The Black Fight For Freedom
I walked down the streets of Manhattan in New York City as the crowd chanted through their face masks, “Black Lives Matter, No Justice, No Peace.” I watched as the protesters waved their signs and raised their voices. With so much conviction in their eyes, I felt their pain and saw that they truly believed in their right to freedom of speech and no one was going to take that away.
I didn’t always know or think of myself as Black. Of course, I recognised my skin colour as brown but my identity was never linked to the darkness or brownness of my skin. Nigeria isn’t the sort of place you often find white people. You might be asked to identify your ethnic group or Local Government but not your race because everyone is black. In a sense, being black in West Africa is normal.
I can recall the first time I saw a white person, I was about 7 years old. She would flip her long-flowing hair so casually and something about the way she carried herself screamed freedom. I was curious, intrigued, and maybe a little confused because I had only seen white people on TV, and they seemed so unreachable.
At 7 years old, I couldn’t possibly understand the “White sense” of freedom and entitlement, but now I can recognise that it was white privilege. Essentially, if freedom was represented by a human figure, the person would be white.
“I never understood Black struggles until 4 years ago because my culture was engrained in Africa. People in America speak up and that’s not the way we are raised back home in Africa. We were taught to submit to authority,” said Hamid Onifade, a Black model from Benin Republic, West Africa. He added, “The elders need to be held accountable for the wrong things they’re doing in Africa.”
Onifade was born in Paris and enjoyed his early childhood in Benin before he moved to America at 14 years old. Onifade marched on the streets of New York in Chelsea because after living in the country for 12 years he had become accustomed to society labelling him black. In fact, in America, it doesn’t matter if you’re African, Jamaican or Haitian if you’re Black, that’s all they see.
Onifade watched the Black people of America beg. They begged to be seen as ordinary people, to be stripped of the preconceived notions of blackness. They asked to have the ability to walk into a room without being judged for the colour of their skin. They demanded it fiercely as the whole world rallied beside them to fight for black lives. Their voices triggered so many protests around the world because, in every society, black people suffer the most injustices.
For a country like Nigeria, the fight isn’t about necessarily about racism but the country faces issues like rape, sexism, police brutality, and corruption. Nigeria’s history reveals that many social problems have been normalized, most of which many are scared to talk about or have become accustomed to.
While Blackness is a norm in Nigeria, protests and speaking out against injustices is still a new practice, one cannot help but question: Do Nigerians know and understand their rights enough to stand in conviction and fight? Is the public educated enough to confront the government on their shortcomings? Are the people’s voices valued regardless of their tribal identity?
Perhaps the death of Uwaila Vera Omozuwa, who was raped and murdered was a catalyst for change in Nigeria. The protesters in Nigeria marched for Omozuwa and in the future, they might take on other injustices that roam the streets. Nigerian citizens should be equipped and educated to fight for change when the larger population feels marginalised.
Correction: In the print version, we stated that “White privilege because historically, white people have never experienced bondage culturally, socially, economically, or politically”, however, this has been corrected as there are historical accounts of Europeans that have been oppressed or enslaved.