There you have it; and one mustn’t shy away from such perceptions. Especially when those perceptions are almost exclusively directed at one people in particular: Africans. But how right or how bigoted have Africa’s cultural critics been in recent years? They cite the social sciences, they cite IQ studies, they cite long-lived experience on the diaspora. Black Africans reputations, unfortunately, precede them. And cultural critics have no shortage of ammunition in their attacks.
Such dogmatic views are racist, you may say. Of course they are. They are seeped in despicable superiority. Even worse, they are still common. But that’s not the reason I risk offending the black African reader now. The reason I risk it is to ask the black African reader this: are their critics wrong? And, as a corollary, to what extent should the black African’s image continue to be blamed on the bigotry of other races? Do African nations not have black majority rule? Does Africa not have black majority populations? Is Africa not host to many of the 21st century’s poorest, most illiterate, and most underdeveloped regions? The idea is not to exempt blame where blame’s due on foreigners, but to look deeper at the mechanics of black African attitudes without incurring outside
blame nor racist explanations. I cannot succeed or fail in this article alone, but I can pose the question in a fashion that leads us away from the bullshit of “blame white people” or “blame black genes”.
Nor is the idea to discredit the development of Africa this past decade. Black Africa is growing, and rapidly. The idea, instead, is to examine thriving liberal notions that empower Black on White racism. Encouraging black Africans to despise foreigners for the situations they find themselves in; to instil concepts like slave-mentality, as if black Africans are so fragile. They are not. This is how you sell newspapers in the 21st century.
You, as an educated black African, are not blind to the behaviours in your society. You, like your alternative ethnic neighbours, think about and discuss or argue your differences as a group. In a bar, at a party, on an online forum; with both your black and your white friends. White supremacy?
Perhaps that’s it – Yes. It’s a common remedy to this thought problem, and it satisfies many black Africans as much as asserting the inherent delinquency of black Africans satisfies racists. The whites have always been trying to keep the black man down. Everywhere in Africa, it’s European education, European clothing, European thinking. A conspiracy to cull the black African’s sense of identity that has been years in the making. This isn’t you, this isn’t your culture. If contemporary black African civilization has a bad track record, it’s because other nations of people stacked their deck as such. If you find conclusive solace with this answer, I cannot hope to divert your attention.
But I wish to continue with some observations regardless. Observations from one country in particular. It’s hard living in Zambia. Even if you’re not one of the majority; slumming it in the graces of mass unemployment, illiteracy and the overall experience of being entirely ignored by society at large. I don’t even have to mention the majority, the total landscape of consensus; and only notice the minorities to see how damn well hard it is to get by here with a smile on one’s face. Well, I’m only addressing people like myself I suppose. People who grew up in secular, fair and Just societies; hard won I might add. Where solidarity means something; where our successes and mistakes are often measured against the impact on our most unfortunate. People who have come to appreciate the daily joy of such environments; it is us who may look at city life in Zambia and care to dwell: am I pleased with what I see, or do I find my stomach churning on occasion?
Children sniffing petroleum at the Northmead filling station while well-to-do families feast inside; it’s Two-For-Tuesdays at the local pizza joint, after all. Not to be missed; despite the inconvenient site of barely clothed, malnourished children waiting outside in the hopes of a mercy slice. Or is it the parade of luxury automobiles that fly by carrying government royalty? Ornamental flags lapping in the wind, the sirens of chinese-donated police cars pounding into the sky. That road hasn’t been repaired in twenty years. That child, confused at the limousine-hummer hybrid encasing one of his leaders, hasn’t ingested anything but nshima and petroleum for the past five days.
Who do we blame for such apathy? Is it not an insult to blame the way one society collaborates with itself on nothing but the influence of other societies? Even when that influence has been seeped in violence and degradation against the society in question? The Chinese in Indonesia, the Jewish in Germany, the Germans in Russia, the Japanese in Peru, the Ibos in northern Nigeria, the Armenians in Turkey; all have known oppression of this kind in the last century.* They succeeded anyway, economically and culturally.
I am not here to blame specific governments. I am here to point out some facts. Black African leaders are voted into power by a majorly uneducated population. Secondly, those smart enough to see the cloud before the storm, and wealthy enough to do something about it, have a habit of emigrating to the developed world. The act of getting out of dodge. Educated Africans, for instance, who are the only ones in a position to tackle this dilemma, never fail to elect for their own self-preservation instincts instead; echoing the narcissism of the leadership they flee from. This nasty circle of ‘every African for themselves’ is perhaps why Africa is so disproportionately ruled by dictators as compared with the rest of the third world. Whatever effects this common response among educated black Africans may prelude throughout African societies, to what extent can we still blame them on the influence of non-Africans? Particularly when non-Africans are flooding in to support the societies that those Africans are abandoning?
Non-Africans enjoy blaming themselves a lot. We see Africa and cringe, ultimately finding no better moral resolve than to scapegoat ourselves. To put the blame on everyone but Africans. To vein an attempt at exulting ourselves from a history of barbarism against your people. But we do you no good; not be pretending you’re not aware, intelligent and capable enough to recognise your own shortcomings toward building a much fairer corner of our planet.
This month, the Zambian minister announced a $2,000.00 reward:
“To anyone who can unmask the identity of people behind independent media website Zambian Watchdog, for writing stories and printing pictures alleging infidelity against him.”**
Now, I care less for such gossip posed as journalism. There are real people suffering in this country that need representation. However, a government minister offering a reward for the capture of magazine editors and journalists is problematic to put it mildly. I plan to abide by the law and honour the request of Zambia’s government; nothing in this article is meant to discredit individuals, but rather reflect on black African’s attitudes towards one another in the quest for solidarity. The government imprisoned more of it’s critics last year, journalists for the ‘Zambian Watchdog’, and is now targeting online publications that express anything but bias. The minister continues: “Zambians must realise that whatever they put out on online media contributes to the positive growth of the country. Communication must be used to help bring about positive change in the country.”**
I fully support the notion that Zambian people should work hand-in-hand with Zambia’s current PF government for the sake of law and order. But it’s a two way street; and I am merely pointing out that if Patriotic Front’s intention is to avoid appearing as a negative force to the rest of the world, and promote positive change, then clamping down on the media – essentially rendering freedom of press and freedom of speech as a criminal offence – will only have the opposite effect. America’s own government gets some of the most extraneously negative criticism from it’s own media that we know of, but this has not tarnished the positive growth of America so much as aided it. Giving citizens the right to speak their minds not only empowers them as a community, but also encourages an underlying trust in their leaders. The notion that they can feel safe, knowing their leaders will hear and respond to their grievances without persecuting them for the act of thinking.
Which brings us to my opening declaration of black African stereotypes. It’s not that black Africans are not capable, they clearly are, so much as that when they express their intelligence and their sense of liberty, they are persecuted for it.
Are we still so eager to blame everyone but ourselves for the way we behave? If posing this hard question is not an attempt to contribute to the positive growth of all African countries. Then you and I have very different definitions of those words.
*Thomas Sowell (Race & Culture: A World View, 1994)
**ZNBC, Lusakavoice, UKZAMBIANS