Slaying centuries-old racism is hard work but it can be done

Saturday April 25 2020

Is there a WhatsApp group anywhere in Africa that is not discussing racism against black people, particularly in China?

Racism is a long-standing reality for black people, manifested through slavery, colonialism and apartheid, reducing black people to one affiliation—that of those to be subjugated.
Racism takes many shapes today, such as the stereotypical images of black people in the controversial advert by Chinese laundry detergent brand in which a Chinese woman is shown pushing a black man into a washing machine, turning him into a light skinned Asian man.
Enormous amounts of research prove ethnic and racial inequalities in American society with black people facing police brutality, structural barriers to quality housing, healthcare, employment and education.
Many would be racists are exposed to misinformation about people different from themselves at an early age. They receive second-hand distorted information, shaped by stereotypes and prejudice.
With this foundation, the key to understanding racism lies in knowing that racists exercise power. One can have prejudices, however, taking part in discrimination or a hate crime requires power, either real or perceived, over the victim.
In speaking of racism, I am writing about an expression of prejudice from a mostly seemingly more powerful entity, directed at an individual in a less privileged position, through power.
Circulating videos show racists exercising power supported by societal attitudes, and sometimes policies and legislation rationalising discriminatory treatment towards Africans.
Societal support is key in understanding why racism drives people to the worst kind of extremism, and why they consider their racist acts legitimate and surprised if their actions are termed criminal. With its attendant violence, racism is an outward expression of narratives and discourses accepted by races against other races.
Sometimes, racism is perpetrated by a system in which a group of people exercise power over another. Colonialism, for instance, legalised segregation of races, poor healthcare, inferior education and unequal economic opportunities, exclusion and the distortion of African history.

Tragically, many Africans learnt the history of other nations at the expense of African history.

Africans have taken too long to realise history carries tradition and culture and therefore relevance. How many Africans know of the kingdom of Aksum or the 13th century libraries of Timbuktu?

Racism has survived for centuries through the use of disingenuous methods.
Slave traders used the Bible to justify and formulate an ideological defence of slavery, terming black people the descendants of Ham, the son who saw his father Noah naked in a drunken state and instead of covering him, told his brothers, Shem and Japheth.

The two brothers covered their father and Noah in turn cursed Canaan, the son of Ham, declaring that he would be a servant to Shem and Japheth. Slave traders claimed Ham was black.


This story, known as the curse of Ham, became the foundational text of validation of slavery despite its obvious flaws. Why was Canaan and not Ham cursed? How was it genetically possible that Ham was black with two brothers of different races from whom the Caucasian and Mongoloid races supposedly came from? And why were the Canaanites who settled in the Middle East not black?
This generation of Africans is called to take on racism against black people. It will not be easy, but it can be done.
In the 1960’s black people encountered signs saying EUROPEANS ONLY in major hotels in Nairobi
Ending racism is hard work. Across the breadth of particularly the Western world, there is a resurgence of virulent nationalism, accompanied by racism against black people.
New ideas and facts are unlikely to make racists reconsider their attitudes and habits and give up their power overnight.

African countries must devise strategies, policies and legislation on protection of their citizens from racism everywhere and scrupulously implement them.

Blaming Africans facing racism in foreign lands for seeking greener pastures feeds into a discourse of victim blaming and a failure of responding to racism in public policy. The strategies must have teeth and resources for meaningful interventions.

Africans complaining about racism are most often than not, shut down by being asked to first deal with ethnic divisions in Africa. This is will work in the current circumstances.

Many Africans, and not isolated examples, are walking around with images of enduring persecution of their race and one wonders how leaders remain unmoved.

Racism is truly an expression of the failure of recognition of the inclusive societies’ pluralism promotes.

Alice Wairimu Nderitu is the author of Beyond Ethnicism, Mukami Kimathi, Mau Mau Freedom Fighter and Kenya: Bridging Ethnic Divides [email protected]