China is under fire for the widespread mistreatment of Africans in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This week, the United States joined the African Union and several African governments to condemn acts of discrimination that have seen Africans forcibly thrown onto the streets from their accommodations, denied service in restaurants, hospitals or access to public transport. Even African Americans were not spared, reflecting the general prejudice against the black race.
China says it was simply enforcing compulsory Covid-19 testing, a necessary measure in the present circumstances. However, that does not explain how displacing people and denying them basic rights and access to essential services advances that goal.
Whatever the intention, this approach risks giving Covid-19 a black appellation; and setting back a century of efforts to end discrimination against people of colour.
Even if one was dealing with blacks living in China illegally, they should be handled within the provisions of the law and given them incentives to come out of hiding.
Even if what has been reported are the actions of individual Chinese citizens, Beijing’s explanation will only be credible when it is seen to be taking action against the perpetrators.
Although fears have been expressed, it is unlikely that there will be a widespread backlash against Chinese in Africa. Despite their often tumultuous encounter with the outside world, Africans are perhaps the only ones that accept outsiders without much prejudice.
To a certain extent, looking at the attacks against blacks in China through the lenses of what is currently in there, would be to understate the black problem by a wide margin.
The attacks speak to the wider challenge of the status of blacks in the community of humans. The raw sentiments triggered by Covid-19 among the Chinese is a microcosm of the racial bias black people face elsewhere including in Europe and the US, where they are euphemistically called people of colour or African American, rather than simply Americans.
Covid-19 mortality rates from its hotspots in the US, are exposing the consequences of decades of social and economic marginalisation of the black population there.
With the black population rising rapidly and likely to be dominant in the coming decades, it is important that the world talks and rethinks race relations, to preclude morally reprehensible actions that target them in the future.
It is difficult for the African to rationalise why races that feel entitled to belong and stay anywhere they choose on earth, should deny them the same privilege.
Obviously China has an immediate task at hand and must do something to stop the current mistreatment. But it will require a deeper introspection, and a more concerted and very visible global effort to change the attitude towards the black race.
It is not an impossible task and there is historical precedent to support the notion that the black race can be rehabilitated.
For millennia, the Jews suffered comparable prejudice and at one point even had to survive mass murder. Yet a polar shift in attitude that spurred a moral movement in the West to protect them from harm; coupled with the Jew’s own efforts to improve this status, have changed that.