Cole: The bottomless pit of racism
RACISM is a serious human reaction. The mind and brain, I am told, do calculations – one million times quicker than a calculator. The most recent studies of human brain activity suggest that even at that speed we still use less than 2% of the brain.
But our cognitive impulses force us to make snap decisions – the more obvious is race. By any measure Barack Obama, a half African, has done this continent more harm than all his 42 predecessors in office. Africans want to like Obama simply because he is black. (so we also want to like Lebron James, Mohammed Ali, Kobi Bryant and other black athletes). That outpouring of goodwill springs from a feeling that the U.S. has generally been awful for black people, for the very first contact between white and black epitomized in the slave trade. Many blacks still believe that the superior attitude whites take to them has its spring well in that trade. It is no use reminding the blacks that it was a trade – an exchange of one thing for a human being. At a deeper spiritual level, those who oppose the trade do not believe that a human being can be brought at any price. That black people willingly indulged in it, is still no excuse for its wrongfulness.
But the world has developed to the level where at least superficially the above is accepted as given. When, however, actions of nations are considered, there seem to be a clear divide – between white and non-white. Barack Obama could not be more white in this dichotomy: he is the leader of the white western nations.
Let’s get back to the cognitive simplicity of racial profiling. We do it all the time. But we have come to rationalize the evil of this profiling. Some struggle with the rationalization better than others. Millions of experiments have been done in the universities where this has been proved to be right: I walk into a room full of white people and only one black person all kinds of emotions envelop and propel me to the one black man who may be Dracula or Lucifer. All this last probably one or two seconds but those who study the mind tell us about millions of permutation in those two seconds.
Perhaps one reason we click with the African Americans who won the 400 metres race and after the Olympics band played the stars and strips, (the U.S. anthem) raised their black fists in salute to the black struggle in 1968 in Mexico was because we felt their pain. It is one of the characteristics of the white establishment elite – they never forget and they get you in the end! Many of us in Africa felt they ran the race for us. Their punishment – seizing their medals and refusing to allow them further sports participation in the U.S., is just typical of how whites react and blacks absorb.
Sport is a game of excellence. Singing is an expression of great talent and sometimes even genius and virtuoso. Dancing is about entertaining others. The black man in the United States, seems to me, having been shut out of every other endeavour, had managed to grab and take sports, singing, dancing, entertainment as the only avenue open to him for progress. Today documentaries are made of the up hill tasks of these geniuses like O.J. Simpson, and others. Even in the football game so beloved by Americans, it took centuries to get a black quarterback. Blacks conquered the world of basketball, football but the red necks still faithfully believe they have baseball- which they do not.
But is it not sad that in 2015, black achievement the world over is still on the periphery – sports, singing, dancing – those things monkeys do well, only niggers do better?
Let me return to O.J. Simpson. This was a guy who was implicated in the murder of his wife, a beautiful rich blond lady. (Another issue is that nearly all successful blacks marry whites: a very few successful whites marry blacks) O.J. Simpson had money and he assembled the best defence team money could buy, led by James Cockran: O.J. Simpson, I now believe, in a jealous rage killed his wife. At that time it was not so clear. But the prosecution still had to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. They did a credible job until the black glove evidence surfaced. It had blood and the prosecution held that the glove belonged to O.J. Simpson and he had used it to strangle her. Cockran in his best negro spiritual sing song voice said; “if the glove does not fit, you must acquit”. He sang this ditti at least 15 times while O.J. Simpson tried to put on the glove which was two or three sizes too small. O.J. Simpson was freed for murder but that was the beginning of his troubles.
I want to tarry a while on reactions to O.J. Simpson’s acquittal. I was with a group of 10 or 11 black people in an apartment in Mayfair when the jury made its verdict. It was about 4 a.m. Everybody jumped up, champagne, cognacs, etc were consumed. I felt somewhat uneasy but in that melee, I could not say much. It was as if there had been an Olympic race and our team had won. Weeks passed and the civil suit came up for which O.J. Simpson was convicted and then he himself proved to be the “nigger” all knew him to be – wearing a bara clava, to rob someone he claimed had his trophies.
O.J. Simpson had led the Police in the longest car and air chase in U.S. history – the purpose, I still do not know. I have since learnt that he was protecting his son who have been implicated in the crime against his wife, may be guilty of this and other crimes.
This piece is about race.
Most black understand one thing, if little else, that the system is controlled by whites. Each small black victory is chalked up as a victory against the system, which would not allow blacks to progress.
If this was true up to 20 years ago, how true is it today?
Russia set out to deny one myth that a white man could never win the 100 metres race – and this was to be demonstrated in the Russian Olympics in 1980. Unfortunately many countries did not go and predictably a white Russian whose name I forget and who has been forgotten by history, won the event.
The reaction of the white establishment each time a black person breaks through the glass ceiling is predictable: cold steel determination not to allow that to happen again if they can help it. For example, the athletes in Mexico lost their scholarship, their prospective sponsorship deals; they were thrown into the dustbin of history. We never heard from them again.
Lately, social media and the hackers are beginning to tell us what white Americans really feel about blacks – the Chairman of Sony Corporation; the Owner of Clippers Basketball team – have all been recorded making derogatory racist statement for which they were properly pulled up. I would never call a white man a pig – I would call him other things less flattering – but I am a Christian and I was brought up to think of Jesus as white and probably blond. In reality he was not; he could not be white in that heat of Palestine; he was Semitic – more Arab than white, we now have Ethiopian Jews – as black as Obama but still suffering persecution and discrimination in Israel.
Of late, racism has again been a topic of interest in the U.S. In Florida a police man killed an unarmed teenager because the policeman believed his own life was in danger. Two other teenage killing followed; the last one in Ferguson, Missouri.
Black response to each of these incidents was predictable and could have been choreographed. The grieving parents, the Reverends Shapton, Jesse Jacksons and company etc. Massive oratorical splashes, weeping and as the Bible says a lot of “gnashing of teeth”. Rioting and looting of shops. Massive parades repeating what each had said before – unarmed youth are prey to police killings who still get away with it.
Two or three weeks later a demented black man executed two policemen in New York. All those who killed the blacks were not mad; but this one black man was mad; and had a history of mental illness. A look into his background – same story – broken home, jobless etc. The coup de grace was they found some evidence that he planned to kill policeman!! Jesus Christ Almighty – which black man after Ferguson and Florida did not plan to kill police? Even white Obama feared for his life when he said that any of those three teenagers could have been him!!
Now to the white reaction: cold, steel, establishment determined to send a message that enough was enough. They told the Mayor (who happened to have a black wife) that he was out of line. The police refused to listen to him – turned their backs when he was giving the eulogy to the two slain officers (who incidentally were not white – a Mexican and Chinese). Policemen came from the 52 states of the United States in solidarity, transport paid for by white volunteers. To a black man, there is nothing more scary than a fully armed policeman in the U.S. There were thousands of them – lined the streets mile after mile, and only one thing in their mind, so far as the blacks were concerned, “Let me get a nigger, they must pay for this”. Sympathy for their fallen comrade. That was a clear sign to blacks that Ferguson, Florida etc meant nothing: in fact it was justified and if you, as a black man saw a policeman just hope that he decides not to shoot you. To the would-be jurors, should any case come up, the message was clear.
Black people have to learn how to give clear messages. The killing of unarmed blacks by policemen is not a New Orleans funeral festival parade and not an opportunity for long senseless speeches. All the black leaders have gone home, pressed their suits waiting for another parade, riots, looting etc.
• Ambassador Patrick Dele Cole (OFR) is a Consultant to The Guardian Editorial Board.