State of Naija – Whose Fault? Govt or People?

It can hardly be doubted that Nigeria – the state – is in a precarious position. Naija – the idea – seems to be flourishing, after a fashion. We seemed to be locked in a cyclic battle of according blame/responsibility for the survival/non-survival of the Nigeria. Who is responsible for Nigeria? What ails Nigeria? Is it a leadership problem? Or a followership one? I fear, however, that we are attempting to resolve complex matters by addressing simplistic questions. It is like trying to use a catapult to catch a raging lion. Without understanding the nature and purposes of a nation, its history, and the core of nationhood, we will be attempting to build a house by starting with the windows.

Because state demarcations are an artificial construct, there are no absolutes, all governance, democracy and the human rights frameworks are doing is to seek a suitable balance between authority and liberty. A stable nation requires enough authority to ensure sufficient control of resources and human behaviour, but not too much authority that it becomes oppressive; enough liberty to enjoy resources created and dispensed, but not too much that it results in anarchy. Both the governed and the governing create this balance by pulling in opposite directions. If there is any slack this will result in overcompensation. This balance cannot be created by only one side. The balance cannot be sought only during elections. If the nation has not been created by this push and pull, how can it possibly be maintained by it? The problem of Nigeria is that we have people in leadership positions, people in followership roles, but no leaders, no followers and ultimately no Nigeria.

I Still Don’t Want to Talk About Racism

We cannot end Racism, without speaking about it,

We cannot speak of what we do not know

The right to be free from race-talk discomfort is earned

This is a rewrite/update of a previous post. In the previous post I set out the baselines of racism and suggested that love will triumph over racism. I still believe that. But we are a long way from love. I am perturbed at the shock people express over aggressive acts of racism that happen in 2017. The objectification, over-sexualisation and racism that black women in public life are subject to also continues to rankle – Gina Miller, Diane Abbott, Serena Williams etc. But what is most frustrating is how slow we are to want to change.

Therefore I reiterate, labels are prisons which we use to deny each other and ourselves of the luxury of a nuanced identity. These labels contain the scripts and narratives entrenched in our subconscious that define our thinking. Because they are so entrenched we refuse to allow contestation, even when these narratives are patently false.

What is Racism?

Racism is difficult to define, however, it transcends mere hate or prejudice. I believe that the criminalisation of racist acts requires an objective definition of racism. So for my purposes as a legal scholar, I recognise the following definitions for my discourse.

According to the online Oxford Dictionary racism is ‘Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.’

The Merriam-Webster online Dictionary defines it as ‘a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.’

There is a really detailed definition from the Cambridge online Dictionary which defines racism as ‘the belief that people’s qualities are influenced by their race and that the members of other races are not as good as the members of your own, or the resulting unfair treatment of members of other races.’

Three things connect all these definitions: ‘difference’, ‘inherence’ and ‘subservience.’ Racism is based on the idea that one race is inherently inferior and another is inherently superior. All oppressions and discriminations and subjections flow from these beliefs. The outcomes of racism include exclusion, prejudice, hatred, inequality, and injustice. Without the impression of inferiority racism lacks definition or objectivity. Stereotyping is unfair and mostly unfounded, but is not in of itself racist. Racial attacks are horrible, but when not predicated on hierarchical motives and ideas, these are not strictly racism. It is the outcomes of racism that are the most significant in this discourse. Nevertheless, without systemization (normalisation) racism would have ended long ago.

The Place of Power and Systemization in Upholding Racism

Without power, racism would be a few isolated violent acts which would have long since died out. And we are all complicit in upholding racism. We are complicit by our silence and neutrality in a system of hierarchy of worlds. We wrongly promote diversity by bringing others into our world, the normal world, thereby entrenching dominant epistemologies. Rather we should be promoting an equality of worlds and diverse lived experiences.

