Opal Tometi: EndSARS And The Black Struggle
Other than the pandemic, movements in support of black liberation were some of the biggest highlights of the year 2020. From the streets of New York to London and even Lagos, people marched in numbers against injustice, racism, police brutality and so many other challenges that have troubled Black people around the world.
In light of this, Black Lives Matter (BLM), described as the largest social movement in US history, is the new face of the black struggle. In Nigeria, the EndSARS protests was a representation of this struggle.
The Guardian Life speaks with Opal Tometi, Co-founder, BLM on leadership, the Black race, and reclaiming lost voices.
With the conversations on systemic racism and other hushed issues being addressed by not only the affected, but by the perpetrators, and those who were subconsciously biased, what does this signify for the black race?
It is high time that anti-black racism is addressed. 2020 has proven to be a year that revealed what many of us have already known — that anti-Black racism is a global phenomenon, and it has implications across all sectors, borders, and issues. We are all confronted with the truths that have been needing redress for generations. Unless we deal squarely with the legacy of colonialism as it expresses itself through white supremacy, we will continue to find ourselves in the same types of conversations, discussing the same challenges. We owe it to ourselves, our ancestors, and especially to future generations to address injustice at the root. If we fail to do this, we are doing ourselves a disservice.
What is important now is that we continue to raise global awareness and ensure that it’s grounded in action. We would be naïve to think that rhetoric and symbolic action will lead to the type of systemic change we need. We must have proper action, genuine commitments, and real investments in the health and dignity of our communities. This applies to Black communities in the U.S., just as much as it applies to poor communities in Nigeria and Brazil.
Despite the conversations, it appears that the Nigerian government is the least bothered about human lives, and is more focused on PR. Shouldn’t Nigerian Lives Matter and what does the government need to realise?
The Nigerian government must respect its citizens. The #EndSARS movement taught us that another way is possible – and that the Nigerian people are ready to do what it takes to bring about a better Nigeria. They are fed up with the status quo of corruption, impunity, and incompetence. They know that they deserve more. And thus, they are calling for justice. I am moved by what we have witnessed in Nigeria. That the courageous protesters were well within their rights and their moral duty in assembling and calling for justice. Unfortunately, instead of the Nigerian government being compelled by its citizens’ courage, they showed cowardice, they were spiteful, and they turned on their own people. Nigeria continues to lose its credibility on the international stage with the behaviour of this government. It is shameful because the country is naturally so rich and holds so much significance for the African continent. But with morally bankrupt leadership, the people continue to suffer. We haven’t seen a successful PR campaign from the government, because we all know the truth. We will not be gaslit by incompetent and immoral leadership. The diaspora is watching, and we will continue to act in response.
Given the many successes of BLM, what can the Nigerian youth and the older generation who empathise with the Soro Soke generation do to ensure that the world hears their voice?
The truth is, our social movements have so much to learn from one another. BLM from #EndSARS and #EndSARS for BLM. Ultimately, we all seek the same thing — democracies that work, respect and dignity for all, and a chance for people to truly thrive. It is quite simple: we want societies that work for everyone.
And yes, while BLM has been declared the largest social movement in history, it could also be seen as quite sad that in the year 2020, we are still grappling with this level of anti-Black violence. One can only imagine the type of degradation Black people endure in their everyday lives in the U.S. It has come to the point that we can be murdered in the street by our own law enforcement, with cameras watching, and yet, there is still impunity. What is happening in the US is shameful, just like what is happening in Nigeria is shameful.
Awareness is good, but action is required. Families of victims and survivors of police brutality must receive justice. We must have laws and policy changes in order to address the systemic inequalities that have shut people out and awarded greedy leaders. We cannot expect for the government to do this willingly or on their own, and so it’s up to everyday people, members of civil society, and other cultural leaders to come together and organise for the society the people deserve. We must commit to building structures that reflect our aspirations and shift the balance of power so that every day, people are able to experience the fruits of their nation.