Young African Magazine
Black is a country: dismantling racism through radical politics
To dismantle racism, a revolutionary shift is required. To end racism is to end the economic and political orders that perpetuate and sustain inequalities.
The logic of the current economic system is to keep black people divided, marginalised, and in an impoverished state. Covid-19 has further exposed the depth of inequality between the so-called Global South and the Global North. These inequalities will worsen if black people do not seize this moment in time to create a new order that can guarantee political and the economic emancipation. This is what will take us beyond mere hope to a guaranteed assurance of dignity and equality for all people, black and white.
In times of crisis, we hold up hope that things will get better and this becomes very functional. But what happens when black lives seem to be in a never-ending cycle of disruptions caused by systemic and structural inequalities? These inequalities have endless manifestations: in cities that are largely white in composition and townships that are largely black in composition in South Africa; in the disproportionate death of black people from Covid-19 in the US; and in the heavy policing of black communities and the death of black people in the hand of security operatives in South Africa. It is not difficult to identify that it is the centuries of systemic racism built into the very being of the prevailing economic order that is responsible for these inequalities.
To dismantle racism, a revolutionary shift is required. To end racism is to end the economic and political orders that perpetuate and sustain inequalities. The imperative is for Africa, as the centre of blackness, to become truly independent by using its abundant resources to create wealth for all its people. This is what will break the backbone of capitalism that has evolved slave labour to new forms of acceptable exploitation.
The system is not broken, it is inherently oppressive.
The current system cannot be fixed. I am writing this at a time when there is a nationwide protest in the United States over the violent killing of George Floyd by the police, accompanied by global protests in solidarity. When this anger is directed only towards the four police officers involved, acts of police brutality are framed as isolated and individual mishaps, and the system itself is exonerated. Focusing entirely on racist individuals only attacks the symptoms and not the root causes of racism. Attempting to find redemption or justice in the current system through our cries, protests, and outrage reinforces the fake legitimacy of the system. It puts us in an endless cycle of reconciling with a system that does not offer any redress, placating over time the legitimate anger of black people all over the world.
The global system was built and continues to survive through the exploitation of black people - of our labour, and of our resources - from slavery to colonialism and now to the post-colonial institutions that are in place to sustain colonial legacies. Chief among these are the institutions of majoritarian democracy and economic globalism. African states are rendered marginal because they are expected to be equal competitors owing to their status as sovereign states, yet at the same time they are assumed not to be capable of providing the kind of leadership necessary for economic growth and development. These legacies cannot be undone in any meaningful way by demanding rights, dignity, equality, and freedom within the current system. Indeed, this system has placed us in such a state of constant struggle that we barely have the time to live.
We have been at this struggle for a long time. Various people throughout history have stood as symbols that have demanded equality and dignity for the black people using different strategies. From Queen Nzinga of Angola in the sixteenth century who fought against Portuguese rule till her death, to Nelson Mandela in the twentieth century who fought against the oppressive system of apartheid, the struggle is far from being over. While there have been significant gains like the abolition of slavery, the total freedom of black people will not come from a system that is designed to keep black people disadvantaged, abused, exploited, and poor.
Beyond narrow nationalism: A call for a United Africa
The first practical step towards a revolution is for black people everywhere to unite and organise beyond nationalities. Kwame Nkrumah made this call over fifty years ago, but it is becoming more imperative than ever. A friend recently asked me why we are not witnessing widespread protest in Africa in solidarity with our African American brothers and sisters. My answer was that the idea of nationalism has made many Africans mere spectators in this struggle as we think that the problems of black people in America are American problems.
Conceiving ourselves first as South African, Nigerian or Brazilian hinders revolutionary struggle. It in does nothing for the struggle, and it actively in furthers neo-colonialism. The idea of a nation-state is a colonial construct that was imposed on Africans as a condition for independence. This imposition weakens us in every possible way. It keeps us dependent and at the mercy of the ‘conceptual West’ which has always had its knee on our neck. As the writer Édouard Glissant observes, “The West is not in the West. It is a project, not a place.” Part of this project was the partitioning of Africa into nation-states which has rendered us divided, ineffective, small, and sizable enough to be grabbed.
The Western project has shaped the realities of black people, creating similarities in black experience in Europe, in the Caribbean, and in the Americas. To create new realities for ourselves, it is time that blacks conceive of ourselves as one nation – a country - whose project is the creation of a new economic order that is just, equitable and caters for everyone. This is the revolution that will end the brutal killings of black people in America and the continued exploitation of African resources that leaves us hungry and always in hope for a better tomorrow. African unity is the call to harness our strengths and stand up against the forces of oppression, whether external or internal.
Where do we begin?
We are not entirely powerless in the face of this oppressive system. Rather than being disillusioned by the current state of affairs, what is needed are empathetic leaders at the institutional and personal levels. Failing to be empathetic to the conditions of black people makes the call to reject the current system to seem meaningless and unnecessary. This is particularly true of those who appear not to be adversely affected by the system.
This privilege-preserving mechanism functions to maintain the status quo. Take for example my friend Kojo Addo*. He is 28 years old and an accomplished data scientist living and working in the wealthiest of suburbs in Accra. He is unwilling to risk losing the spoils of the system. He acknowledges the inherent limitations of the system for black people and for marginal states. He is, however, opposed to the idea of a revolution because he bemoans the potential loss of his status. He feels that his class status insulates him from oppression and he further maintains that “In this world, it’s each person for him/herself”. This is the choice that he makes.
Like Kojo, we all have a choice to make; this is the power that we have. The invitation is not for Kojo to abandon his comfort. It is to acknowledge that the struggle entails constantly navigating this complex, nuanced world and accepting that contradiction is an integral part of it. It is to use his privilege to make the table long enough to accommodate everyone. We can do this at the macro and at the micro levels.
At the macro level, African leaders can let go of individual power and success to create an era of prosperity for all people. This revolution will place equality and dignity of all people as the core principles of a new system. This is what will distinguish it from the current system whose embrace of these principles have been an afterthought and therefore incompatible with the current racist, capitalist order. What is needed is the courage to embrace the uncertainties and the risks of creating a new system that has the possibility of moving everyone towards genuine equality, underpinned by our common humanity.
At the micro level, this revolution is personal and simple: it entails giving adequate weight to the community in a system that prizes individuality; looking after the weak and the poor among us; not making undue profit from the exploitation of others; and being accountable to the institutions we lead. These are some of the practical and attainable things that we can do at the personal level, as we continue the struggle to upturn this unjust system, for individual goodness is not sufficient. These things will spring from the appreciation of our common humanity, which when grasped will motivate my friend Kojo to join the revolutionary struggle within his sphere of influence, even though he might be living comfortably.
The conditions are right for a (macro) revolution. The killing of George Floyd has given us a new symbol for the revolution, but together we need to develop the strategy through clear and decisive leadership. This strategy is what will end the rising poverty levels of black people and the resultant indignities that we face. We can transform the momentum building up throughout the world into an effective and substantial political and economic action that ends centuries of lies, indignities and oppression. This is possible.
Photo credit: Pedro Conforte/Plantãonfoco