Racism and colonialism are like fraternal twins, born together, looking similiar, but not identical. The force behind colonisation was the  ‘othering’ and infantilisation of people of colour – racism. Colonisation was created on the back of racism, and racism will not end without complete decolonisation. Decolonisation asks us to uproot the structures of power that demarcated people according to colour and accorded colour differentials intellectual value – anti-racism. These structures persist and we live in them, we trade in them, we are steeped in them. They are part of our dominator culture. These are the social constructions of race that mean that the darker you are, the more likely you are to be subject to violence and poverty and derision and prison and silence. Therefore, seemingly isolated incidents of racism are actually escalations connected to and fed by the pre-existing structural racialised societal architecture. While we draw back in horror and disgust at singular acts of overt racisms – the use of the N word, racialised violence – they are not as destructive as the sleeping cancer of structural racism. It is like being horrified by a headache, but undisturbed by rotting flesh, seeking a cure for the the common cold, but not for crushing cancers. It is because we failed to challenge the old racists that young racists are born, seeing clearly that the reward for racism is privilege and not ostracism.

By predicating our world on violence and dominator culture, we have erased the possibility for true and diverse dialogue. When my spirit meets with yours, we should not be distracted by the containers of our consciousnesses. By focusing on containers, we have lost the substance  of communion that is the true beauty of our world.

Myths and Misconceptions about Racism

So because we fail to understand the soul of racism, we misguidedly attack its tentacles with blunt weapons and false myths. Myths such as:

  1. ‘You cannot say certain words lest you be accused of racism.’ Mentioning someone’s race is not racism. The human race is beautiful in its diversity, recognising and celebrating that diversity empowers us. Patronising diversity is racism, because it is predicted on a narrative of inferiority.
  2. ‘S/he deserved that racist response.’ Racism is not justifiable and has no excuse. The idea that someone had done something to deserve racism is immoral. The need to demonise people who have been subject to racism goes back to the ideas of inherence and inferiority. If a person is a ‘thug’ then it is ok to be racist to them, right? Is it ever ok to be racist? This shows how deeply entrenched racism is in our psyche; it is easier to justify it than repudiate it.
  3. ‘Unintentional racism is not bad, also known as good people cannot be racist’. (Read the previous section) The problem with unintentional racism is that it is insidious, it is based on misinformation, ignorance and misrepresentations that are so deep-seated that confronting them will disrupt our understanding of the world around us. ‘The American Journal of Public Health reports that subtle racism is more psychologically damaging than overt discrimination. Whereas recipients can “shrug off” overt discrimination, subtle racism is more likely to be committed by colleagues, neighbours, or friends.’ Unintentional racism shows us that eradicating racism is an arduous and world-changing task that may not be finished in our lifetime. Josephine Kwhali talking about unintentional racism says “if it still is unconscious, there really is something worrying about what it will take for the unconscious to become conscious.” Millennia of campaigning?
  4. ‘Only a racist can do racist things.’ Racism is not an action. Identifying people as ‘racist’ is unhelpful and pointless. It is a label that is obtuse and opaque. Very few people believe that difference indicates inferiority deserving of exclusion. This does not mean that our actions cannot reflect the mores of the society which we live in. It is quite disconcerting to see people defend themselves against racist actions by saying ‘I am not a racist.’ The fact that you are not a tree does not mean you will not shed leaves if you have been walking through the forest. If you swim in effluent matter, you will smell, this does not make you human waste. The problem is that you can only legislate against an idea in societies where thought is crime. None exist…yet. Racism is more about the effect than the intention. By seeking to defend ourselves against structural racism, we personalise the issue, deflect and defuse it and resolve nothing. We make ourselves the centre of a war that was started years before we were even imagined.
  5. ‘Racism is inherent in certain races.’ The direction of racism in a society depends on the receptacle of power and privilege in that society. We cannot define the capacity for and character of racism solely by the experiences of our existence. Racism exists as difference, inherence and subservience. Any suggestion that a particular race is incapable of projecting these may itself be considered racist.
  6. ‘It is 2017, we are post-racial.’ The only thing that stops the narrative of the post-racial society from moving forward is the voices of victims who cry ‘No!’ Yet these are often called ‘playing the race card.’ Is it so difficult to believe that these cries may be true? Is it really, REALLY easier to believe that all, ALL people who complain of racism are lying?!

 

The Resulting Emotions of Racism

Rage: Rage is instinctive, it flows naturally from the offence. The feeling of powerlessness that racism inflicts results in rage and anger. The idea that one human being can take one look at another and consign the other to oblivion for no other reason than the colour of their skin has become so pervasive and unconscious such that the fact that this still happens induces rage. But wrath is destructive. Rage builds nothing. Anger tears apart the foundations of humanity.

