George Floyd and A History of Black Oppression

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By Alhaji Umar N’jai

In the past two weeks, protests over the racially motivated killing of George Floyd in the hands of Police officers has spread across cities in America, and renewed debates about systemic racism, police brutality, and oppression of black people globally. George Floyd, a black man in handcuffs, lying down the floor with a Police officer kneeling on his neck for 9 minutes till his life goes out is reminiscent of the killings, lynchings, rape, imprisonments, and violence perpetrated against black people from slavery through colonialisms to present.

Throughout History there has been a deliberate and intentional effort by the oppressor to miseducate, misrepresent, misdiagnose, mislabel, and mistreat the African. In so doing, the oppressor has managed to sow the seeds of discord, hate and stereotypes among its descendants, some of whom are well-meaning and have desires to break from their oppressor ancestors. Often the descendants of the oppressor are trapped as James Baldwin (Letter to My Nephew, Progressive Magazine, 1962) noted in a history they do not understand. They simply do not understand the historical basis of their privilege in society and how that connects to the marginalized condition of the oppressed. The souls of black folks whether in America, Caribbean or Africa are connected by a history of brutal oppression, rape, lynchings, resource exploitation, mischaracterizations, miseducation, and historical misrepresentations.

Such misrepresentations are so profound and powerful to the extent that the oppressed black folks have now come to believe that is what they are, leading to inferiority complex, self-hate, and self-doubt. As Chinua Achebe aptly put it in Things Fall Apart, it is as if a knife has been put on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart. The results of over 400 years of programming, imprinting, violence, and cultural domination has been self-hate, self-doubt, and psychological damage to our psyche as black people in the African continent and the diasporas.

The oppressor, on the other hand, feels a false sense of power and superiority, aided and abetted by a greedy, socially unjust Capitalist system, seeks to validate and justify their actions (be it slavery, colonialism, or segregation) through organized systemic racism, explicit and implicit. The oppressed is then locked in a global system that keeps them marginalized, in perpetual backwardness, poverty, and dependency; be it economic, academic, or cultural dependency. Walter Rodney makes the case in How Europe Underdeveloped Africa that African poverty is not a natural feature of geography or a consequence of culture, but a direct consequence of imperial extraction from the continent, and that continues to the present.

Indeed, the resultant multicultural environment the oppressor creates, will always consist of an interaction between the ultimate culture of power (the Oppressor) versus the ultimate culture of marginalization (the Oppressed). The oppressor continually seeks to validate and justify his actions against black people from enslavement (a free labor imperative), colonialism (a territorial imperative), to post-independence and neocolonialism (welcome to the Oppressor club like the Common Wealth, the United Nations, the Francophone etc.) For the oppressed, the welcome to the oppressor club has largely been through a deliberate miseducation with a brainwashed curriculum that pits black folks (Africans and Diasporans) against their systems, that denies them of their own existentialism, re-writes their histories, religions, scientific accomplishments, and reinforces cultural dependency.

As Frantz Fanon writes in The Wretched of the Earth, “The oppressed will always believe the worst about themselves.” Hence, the sum total of the oppressor effect has been the damage to Black People’s mental psyche (aka mental slavery), that feeds into the self-hate and self-doubt, fueled by a dependent education systems (primarily through Universities) that puts everything about the African as inferior and becoming more like the oppressor, is the ultimate way out of our moral, social and economic decadence. The late Legendary Reggae Musician Robert Nesta Marley in his Redemption song, “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds,” also speaks to the links between slavery and our psyche.

The values and perspectives of the oppressor are transmitted to the oppressed in ways that are out of all proportion to their values. As Ali Mazrui writes in several publications on the seven lenses of culture, the vices of the powerful acquire some of the prestige of power; so even vices of the oppressor become prestigious to the oppressed. This is the case for oppressed black folks from Africa to America’s, Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean’s. Worst of all, the neoliberal education systems of the oppressor shifts the blame for the political or socio-economic malaise from the slave masters, colonialists, the oppressors, and the looters of our resources to the Black Africans, who invariably are the victims of the very same slavery, colonial and neo-colonial systems.

The African American experience from slavery through abolition, Jim Crow segregation laws, to civil rights movements of the ‘60s that sought to bring greater equality, fairness, and tolerance, has been one of tokenism, individual success stories (Oprah’s, Obama’s, and so on) along with implicit and explicit systemic racisms that ensures collective success is impossible. Having been successfully deculturated through a process of de-Africanization during slavery; a period when their history was stolen from them, rob of their languages, identity, humanity, and culture with their communal family structure from Africa dismantled, and replaced by a Capitalist institution that emphasizes individual success along with greedy economic systems. Hence, the African American then is caught in a reality that is not their creation; a spiral of poverty, gun violence, police brutalities, drugs, gangs, and so on, that are the ultimate result of years of dehumanization, subhuman bondage, and systemic racism in a socially unjust class based society that denies them access to basic opportunities.

