. Do we know that we are really, on balance, the most hated and distrusted among a hated and distrusted 'race' or people? Perhaps if we knew what exactly our chief problem was we would act differently, think differently, spend differently, behave differently, plan differently.

As a frequent flyer to Dubai for about three years now, I have realized certainly, that gradually, and pointedly, the discrimination against 'black' people is increasing. Taxis often shun you like never before. Given an Indian, Bangladeshi and Chinese standing with you in a row, the taxis (mostly driven by Pakistanis), would find a way or another to avoid you and collect any of the others. At other instances, free taxi cabs would pointedly speed past you, while you stand forlorn by the roadside, seeking for a reprieve. One cannot help but feel bad about such things when one bears the brunt of a renewed racism. Of course, since Martin Luther King Jr, no one is articulating any views for Africans, or 'blacks' as they like to call us. Blacks? More on this later...

A Bangladeshi taxi driver was 'unlucky' to pick me at a taxi rank the other day. He showed much surprise that I wasn't heading to Sabkha, the favourite haunt of most Africans, much dreaded by taxis because of the ever-present traffic snarl around that area. He beamed at me, grinning from ear to ear and in his semi-illiterate parlance, told me, absolutely without guile "Black, I don't like black!". He didn't mean it with malice, as I was already seated in the taxi, but he explained further; "Allah said anybody black will not enter heaven, so me I not like Black". We may as well come to terms with the fact that religious books are often misinterpreted by different people from different backgrounds, and the under-educated often fall victim. The beliefs in the Christian religion that I am very used to, varies almost according to each church, so you better believe it. In Bangladesh, they believe that the darker you are, the less your chances of ever making heaven, and they believe the Almighty God himself has sanctioned this!

In India, there is such a big do about skin colour, with mothers rejecting/disliking their children for being dark (such instances are all over Bollywood), plus a thriving trade in bleaching creams. This was once an issue in race-sensitive UK a few years ago, where one of the creams being marketed to Indians there had racial connotations. Perhaps in India, a very class-sensitive society, the darker your skin colour the lower your echelon in society (most of those they call 'untouchables' are dark-skinned like Africans). The Bangladeshi taxi driver actually told me that there were some black people in his country and he was sure they could never make it to heaven no matter how hard they tried. "I love white" he exclaimed in his uninformed delirium. Can anyone blame him? The truth is that in the 18th century incursion of the British into India, many Brits 'went native' i.e. never returning to Britain, and a certain section of India - and neighbouring countries - now has a burgeoning population of 'white' natives, products of inter-racial trysts and unions in those days. So the problem is partly colo-mentality.

Maybe the world should be thankful that Mitt Romney did not become the president of the United States. One of the main beliefs of Mormonism - his brand of Christianity - is that darkness of skin is a specific curse from God, and that if one prays hard enough, God may well forgive one and lighten your skin colour, and of course reduce the load of sins you carry. Maybe that was why Michael Jackson decided to abandon the rest of us. In the Bible itself, many references were made to the holiness of 'white' and the evil of 'black'. The other day, I saw a church pamphlet given to my children in which the archangel Michael was very white with blonde hair, pinning down with his sword, a fallen devil, whose skin was dark brown - like any Nigerian - with two horns on his head.

Brigham Young, successor to the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith is quoted to have said:

"You see some classes of the human family that are black are uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits, and seemingly without the blessing of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind.. Cain slew his brother.. And the Lord put a mark on him, which is a flat nose and a black skin....Shall I tell you the law of the God in regard to the African race? If the white who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God is death on the spot."

Does all this matter? Can we generally breeze through life ignoring how we are perceived by others? Or can we use this reality to recreate who we are and therefore set a new agenda for generations unborn? Are we today making the mistakes, the very mistakes our ancestors made that resulted today in us as a people occupying the very lowest rung of the pecking order of humanity?

What were those mistakes? They never thought far enough. They never fully understood the implications of anything. They probably were so naïve they didn't know what really mattered and why. They never really planned for generations ahead. In recent times, we have had people who steal money for their own children and great grandchildren unborn, but that is not the kind of planning I am talking about. In the first place, such provision for generations unborn is self-centred (it's all about separating your children and grandchildren from the pack, while the vast majority becomes even poorer by your actions). The provision for generations I refer to are about knowledge, history, philosophy, innovations. These have been totally neglected.

If they were not, I would not meet that black man recently - probably a civil servant from some African country - who came to a high-profile shop to buy a pair of shoes worth $4,000 (N700,000) for his straggly, bow legged, 11 year old son, who was prancing about and behaving badly one could be sure that his parents had destroyed his life! If we knew what to concentrate on, Nigerian big men would not be building vast mansions all over the place and gallivanting around the world displaying how much they can spend and how quickly. Our leaders have absolutely no clue what they should be concentrating on. We have no thinkers in our society who can help set the tone and direction that the country should move towards. I am not one to merely complain. I believe I am trying my level best in my own way. Many have asked me to stop talking and stop writing, and to act! Act where, how? I am ACTING in the way I am best suited for, for now. I believe that we need to define the agenda properly before jumping into the fray. I believe we need in Africa, people who can help articulate our history, define what we should be doing in the present, and explain exactly what the consequences of our past and present actions and inactions, will be, in a bid to jar us all awake! And those people MUST NEVER tire in their advocacy, until the awareness reaches a critical mass!

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