Denial: The idea of racism is uncomfortable. The discomfort of the reality of the generational injustice makes us subconsciously reject the magnitude of its existence. But we cannot conquer what we do not face up to. This world belongs to us all. The good and the bad things are all ours to embrace or repudiate. Denial is futile and counterproductive.

Guilt: Guilt is universal. It arises out of a feeling of responsibility. We feel that by not doing more we have retrenched from our own high standards. But guilt is ineffective if we do not do more than feel guilty. If I have done/not done something that I should rightly feel guilty about, then it is my responsibility to change and not do or do. If I take no responsibility, then my guilt is self-serving.

Love: Love can never be too much. Love can be defined as ‘the unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another.’ Love and racism cannot cohabit. Love is like a candle that loses nothing by lighting another candle. Every action predicated on love that is pure will yield unselfish results. If we can look into to face of any human being and feel love, than the world will heal itself. But for love to dismantle racism, it has to be coupled with knowledge and wisdom. Trying to love each other out of racism without knowledge is like driving a car with out learning how to drive. It is an accident waiting to happen.

But indifference is not an emotion. It is the absence of emotion.

Remember that racism cripples us all, it objectifies the victim and deprives the world of the beauty of our dynamism and complexity.

Remember that victims are not saints and perpetrators are not monsters.

Racism exists and continues to be widespread because of the unconscious fear in accepting the existing level of racism is accepting that you could be a racist – that much racism cannot possibly exist without us all being complicit, overtly or covertly.

We have created the myth of the racist monster and the saintly sufferer. We need to avoid denying the humanity of monsters and the monstrosity inherent in all humanity. We need to repudiate hate and ignorance, and embrace positive change and love, accepting love, expansive love, for all.

Love-Quotes-martin-luther-king

The Song of Ifrani (Africa)

Man is born crying, Ifrani was born howling,

On a hot dusty day I, Ifrani was born, howling in pain as if in premonition of the life to come.

I was born amidst a sea of green, gold, lush with its ripeness and fullness, waterfalls spiralled around me;

Nature sang a song rich in its cadence, so rich, men weep to hear it, and no one ever forgets it, though they hear it but once.

tsisat-falls-ethiopia

 

And yet I howled at birth, but thrived in youth, growing as quickly as a palm tree, whose water source never dries.

And then I howled wildly as men surrounded me, wildly violating me and stripping my skin;

I was cast in chains and dragged off to work for my brothers, human like me, blood like mine, bones like mine

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And then they came yet again, these brothers of mine and  for the half-life left at home, And for a second I rejoiced, for I was home again, would grow again;

But alas, they locked me in a cell, forbidding me to speak or dance or talk or think or feel without permission;

They told me what to think, and what to wear and what was right and what was wrong;

They told me who I was, what I could never be, that I could never be free

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And then they left.

Opened the prison doors and left. Yet again I rejoiced, for a second I thought to myself ‘here at last is true freedom’.

But then my body betrayed me. For though all around me lay green gold and growing nectar,

My hands refused to plough and my feet refused to move; I fell to the ground ravaged by hunger and disease.

Nigeria Floating Slum

 

Now here I lie the great Ifrani, fallen and dying.

But I do not die!

My body is constantly torn apart with its own wars, but it refuses to die.

Oh! How I pray for death. I should take nothing from my brothers;

Even if begged me, I should take nothing from them.

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My body rots and the sun dries the pus and larvae eat my flesh;

And the jackboots trample me,

The gunshots echo over my head, piercing my dreams, piercing my nightmares

The bodies of my children, pile up the stink drawing the flies and the vultures

and the human flies and human vultures.

The bodies of my children float to the surface of the waters,

The scene of their aborted quest for freedom.

And yet I will never die; though I live in pain, the pain of war and strife.

TO GO WITH AFP STORY ON UN HUMAN RIGHTS

 

And what will you do? You who hears the howling of Ifrani?

 

II

And my children (for they are many) flee to the homes of my brothers,

And they wait years at the door before they are let in,

To enter they promise not to eat, nor sleep on the beds,

They promise to wash the toilets

They promise to empty the trash.