A similar albeit slight differences in experience exists for the African within the continent; where systemic racism is replaced by ethnic polarization in the nation states; we all have been conditioned to hate ourselves; to hate our dark skins; to hate ourselves based on imaginary national boundaries of colonial construct. We are Sierra Leoneans, Guineans, Liberians, Gambians, Senegalese, Malians divided by a colonial construct despite strong family and ethnic ties. The Ebola virus disease taught us the hard lesson that we are all connected as a people but we continue to work in silos and in line with our colonial masters (Sierra Leone with Britain, Liberia with US, and Guinea with France). We cannot get ECOWAS or Mano River Union to work for us and address common issues simply because of colonial allegiances. In our countries, we practice democracy based on ethnic numbers and self-hate; We elect our political leaders, hire and fire people based on ethnic sentiments and differences; we care less whether our actions hurt others or communities, as long as we perceive them to be different.

All aspects of the African value systems have been replaced by the values and even vices of the oppressor; First, Greed and individual material self-interests replaces the African communal sharing systems; deculturation or de-Africanization for African Americans replaced by extreme Britishmanisms, Frenchmanisms or other forms of Europeanism; Second, African education systems replaced by a colonial western formal education that has enhanced both academic (Science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics, and humanities) and cultural dependency, therefore everything African has to be evaluated and validated from a Eurocentric lens, the culture of dominance and power;

Third, long-sighted visionary and transformational Panafrican Independence leaders replaced by mediocre leaders, whose shortsightedness are enjoyed by the western donors or colonialists as it ensures the chain of dependency and unfettered access to Africa’s resources is maintained; Fourth, African traditional pluralistic religions replaced by monotheism and strong tendencies for dichotomy; you are either Christian or not, Muslim or not, and no tendency to combine them. By contrast, African traditional religions are less dichotomous, less monotheistic, and are readily accepting of other religions, which allows for greater plurality and acceptance of diversity.

Fifth, As in African Americans, we see African ingenuity, self-reliance, and economic activity replaced by donor funding, foreign investments (world bank, IMF), International NGOs, foreign aid, multinational investments, and variety of half-sighted neoliberal foreign economic models that are sustainable, inimical to the African needs, and ensures economic dependency. Therefore, with both the African Americans and continental Africans trapped in some form of systemic racism and dependency, respectively, the vicious cycle of poverty, despair, violence, wars, and underdevelopment takes hold in communities and countries. The divide and rule actions of the oppressor also makes it impossible for unity of the oppressed black people. In United States, Africans and African Americans are caught up in self-hate, rivalries, disunity, and distorted views of their own histories provided by the same oppressors bent on keeping them apart. In the end, Africans and their American brethren spend more time on determining superiority rather than meaningful steps towards breaking the shackles of oppression.

To break the cycle of dependency, systemic racism, and oppression, may require nothing short of a revolution, a break with current capitalist structures that ensures western hegemonic dominance. The series of revolutions that won’t be televised, should at the very least include; a Blue Intellectual revolution from which new sources of knowledge should emerge; a green revolution for food security, greater control of Africa’s natural resources; a black revolution that culturally empowers African people across the globe; a red revolution that unites and liberates all people of African ancestry globally, and links them to young and old to the African continent through service, projects, and cultural education; a yellow revolution that ushers industrialization and wealth creation for Africa; and a white, pink, purple, orange, and so revolutions that ensues all aspects of self-reliance and sustainability are attained.

Finally, as Fanon put its aptly in The Wretched of the Earth, “Imperialism leaves behind germs of rot which we must clinically detect and remove from our land but from our minds as well.” Therefore, to achieve full and total liberation of the African people will require unification of thoughts, economic freedom, self-reliance, and politically powerful Africa. An economically and politically powerful federated Africa (including the Diaspora) will restore the dignity of its people and ensure that it resources are utilized to the benefits of its people, and preserve the diverse cultures of its people.

*About the author
Alhaji Umar N’jai is a Senior Scientist, Associate Professor, Panafrican Scholar, Founder & Chief Strategist of Project 1808, Inc., and Freelance writer ‘Roaming in the Mountains of Kabala Republic’.

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