Why internalised whiteness remains a reality in various black majority contexts in Africa
The destruction of those statues may be satisfying, but abolishing the system that upholds white supremacy involves examining more surreptitious symbols.
When Chumani Maxwele, a black South African student, threw a bucket of shit over a statue of Cecil Rhodes, I wondered if he knew that it would kick off protests that would spread from Cape Town to Accra. Five years on, Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has borrowed the tactic and statutes of racist former colonisers that embed false narratives about history into its landscapes are falling globally.
The destruction of those statues may be satisfying, but abolishing the system that upholds white supremacy involves examining more surreptitious symbols. As Frantz Fanon put it, we are dealing with “black skins white masks” on the African continent.
Epidermalization of inferiority Expressions such as Kufanya kazi nzuri kama ya mzungu (doing a good job like a whiteman) in Kiswahili or ngbentha mo wupotho (shining like a whiteman) among the Temne of northern Sierra Leone are commonplace expressions. Like the former South African ant-apertheid campaigner Steve Biko once said, “The most powerful weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”.
History of racism forced Africans to modify their beliefs, thoughts, and behavior in order to survive on a white planet dominated. Africa countries are dubbed the third world, poor, developing countries. This has resulted in psychological distress and collective low self-esteem.
European accents, figures of speech, fashions, modes of dress – all of these come to act as ‘signals of class’ which contribute, in some Africans, to a feeling of equality with the European, to an apparent lessening of one’s blackness africanness. I am also writing this piece in English.
Art historian Professor Clifford Nwanna points to the arrival of Christian missionaries in African contributed to the ‘lessening of one's blackness. Historically some local people rendered cultural objects such as their gods, idols, and those statues "as things that don't have much value". Those African statues and culture symbols ended up in European museums while the now falling racist colonialists were erected in open spaces.
Beyond dismantling the statutes, the liberation of the mind has to start all across Africa. Even with calls to rename street names which glorify the men that extended colonial violence in Africa. This may not be enough. #RhodesMustFall, which inspired the current protests, coincides to the frequent xenophobic violent African-on-African attacks.
The BLM protests erupted amidst a global pandemic that started in China, but black African and African Americans in China targeted as carriers of the disease.
Back in Africa, the English language associated with the coronavirus campaign exposed the extent to which Africans have adopted or conformed to whiteness. So pathological that the
disbelief in African local knowledge, culture and expressions are embedded in “white supremacy”, internalised and self-implemented.
“If the Americans and the British are dying, and they have all it takes, how come we are surviving?” are common expressions. It is all down to a socially induced inferiority complex. The psychological impact of colonialism left the double damage on black identity. One: a post-colonial setting where institutions left by colonialists leave most of us sympathising with the white peoples withouting explicitly knowing. A Ugandan TV show recently displayed “All Lives Matter” a white supremacists slogan is the case in point. The second damage: subconscious emulation of the white ideals.
To know myself in the oppressor’s terms At the very beginning of the pandemic, perception was that African chances to survive the pandemic was doom awaiting. In Sierra Leone for example, the legacy of the ebola epidemic combined with the legacy of colonialism and previous government failures makes the situation even more complicated. Who should they trust?
It's not only about the Global media narratives powered by numbers and graphs, rational thought has been dominated by white dominant knowledge. The rationale of the common black man or woman is convinced within the system of positivist values of white or European culture.
It is a performative absurdity that Fifty four African countries took an unprecedented turn to call on the United Nations Human Rights Commission to adopt a resolution addressing institutional racism against people of black descent in America. While at the same time, the same countries brutalised protesters who took streets in solidarity with BLM.
Let's not forget that mult-national companies such as Unilever dropping “fair” from its Fair and Lovely brand and apologizing for exploiting racism and promoting whiteness are repacking the same product as Glow and Lovely still with skin lightening chemicals.
As scientists race against time to find a vaccine for Covid-19, African media and policy makers should be in a race to deconstruct dominant narratives that have cast an image of apocalyptic Africa but also go beyond: decolonise our local languages cultures curriculum that enables the epidermalization of inferiority. There is a need of a comprehensive transformation of structures of power that produces black elites, the ‘cream’ of black Africans that come to be incorporated into white power. The people less privileged, people in the dusty streets of Kampala, Soweto who are still oppressed by the system.
Follow Eric on twitter @e_mugaju