Echoes from our past
Again, it is time to hate, another season for humanity to bicker on tribe, race and colour. A virus rages in the midst of it all, as if to remind we are not really in control here, that life is short, too fleeting to be vengeful or malicious. Humanity carries on oblivious to futility of hate and the impermanence of it all.
Words are weapons in seasons of hate. Take the word Nigger; though a racial epithet as old as America, it was primed with more barbs in the atmosphere of hate and deployed to stress the inhumanity of Blacks. The civil rights crusader, Martin Luther King Jr., railed against hate in the 1960s America admonishing that humans only ought to be judged by the content of their character rather than the colour of their skin. America apparently hasn’t taken the advice to heart. Colour still determines whether you live or die in the eyes of the law; the fair lady of justice is obviously not so fair in the nation held as the epitome of humanity.
George Floyd, the hulky black life mindlessly slain by a knee on the neck is the icon of this season of hate. Pundits competed to find why justice is scarce and death is cheap for the Blacks in America. They wonder why the nation that likes to chart a moral path for the world could be enmeshed in racial immorality for so long. In this season, past murders of Black by White also come to reckoning: Eric Garner (46) 2014, Freddie Gray (25)2015, Alton Stanley (37) 2016, Bothan Jean (26) and Atatiana Jefferson (28) 2019, Breonna Taylor (26) 2020,featured in the lengthy list of infamy.
Why is George Floyd an icon for the season? Why did a random murder of a random man come to be the flipping point in a society used to treating Blacks like rags? Some reached for the Bible for answers. They point to the Hebrews’ own tipping point culminating from a 400-year slavery in Egypt, how heavens spoke from the burning bush in the fullness of time. They say in this case, Blacks had done more than the 400-year term in America, that George Floyd is heavens speaking to power from the burning streets.
George Floyd does not look like Messiah. He was not Malcolm X or Martin Luther King Jr. but the life of the random man is significant in the public manner of his death in hands of the arrogant cop. The mindless choke invoked a dark metaphor in every good conscience and elicited rage in the race denied a chance to breathe since foundation by the American state.
Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., inserted themselves into history by sheer grit and intellect but history inserted itself into George Floyd. Ultimately, the man will not sit with the giants but his death shall always signpost how much is still to be done to free Blacks in America, 155 years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
It is a mystery how America managed to remain a beacon of freedom in a garb of tyranny. You find the oxymoron even in its foundation; in the articles of the Declaration of Independence, which posits that men are created equal, that they have inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Thomas Jefferson, the drafter of the Declaration, held more than 700 slaves in Monticello, his plantation in Virginia, as he crafted the hallow words in 1776.
Abraham Lincoln officially ended slavery in 1865 and might be deemed a leftist in the parlance of Donald Trump and contemporary politics. But President Lincoln, like President Jefferson, did not believe black and white as equals. He did not think Blacks should even be part of America. Lincoln supported mass expatriation of Blacks from the country and openly mulled in 1862 that “It will indeed be a glorious consummation if blacks are shipped to their long-lost fatherland.”
The American oxymoron is also ingrained in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the man that helped defeat Adolf Hitler to ‘make the world safe for democracy.’ FDR could have achieved greater things on race relations if he applied his mind to it, but he only established the Fair Employment Practice Committee in 1941and to aid his war efforts. True, Eleanor Roosevelt, the First Lady and first activist-spouse, wanted more than a tepid action on race and unsuccessfully prodded her husband for legislations to stop institutional racism, ban lynching and rid Blacks of their shackles, yet FDR constantly demurred, fearing for his political life.
Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barak Obama, all presidents with promises to do great things for race relations also supped with the devil, at best they straddled the fence for fear of political repercussions. Why don’t liberal presidents always pack punches for their political convictions? What chances have America ever to redeem its enduring ambivalence on freedom if the liberal caste prefers to be tentative on the issues of race?
Regarding Africa, the one-sided narration on slavery and the George Floyd affair is particularly galling. You heard of the financiers of slavery in Liverpool and London as their statutes toppled into the Thames. You heard of Lloyds, Unilever and the galleons their forbears sent to the West African coasts to exchange liquors for humans. You might also have heard of the slave owners that treated Blacks worse than rags, in Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas and how the inglorious past of slavery still rubs on all Blacks and African-Americans. But you didn’t hear of the African big men in Whydah, Ashanti, Bini, Oyo, Opobo and Arochukwu; kings, chiefs and minions, how they traded their kin for Whiteman’s liquor and inanities. You heard nothing about the stiff resistance they mounted when the British decided it was time to pack up the trade.
Telling a more rounded story on that past would help the present to shape the future. It would show that our ancestors were co-authors of the present misery of our race. It would show their lack of introspection; how it led to selling our race to another race without compunction, and for more than 300 years! A rounded story may well help to see that nothing has changed on our greed and readiness to trade the future for our present.
Who knows, telling our story, warts and all, may help dissuade our current rulers from the ruinous path they are now charting to China, and avert the final denouement of our race?