Give Us Free: Why Talking About Race is Still Necessary (Part 2)

12 Min Read

November 11, 2013 By Doreen Gaura

The Silencing of POC voices

Quashing resistance of an oppressive status quo and in this instance regarding race especially through censoring is nothing new but of course nowadays it is done in “more humane ways”. The most common form of muzzling POC voices is turning the blame around and directing it back at the people of colour who have been offended by a racist action and branding them the “anti white villain” and the white offender the victim of reverse racism. This was the rather tiresome recurring theme in all the objections to protestations against George Zimmerman’s acquittal, Cyrus’ “freak” show, Red October, Budgor’s cultural imperialism and Mahone’s black face party. In fact, persons of colour who express their opinions when it comes to racial inequality are deemed militant, antagonistic, divisive and resentful – seeking to alienate what few white allies we have. Our legitimate concerns, lived experiences and realities are often undermined and we’re often told to “just get over it”; get over close to five hundred years of oppression and its present day legacies.

We are warned against being too straight forward; to behave ourselves (not shut up completely because, you know, it’s cool to have a worthy cause other people can align themselves to in solidarity to ease their conscience) and are expected to insert caveats when speaking to a white pathology when it comes to privilege so as not to offend white people by, say, telling them that they have offended us. To quote Teju Cole:

“There is an expectation that we can talk about sins but no one must be identified as a sinner”

My personal favourite example of this is the block buster movie Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter which in my opinion was just yet another of many attempts by white liberals to distance themselves from one of the most horrific stains in European history; slavery, by making the slavers inhuman monsters i.e. vampires instead of the regular living, breathing homo sapiens white people they really were.

People are constantly dictating to us how offended we should be, if at all, by transgressions committed against us. Yes, ultimately we need to aim for a less racialised world but all voices have a right to be heard as to how we get there. Yes we need to work towards a world where race is not an issue but right now liberal whites are trying to dictate how we go about it, keeping with the historical narrative that “whites know best and are superior”. And no, being “colour blind” is not cool. The colour of my skin is one of the awesome things that make me who I am, I would really appreciate it if you didn’t try to disappear just you can make me more palatable to you. I thank you.

Victim Mentality vs. Just Cause

Yes there are some POC who will play the race card even in instances when it isn’t the case with the aim to reach crooked ends but most claims of offence are legitimate and should be regarded as such. Of course as persons of colour we are not perfect and never where, we as all humans, have our faults and flaws, but we also aren’t and weren’t as hopeless and sub-human as we are often portrayed and treated. Yes, we also need to be accountable and take responsibility for the things we’ve done to ourselves and each other and the things we do to hinder our own progress and trust me when I tell you that a lot of us do hold ourselves to account; we are not just targeting white people as a form of pay back or an attempt to make excuses for ourselves.

However, it must be acknowledged and understood that a racial hierarchy of power and authority does indeed still exist and it is inculcated in all of us from infancy, be it consciously or not, by most of the main institutions of socialization; schools, religion, the media, literature, music and political and public rhetoric. Calling people out on shit they repeat time and again is not necessarily playing the victim, it’s calling a spade a spade and demanding respect and the preservation of our dignity and claiming our own voices. Ignoring or normalising undesirable and potentially harmful things in our societies is not empowerment or taking a moral high ground – it’s being defeatist in nature and does nothing to challenge/ tear down bigger systemic issues and ideologies from which such mentalities are born. These things need to be addressed at all levels, from legislative and policy level to social levels and inter personal levels.

Recompense vs. Patronage

A Eurocentric supremacist mindset still exists in the world today; it just manifests itself in different ways. For instance, no real apologies have been made, or at least ones that really count, for colonialism and slavery and this, I suspect, is mostly because our former colonisers honestly believe that they did us a favour or rather that in our losses we also realised some gains i.e. “civilisation” and all the technological advancements we enjoy in the world today. Never mind that societies on the Afrikan continent were sufficiently civilised and advanced before they were colonised but we must also ask if this so called civilisation brought by our oppressors really did us any good; enough to justify our suffering especially when you look at all the conflict and alienation that’s resulted from the artificial borders and countries we have today that were determined by racist European desire for profit and power; disruption of families and the community, patriarchy, poverty, disease, global warming etc? This also ignores the fact that the positive things that have emerged that we enjoy today could very well have still taken place under less oppressive circumstances. Our oppression wasn’t a selfless good deed or act of kindness so let’s stop kidding ourselves.

Bearing all that in mind we still have people who believe that colonialism and slavery are the best things that ever happened to us. Apparently the world has already made amends by giving us back our freedom so what further apology or compensation do we need? Instead of compensation we get loans we cant pay back from the IMF and World Bank and donour organisations and developed world governments come into Afrika and do more harm than good and dictate that Afrikans should be more European if they are to get any aid. They also get to decide which leaders we should have and which ones are not legitimate, even the ones democratically elected e.g. Nkwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Patrice Lumumba of Zaire now DRC and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe (who has been a pain in their side for some time now). They police us and hold us accountable to international legislation which they themselves do not have to be accountable to.

Intercultural exchange vs. Cultural Appropriation

People, in defence of Miley Cyrus and Mindy Budgor, have claimed that people cannot call dibs on a culture and that people of colour have no right to tell anyone to keep their hands off our cultures never mind that they have found clever ways of protecting the lucrative aspects of their own cultures through nifty little tools like copy right law and intellectual property. But of course this is to be expected because the west has been siphoning from Afrika for centuries; Picasso with his “avant garde” cubism technique, the U.S. and their obelisk structure in D.C. and the Greeks with mathematics etc; the list is endless. Besides the fact that it is often the white cultural poachers who stand to benefit economically more than the originators of the cultures themselves there’s also the problem of the blatant disrespect and the distortion and bastardization of our cultures in the process. Things that have sacred significance to us become adulterated and in addition economically prohibitive and inaccessible to us the original intended beneficiaries.

Even if one argues cultural exchange instead of appropriation, it ignores the reality that there is a power dynamic involved which results in a huge difference in how intercultural exchange happens for white people and how it happens for POCs, especially Afrikans i.e. whites choose what they take in and incorporate and what they like and whatever they don’t like they usually attempt to change or (seldom) just leave it while for us Afrikans any white cultures that have been adopted into our societies were forced on us or we adopted as a means of survival through assimilation. White people do not lose anything from this exchange, if anything they always gain and yet us POC always lose.

You also need to understand that based on history and the continued racial inequality in the world and especially here on the continent our cultures have become a currency and an alternative tender of trade for survival but that is not to say that it doesn’t make us feel belittled but how else do you gain agency in an oppressive system except to participate in the system?

Some people attempt to minimise these transgressions by telling us that we should be flattered that others enjoy our cultures and as a result it can’t be viewed as racist but they forget that one can love Afrika and certain aspects of brown culture but can still hate brown people or hate that brown people come with the package or are in fact the rightful owners.

If you missed part 1 you can link to it here 

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