I think that sometimes, we Black Africans living in Africa must take a step back and admit that we do not really or fully understand or appreciate racism, its ramifications and manifestations, and how it affects Blacks living elsewhere. We must be humble to accept that some of our views on racism, especially that Blacks elsewhere are whinging, whining or complaining too much, are uninformed and birthed from lack of exposure.
And even when we are exposed to racism, we often have an inbuilt deflecting and reinforcement mechanism called ‘home.’ We innately know that we don’t belong there. And we have this other place where everyone we meet in the street looks like us, and that when we return ‘home’ as often as we may, we would be treated from Kotoka to Kotoka as ‘abrokyire people’,’ first class human beings.
That psychological reinforcement is something other Blacks may not have. They have no other home but where they face racism all the time.
And so that mechanism may do wonders to our psyche but also, sometimes and sadly, makes us pathetically insensitive to the plight of other Blacks.
I confess that there was a time when I wasn’t ‘woke’ on this racism issue.
When I arrived in school in North America in 1993, I didn’t get this whole racism thing. I remember telling someone who invited me to attend a meeting that I wasn’t going to join any of the African societies on campus because they perpetuate a stereotype. [PS. I joined. Learned Gumboot.]
Then it began to happen. Slowly. But surely. Drunken [maybe] students would make monkey noises as you passed by their homes, especially on Friday nights. Why? I didn’t know I was THAT ugly. The security guard in the nearby pharmacy would ALWAYS follow you as you walked through the aisles. Maybe I needed to steal toothpaste! A police car quietly followed me home to 24 Elm Street, K7L 3N6, from downtown… no questions asked, but it was apparent that any tall black dude was a suspect.
As I start to notice and complain, my flat mate was very sympathetic. He goes ‘Ace, I don’t really see you as black.’ How cute. I nodded, being green in more ways than one. Another time he goes ‘I was locked my car when I got there because everyone around me was black.’ I wondered if he locked his bedroom door. Nah. I wasn’t black; I was green. But the same guy kindly offered me a ticket home for Christmas because I was lonely. I didn’t take it. We played guitar. I taught him highlife and he taught me classical and rock. I still remember what he taught me. I hope he remembers mine. Small points. Anecdotal even.
There were two big ones. First, someone at church asked whether my presence with the music team meant that we would be playing reggae in church. Black. Reggae. I get it. By the way I had Agbadza music in mind. 6/8 time signature, pentatonic scale. Nice. Then after playing a couple of times, the Music Director said it wouldn’t be necessary for me to join the choir after all. No reasons given. WHAT?? It struck me: I had no music skill. Coin drop moment: every other face on the stage was white. I would require brighter stagelights. Now, we don’t want higher electricity bills for the church, do we? I quit the church, joined a mostly black church, revamped the choir and we had a jam!
Second: Friday, 17 June 1994. Black OJ Simpson had engaged in that slow car chase with the police who wanted to arrest him for killing his white wife and another. 3 of us (Black boys) were going to Buffet Uncle Tong downtown to eat Chinese. Wow! The stares. The cat calls. 3 OJ Simpsons teleported from LA to downtown Kingston, ON. The next week I was at the Montreal Amtrak station waiting for a train to New York. Only black face. An old lady walks all the way to me and asks ‘so what is happening in the OT Simmons case?’ OT Simmons! I smiled, said nothing to her but sang in my head with Ben Brako ‘mɔkɔ mo krom!’
You could read this and say ‘maaba? Oofee tsɔñ.’ I get it. You must walk a mile in a man’s moccasins… It didn’t take one incident. It was several incidents that brought the realisation. Imagine if this was my life, my whole life.
Now you just might understand why Meghan finds the discussion of her baby’s potential skin tone offensive.