And their cousins cringe from them,

As if they had a contagious disease.

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But what can I do?

Stripped of everything but my pride, I cannot feed my children,

So they must go begging to their uncles who laid me waste…

And where is Freedom?

Is she hiding or was she killed too,

Another innocent ground to dust?

For here Silence reigns,

An evil taskmaster,

With a nefarious grin.

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What must become of Ifrani and her children?

 

 

But this is not the end of the story, this cannot be the end.

For though my body lies ravaged like an aging tree striped of its bark;

My spirit leaps within be like a young deer.

My spirit still sings songs of aspiration,

My spirit still dreams dreams of deliverance.

Adversity may have laid me waste,

But my time is not done yet,

My song is not over yet and I am still here.

I still live and I still breathe and I still hope.

And my eyes still look up to the horizon,

Still look up to tomorrow,

Still look up in hope.

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‘Ifrani’ is a play on the word ‘ifran’ from which Africa derives her name

 

 

Timbuktu: Site of 1st African University

Many Africans and non-Africans believe that the quest for knowledge originated outside the continent. I would like to present the evidence of Sankoré in Timbuktu.

Sankoré, the famous medieval mosque-university at Timbuktu (in present day Mali) was set up around the twelfth century; and teaching was based on Arabic scholarship and Islamic values.  More sophisticated methods of adjudication and political administration, were also established. It was initially a mosque built by Mansa Musa in the year 1327. By the end of Mansa Musa’s reign (early 14th century AD), Sankoré had been converted into a fully staffed Islamic school-university with the largest collections of books in Africa since the Library of Alexandria. The level of learning at Sankoré University was superior to that of all other Islamic centres in the world. It was capable of housing 25,000 students and had one of the largest libraries in the world with between 400,000 to 700,000 manuscripts.

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The University had four degree levels. The primary degree level at Quran schools introduced students to the holy Quran, Arabic language and basics in science. The secondary degree or general studies level students were introduced to grammar, commentaries of the Quran, the hadiths, prophetic narrations jurisprudence, mathematics, physics, chemistry, history, trade, Islamic business code and ethics. The superior degree consisted of highly specialized learning where students were guided by professors and it took about ten years. It was equivalent to a doctoral degree. The University also hosted the Circle of Knowledge which was a specialized club of scholars and professors. Students who impressed their teachers were admitted to circle of knowledge and became tenured professors.

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State leaders such as Mansa Musa of Mali, Askia Muhammad I of Songhay, Sheik Amadu of Fulani caliphate of Massina, and Emirs of Sudan often sent questions on major issues to Circle of Knowledge for guidance demonstrating centrality of university education in the sustainability of society. The Circle of Knowledge provided a ruling that was often respected and binding on the issue at hand. Scholars of Sankoré included Ahmad Babu as-Sudane (1564-1627) the final chancellor of Sankoré University before the Moroccan invasion in 1593. He wrote more than 60 books in law, medicine, philosophy, astronomy, Mathematics. Others included Muhammed Bagayogo as-sudane al-Wangari al Timbuktu. He was conferred with honorary doctorate degree from Al –Azhar University in Cairo.

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During the uprising the Mali in 2012, it was feared that Sankore would be destroyed. Thankfully it was not. Sankore, and its legacy of historic African enlightenment still stands, for now. It is an African legacy we should be proud of.

A World of Falling Skies & Dominator Culture

Women hold up half the sky – Mao Zedong

I do not like the idea of ’empowering women.’ Hear me out. Hold the firing squad. When we speak along those lines, we suggest that women are inherently powerless. We suggest that there is something within womenfolk that needs to be corrected to grant them agency. We ignore millenia of cultures and policies that were designed to strip women of their inherent power. We ignore the way women have withstood these efforts and persisted and what women have achieved despite real and indirect violence. We put responsibility for change solely on women. Without putting responsibility for change where it should rightly be, we cannot see real and lasting change.

Most men do not realise how they are socially conditioned to be violent. Jamie Utt wrote a very instructive article on men’s blindspots to socialised behaviour which could be potentially abusive. It is worth a read.

