White people will need to do more than just be 'allies'. They need to become actively anti-racist.
A personal question I have often wrestled with is: why are white people still racist?
For some, this may sound like a rhetorical flourish or an over-generalisation and I know, it won't endear me to those white people bent on skirting their whiteness.
For my people, however, it's an existential question and one that has galvanised us into a life of activism — and which demands an answer.
The Nobel laureate Toni Morrison calls it "the pain of being black." No Black person in the world, regardless of their education, age, gender, social class, geography, religious or political belief, or sexual orientation, has been immune to it. For the past 500 years. Even in Black countries like Haiti, Brazil, Colombia or my beloved Congo, we are not immune to it.
Conversely, almost every white person in the world, regardless of whether or not they grew up poor or rich, have Black friends or children, have been either a spectator or perpetrator. All of them, however, benefit from it. For the past 500 years, at least.
So this is a candid invitation to white people. I would like you to let go of your white, liberal and defensive posturing if you can, and to take centre stage (not just to listen and learn) and courageously and critically engage with the muck and mire of your racism; using a substitution test— imagine yourself in our shoes. For the past 500 years.
Why haven’t you outgrown your whiteness, a social-psychological indoctrination that produces and reproduces racism, and specifically anti-Black racism?
We have fought and died, alongside you, for the same freedoms and in defence of the same values in both World War I and World War II, and also in the Spanish and US Civil War, in the Battle of Waterloo and Trafalgar, and in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in almost every battlefield Europeans have been entangled in.
Yet, nearly 200 years since the abolition of slavery, three successful revolutions and over 60 years since Independence and the Civil Rights Movement, Black people — to paraphrase the poet Joshua Bennet in “10 Things I want to say to a Black Woman” — are still not considered human in “some” places. Amadou Diallo, a 23-year-old Guinean immigrant, was shot 41 times by four New York police in 1999; hitting Diallo 19 times. He was unarmed.
Twenty years full of similar police killings later, why has nothing changed? Breonna Taylor, a 26-year old Black emergency medical technician, was shot and killed sleeping on her bed in her home. Natasha McKenna, 37, was tasered to death in jail in 2015 while she was experiencing a mental health crisis. The list is long, from Eleanor Bumpers and Alberta Spruill to Aiyana Stanley-Jones, India Kager and Sandra Bland.
This suffocating pain of being Black is, in part, why Eric Garner’s words — which George Floyd pleaded for his life with at the hands of another white police officer — have become a rallying cry for many of us protesting for justice and decolonisation in the Black Lives Matter movement: “I can’t breathe.”
Again, as we begin to come to terms with the shooting of Jacob Blake, that one-word question appears again: why?
Why do you still hate us? We have mastered English, French, and Italian, Spanish, German, Portuguese and every other European language. We have converted to Christianity and to every other Abrahamic religion under the sun so we could pray to your God, too.
We have read the same Atwood, Dickens, Shakespeare, Kafka, Homer, Marquez, Joyce, Mantel, Naipaul, Zola, Orwell, Camus, and Tolstoy. In return, we have offered you Angelou, Armah, Adichie, Achebe, Baldwin, Bola, Beatty, Cesaire, Coates, Hughes, hooks, Lorde, Lovelace, Giovanni, Morrison, Mabanckou, Okri, James, Smith, Walker.
We pay the same tax to the same state — and work in the same fields. We sometimes even vote for the same candidate, cheer for the same team or player and find joy and solace in the same Bach, Beethoven, Chopin and Mozart symphony. We have given you Jazz, Blues, Rumba, Rock, Reggae, Hip Hop, Grime, Afrobeat, Zouk and Kompa and a myriad of genres and dances to enjoy and tax.
Yet, in spite of all of this and much, much more, the incontrovertible fact for many Black people is that your whiteness continues to terrorise us; to paralyse us socially, economically and politically. It stunts our growth at home and across the globe where we have made new homes.
In Africa, for instance, we see it in your democratically-elected government's support for military coups, insurgencies and, of course, brutal and corrupt leaders like Paul Kagame, Idriss Deby, Paul Biya and Joseph Kabila knowing full well that their support will lead to instability, violence, poverty, famine and de-development across Africa.
In my beloved Congo, the culmination of decades of the West’s support to brutal and corrupt leaders for access to minerals that make our mobile phones vibrate have produced a war that killed over 5.4 million Congolese in a space of 10 years and continues to claim lives today. And as a general rule, the entire world is entirely silent about this.
I feel that for any change to happen, white people need to move on from simply being our allies to becoming anti-racist, to dismantle whiteness and create a better world for all.
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