Slavery. Colonialism. Racism.
Last week I posted something on the linkages between racism, colonialism, and slavery and few people asked me to elaborate. My post was related to murder of George Floyd, the protests, and discussions on de-funding the police. Police brutality is an instrument of racist policies, instituted to protect a certain status quo, a world order, that rationalized the domination and exploitation of certain people by another group of people.
Racism did not exist as a social construct and action prior to slavery and colonization. Racial differences did not become an issue until colonizers sought a justification for their subjection of Africa. It started with the transatlantic slave trade. Slave owners could only explain (to themselves and convince slaves) their treatment of other human beings by creating and propagating a concept that dehumanize slaves. The guilt of slavery could only be washed away with the notion that slaves were lesser humans. This happened in 18th century Europe and America, when a certain literature mixed with religious references created the persona of “savage.” Racism did not create slavery, just the opposite. Redeem “lost soul” and instilling civilization in “savages” justified any extremes.
Europeans were the power and knowledge and Africa provided the cheap labor and the natural resources. This could only be justified by using race as differentiator. Either brainwashed by religion or forcefully subject by the guns, Africans became “possessions” of Europe. Like Black Americans, hundreds of thousands of Africans died in European wars, defending European’s freedom but where denied the same freedom in their own countries.
After the slave trade took away millions of Africa’s youths to America, Europe easily conquered the continent and took it over in totality. Forced labor, land grab, military conscription and slave treatment were justified by the colonial concept that Africans were inferior human beings, who needed to be “civilized.” Colonization was presented as a humanitarian mission, to “redeem” Africans. Europeans were the power and knowledge and Africa provided the cheap labor and the natural resources. This could only be justified by using race as differentiator. Either brainwashed by religion or forcefully subject by the guns, Africans became “possessions” of Europe. Like Black Americans, hundreds of thousands of Africans died in European wars, defending European’s freedom but where denied the same freedom in their own countries.
Racism may have started in America, but it has come to define global relations. The darker the skin color of a person in 2020, the more likely that s/he is from a poor, mismanaged, and exploited country or area and vice versa. Africa became independent but remained clustered in the colonial narrative. The independent nations tried to morph into copycats of the colonizers and embarked on a self-defeating search of “development.” Independence freed the colonizers of the burden of the cost of administering the colonies, however it did not end the exploitation. Just like the civil rights in the US, independence on the continent did not lead to freedom from poverty, exploitation, and dependency.
Racism is not a genetic human trait; it is cultivated and maintained to ensure the survival of a socio-economic order. It becomes more effective when the victims become active participants in their own subjugation. Africa became independent but never gained control of its economy, Blacks in America, like Africans, attained all their civil rights but when comes to wealth, the reality is different. Africa created a political bureaucracy that takes its cues from former colonial masters while in America, the civil rights movement joined mainstream politics. In both cases, leaders took their eyes of the ball. For the past 500 years, Europe and Africa have been in contact, while Europe created wealth, Africa sunk into poverty. While democracy is taking hold on the continent, leaders find themselves at the head of bankrupt states, which had been mismanaged and exploited for decades. The concept of “development” the apex of ideological hoax. By accepting to be defined as “under-developed” Africans put themselves in a human sub-category.
There is no reference to racial differences in any literature, religious or secular in Europe prior to the slave trade and colonialism. With the Bible and the theories of evolution [Charles Darwin, etc.] that flourished in the centuries of colonization, it was easy to scale Africans down to the lowest level of humanity.
Police brutality is a by-product of racism and racism is the ideological and moral justification for a social and economic order deriving from slavery and colonialism. The changes that are needed to stop police brutality must start with redefining the mission of the police; educating both the police and the population about social protection and responsibility; and teach police about fairness and transparency in dealing human beings. So many bad apples cannot just be accidental. Police brutality can only end if viewed in the global context of the social structures that led to it.
Racism, as a by-product of the slave trade and colonialism, will disappear with social and economic justice. Moving forward will require three things: a sustained engagement of Non-black actors in the protest movement; beyond street protests, an education campaign targeting young people, tomorrow’s leaders; and globally, a transatlantic dialogue between Africans on the continent and the Diaspora, not limited to political discourse as in the 1950 to 1960s, but also involving scholarship and economic cooperation. Short of a serious and sustained engagement and strategy, racism will continue, and reformists will put in place a few-crowd pleasing cosmetic measures. Ending racism will end a certain power structure, therefore it will face enormous resistance, conscious or subconscious.