Someone else worth reading on this is bell hooks, who talks about ‘dominator culture.’ She says:

“Dominator culture teaches all of us that the core of our identity is defined by the will to dominate and control others. We are taught that this will to dominate is more biologically hardwired in males than in females. In actuality, dominator culture teaches us that we are all natural-born killers but that males are more able to realize the predator role. In the dominator model the pursuit of external power, the ability to manipulate and control others, is what matters most. When culture is based on a dominator model, not only will it be violent but it will frame all relationships as power struggles.”

bell hooks, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love (Atria Books, 2004) 115

Put very simply, she is saying that our global value system is based on violence and not virtue. Biologically men are stronger than women, so we as society give men more value – establishing patriarchy. The richer you are the more able you are to assert all forms of violence against the less rich – establishing classism. The social constructions of race mean that the darker you are, the more likely you are to be subject to violence – establishing racism. Dominator culture can never achieve community. It is a culture better suited for destruction.

We have constructed a world based on false values and prioritised violence.

The history of the world is a history of violence. A history of domination and oppression.

Reform that attempts to correct the oppressed but not the oppressor is doomed to failure.

And our skies will keep on falling, because half the world is holding down the other half.

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‘The Negro Speaks of Rivers’ by Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes, 1902 – 1967

I’ve known rivers:

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.

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I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.

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I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.

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I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

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I’ve known rivers: Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

We Still Dream…

Africa is an eternal thought in the mind of God.

If there were no Africa, I’d still dream of her.

My dreams would be filled with moonlight and sunlight,

Raging rivers and still seas, cascading waterfalls, gushing geysers.

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I’d dream of sounds of sorrow, loud laughter, strains of songs,

Wailing and weeping, groans and grunts, cries and cackles.

I’d hear the slap of bare feet running across the Savannah floor,

The clap of hands, rhythmically imploring the divine deity,

The music of the forest, the silence of the desert, the rhythm of Africa.

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All through the night, my dreams would be dreams of Africa

Dreams of her painful beauty, dreams of her serene bondage.

And then the sun will rise…over Africa.

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No Anomaly

(I have always believed that goodness is the aberration in humanity, not evil.)

We are survivors

We are killers

We are bystanders

We are humanity.

 

We are the holocaust

We are the concentration camps in British South Africa

We are the concentration camps in American California

We are Herero

We are the Middle Passage

We are Nauru

We are Srebrenica

We are Soweto

We are Rwanda

We are Biafra

 

We are everyday sexism

We are garden variety racism

We are modern day slavery.

We are hatred and bile, love and indifference.

 

 

We are survivors

We are killers

We are destruction

We are the barrel of the gun

We are bystanders

We are human

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Tell Your Children…

Tell your children where you’ve been.

Our stories are connected pathways that lead us to freedom.

Our journeys are overlapping roads on the way to Paradise.

May we never get lost on the upward pathway,

Though we travel through trial and tribulation,

We remain connected to our parents’ journeys

So tell your children where you’ve been.

May we all meet at the end of life’s Rainbows.

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Reclaiming ‘race’ in postcolonialism: A personal reflection on the politics of the racial experience

‘As a person of colour, I can say that it has been difficult to process these incidences of intellectual racism, where it is argued that an experience of racial violence that people of colour know all too well, must first be validated by the pen of someone’s much older and whiter hand, and that the racialized authors I take pride in are never a true product of their own subjective experiences of alienation but are instead products of their white education.’

Media Diversified

Written by Amal Abu-Bakare and edited by Xavia Warren

This past October, while reading Homi Bhabha’s TheLocation of Culture, I came across the following poetic verse:

“I am standing here in your poem-unsatisfied.” (1994:xxi)

Originating from Eastern War Time, a poem by the radical feminist Adrienne Rich, this verse was highlighted by the famous literary critic and postcolonial author as an important example of a ‘peculiar political stance’ not to be undermined.[i] For myself, Rich’s words invoked a personal reflection on my own political stance, as a person of colour trying to locate myself in the academic field of International Relations (IR).

IR is the scholarly pursuit of knowledge about the international: its politics, its history, and its events. I originally pursued this area of study whilst trying to understand my own politicized experiences as a racialized Muslim woman growing up in the post-9/11 era. Despite a Eurocentric…

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