How the West views us as black people has been the question that has occupied African thinkers for a very long time. It is a question that has unfortunately eclipsed the even more critical question: Why do the others view us with such condescension and disrespect, bordering on racism?
I am still fuming after reading the book Onitsha by Nobel laureate J. M. G. Le Clézio, a book set in 1948, in Nigeria. Le Clézio lived in Nigeria with his family in 1948 at the tender age of eight. He was clearly taken by the injustices he saw against Africans at the time.
It is ostensibly written from the perspective of someone sensitive to the plight of Africans in colonial Nigeria, but who ends up unwittingly revealing his own prejudices. It is the classical story of white liberal orthodoxy, the type that earned writers like Joyce Cary and Joseph Conrad, Chinua Achebe’s rage.
Think of Nigeria in 1948. The University of Ibadan was founded that year. Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria’s first president had been long back from London and America. Think of Soyinka’s Ake, that wondrous memoir of Soyinka’s eclectic and wholesome childhood. Think of Chukwuemeka Ike’s book The Potter’s Wheel, about the adventures of a precocious little boy set in about the same time as Onitsha’s plot.
When you read Azikiwe, Soyinka, and Ike, you come away with memories crafted by African writers of a society that was embracing Western education with a robust fervor. Just like in the West. So, what then do we make of Le Clézio’s view of the same Nigeria of the 1940s as a place of simple-minded Africans sporting exaggerated physical features and child-like emotions and innocence?
Liberal orthodoxy is avuncular and patronising and it bestows upon the “helpless” African a benevolent but malignant label – subhuman. It is malignant because most days these days we spend our waking hours trying to convince the other that well, we are human, just like them. Why do they see us differently from how we see ourselves? Is racism alone the answer to that question?
In a perverse sense, the earthquake that rocked Haiti’s wobbly foundations exposed the pathetic rubble that passes for black life not only in Haiti but almost everywhere our people live. Chew on this: 10,000 NGOs pretending to do work have gulped billions of dollars in “aid” to Haiti in recent years and yet the country is so poor, it is called a Fourth World country. Nigeria is the next embarrassment waiting to happen. Every day Nigeria is rocked by quakes of thievery, savage violence and pure unadulterated incompetence. So, what is wrong with us?
As people of colour, it sometimes seems that we spend our days loudly proclaiming our humanity. We are on the defensive all the time. It is exhausting. How can we demand respect from others when we so obviously demand disrespect and ridicule? Call me a hopeless idealist but we can prove that we are able to overcome the machinations of a racist God.
The difference between our race and the other seems to be that their cognitive elite of leaders take care of their societies, while our cognitive elite take care of themselves only, the people be damned. Why is that so? Are we cursed? I reject the notion that this constancy of turmoil and neglect is our fate. We must take care of our own just as their cognitive elite takes care of their own people. We must care for those who clawed for every penny just so we can go to school.
We are suffering the result of a virtually uncritical acceptance of any and everything alien that lands our shores. This greed is killing us. We have made ourselves the other. We have helped ourselves earn it. In the ruins of Africa intolerance comes baying out of churches and mosques. If you don’t look like them you will not be born again. I think it is disgraceful that we are condoning hate in the name of intellectual freedom.
On a fairly regular basis we are made to endure horrid expressions of hatred and bigotry. Our thinkers, our intellectuals need to reflect upon their role in building the Africa of our dreams. Let’s dream of the impossible. Let’s undo the mean harvest of racist bigoted deities. As thinkers, we must be bold, we must explore new ideas, do bold things, not simply spend all day parroting nonsense in the name of scholarship.
As writers we should push for the next level of awareness. I urge all of us as thinkers to model the behaviours that have made the Western societies we live in so much more successful than our ancestral lands. Let it not be said that we are children of a lesser god.
8 thoughts on “Are We Children of a Racist God?”
Your observation is so on point, Ikhide! These are issues that worry me and I believe I touched on it (ever so subtly) in Blackbird. Education is key to awareness and probably this is why our leaders are so bent on keeping the vast majority ignorant and uneducated. But again, look at our so called teachers! What are they doling out to their students and wards?
There are so many things wrong, yet we still can make a difference.
I quite observed you did in Blackbird. And that is why I would always keep the book for memories unborn.
I certainly agree with you on many points. On the main, I like your call for action rather than for debate. For too long, intellects and writers have debated and argued our plights and no change has happened. It is time for collective action.
We are not children of a lesser god.
