“Ignorance and prejudice are the handmaidens of propaganda. Our mission, therefore, is to confront ignorance with knowledge, bigotry with tolerance, and isolation with the outstretched hand of generosity. Racism can, will, and must be defeated.”~ Kofi Annan
Yet when I think back, I really should not have been surprised. I had read books about racism. My mistake was thinking it was different in 2001 when I made my way to university. I was around the age of nine when I read the book Roll of Thunder Hear my Cry. But racism was not something I thought about on a regular basis.
Except the Apartheid situation in South Africa at the time, which was on my mind often when I turned on the TV to listen and watch music from different parts of Africa. I remember the music that often played on the TV that often talked about freedom for Black South Africans. Yet my childhood was free from the burden that comes with racial injustice.
When I moved to Zambia at age 14, I began to think of race, primarily as I interacted with people from other cultures. But still, I was a majority in terms of racial background.
Yet, I was beginning to think outside of myself and my West African culture. In Literature class, we read books like Alan Paton’s Cry, my beloved country, and short stories about being black in the 1960s. Not surprisingly, when it was time to write my coursework papers for Religious Studies GCE exams. I chose to write essays on persecution and racism, using the framework of the Gospel of Luke.
I learned a lot from writing that paper on racism. I wish I had a copy of that essay I wrote 20 years ago. I remember reading a book ‘Is Africa cursed’ by the Late Tokunboh Adeyemo. I remember being so angry that even Christian leaders from the past believed such ridiculous nonsense about Africans being less human and being the cursed children of Ham.
So when I moved to California, I wasn’t going without any idea and clue that racism exists. But I was so optimistic and excited about the experience of being on my own at 18.
Feeling alone I turned to my culture for strength Listening to music and reading books I thought I was the one being a racist For not venturing out Yet when I peeped out There was no one to welcome me. Then I began to doubt my faith. I hear people say that racism is in the past. After all, slavery ended a while back. They say Black people now have opportunities they never had before I roll my eyes in response. At their denial of what’s right in their face Yes, slavery might have ended. But it’s offsprings are very much alive and well. These are the same people who wish for the good old days. When were the good old days? 60 years ago? 100 years ago? 200 years ago? 400 years ago? Hmm, let me think about what was happening to people who looked like me.
Oh yeah, they were taken away from their homes and stripped of their names and identity. They were enslaved for hundreds of years, with their children taken away from them. Treated like they were not human.
People want to downplay slavery like it was a distant past, it wasn’t. There are people whose grandparents were born into slavery. I have stood at the Cape Coast Castle in Ghana, and seen the dungeons where my people were held in captivity. I wept, and I felt their presence. I have seen the door of no return, and I wondered what it must have been to be put on those ships, knowing you would never see home again.
Even after slavery ended, it wasn’t all roses. There was the reconstruction era, and the Jim Crow that dismantled all the gains, Black people made. It amazes me how many people know little of history. History over and over again seems to be distorted to fit those in power’s agenda.
As a young 18-year-old, newly arrived from Zambia, I remembered being shocked and surprised that I knew more American history than Americans. It baffled me, but it makes sense. Hey, this not knowing your past is not limited to America. In Nigeria, we still don’t talk about Biafra. Yet that is something that has had an impact on my life.
When did the integration of education happen? Not too long again, my parents were born in the early 1950s. So while their counterparts in America experienced going to different schools, sitting at the back of the bus, drinking from separate water fountains. They were going to school during the last days of colonialism.
I hear people say, but that was then, why do black people carry around these burdens of the past? Then the one that gets to me, I wasn’t there, I did not participate in slavery. This is also where the concept of white privilege comes in, a concept many people struggle with.
They fail to realize that each generation builds on what the previous generations gave to them. But what happens when the system keeps shutting you out from suitable housing, excellent schools, and when cops arrest your warriors and send them off to be incarcerated? There are a lot of unhealed wounds, and new injuries are being added every day.
Ps. I had to break this post into another post coming out tomorrow. There is so much I could write about.