Your collectively accused & indicted WE comes across with a breed of masochistic auto-flagellation that fails to integrate and rationally aggregate all components and variables that operate to distill our present & distorted reality. Some of our critics seem to grossly and biasedly (mis)read our “predicament” through alien, twisted and incomplete prisms of the controllers of that metanarrative. What do I mean here: the standards applied are based on the empirical, material, utilitarian considerations of well-being. There is little relativisation of bliss thru the consideration of other less material & less techno-scientific variables and other ethical paradigms (my regards to the Bhutanese happiness index). The mainstream media depiction of poverty and war today in Africa is not fodder enough to globalize a conclusion on. Mmany are the lesson-givers who have arrived in Africa and genuinely & positively conceded that: no, this aint the Africa I came to see. One where people are arguing, fighting, laughing, fucking, kissing, dancing and scamming with all the latest technologies! No, Africa is multivaried and multivarious. It is not one big refugee camp or war front.
I’ve been/grown some in remote rural Africa where happiness is not guaranteed by accumulation of capital and patrimony. Life is easy, convivial, communal, unrushed. This no nostalgic, trite & sentimental cliché, who cares if any other person’s Africa, have never known such pearls too. But a mainstream media picture of this lifestyle will be presented & interpreted from a material and less ethical prism will show idleness, famine and lack. No. not totally. We ask the question: why are there so many suicides recorded in the advanced world than in these backwaters? It has to with the fundamental value of a system, which is the sustainable happiness and stability it procures for it population. But unfortunately some of us keep on reading what is wrong with us from the wrong & alien end of the scope. It is cast as such through a distortive prism.
There is far little problem with Africa that comes from Africa and Africans. That is the geo-strategic fact. You can only discount this only we engage but a Darwinian and empiricist reading at the expense of an ethicist/ethical and humanist reading of the problem. For example: when am wrong for being beaten by a bigger (in age and size) boy to illegally preserve his interests. Here the techno-militaro-industrial superpowers (in their techno-capital advancement), using domestic lackeys & sellouts, foment and engineer destabilizing wars, coups d’état, unfair trade practices, foul immigration rules, support overtly and covertly bad leaders and systems in Africa…etc, and the fault is on Africa & Africa alone. No. most Africans want positive, genuine change and they have fought and died for it. And students of Africa’s colonial & postcolonial history and politics, they will understand, when they don’t embrace a Darwinian and empiricist posture, that the principal (not the ancillary) threat and impediment to Africa’s (material & immaterial) progress is the hegemonistic superpower machinery. See how these powers have historically instrumented the UNO, IMF, WB, PARIS CLUB, LONDON CLUB, MULTINATIONAL CORPS, etc, to preserve their vested interests, even if this will mean decimating the politico-economic and social fabric of a given smaller, rich or ex-colonial nation. Ivory Coast and Libyan democratic and revolutionary farces have long ugly stories to tell for those who want to hear.
We aren’t cursed, we are in a permanently battle field and even winning in unexpected times and turns. See recent growth rates in Africa, see the communal tissue (which anthropologically continue to serve is social security, in spite of our troubled transitions), there is a lesser wars count, apartheid has been defeated despite the odds, education/literacy rates climbing. And we need less defenses of/for our humanity today more than ever before, if Greece can be a pariah, if governments in democratic Europe are propped and foisted on the people without popular elections to please the bankers (consider esp Italy & Greece’s backroom, handpicking antics.)
Like the demons asked the seven sons of Sceva in the bible, Jesus I know,Paul I know,but who are you?.Soyinka I know,Achebe I know, Ikhide I know,but who are you?.Sir, you have pee peeed in our cistern!!!,may God forgive you. You have muddled our discuss with your high falutin words that ended up saying nothing, a clear case of the new class of African intellectuals that try to mystify education by haut grammaire that means nothing whatsoever to the common man.
We all have the individual responsibility to stir a change in this matter. I would canvass an end to the intellectual whining and drooling that are common to our clime. It’s time we took corresponding actions to our proclamations.
Insightful talk, Ikhide.
This talks to our shame. African nations have habitually exhibited the traits of the colonized psyche. Historically, it is not usually the most altruistic that emerge on the leadership front. Many opportunists, because they were the first to understand the whiteman’s language, took over power and used such power to further their own interests. The good people woke up too late. These ‘scavengers’ have held sway and interacted with their equally lying, thieving counterparts on the other side to set the world on a Topsy-turvy ride . I agree we need to stop parroting the expected and act in ways to sway thought to original afro-centric path.
Great articulation of what should be obvious, but is sadly swept under the carpet of indolence…
so we are back to: we and them, THE west vs. THE Africans, our “race” and their “race”? I wonder who is included, who is excluded? And more importantly by whom?
The base of your argument is too simplistic in its following of racist divides, especially in this world of ours today (with us I mean the whole world).