THEN & NOW, WE ARE STILL HISSING…
I couldn’t get myself to watch the George Floyd video completely. Still can’t. I’ve only seen clips on the news.
There’s anger it stirs within you when you realize that anyone involved in that gruesome murder must have taken the victim as subhuman- undeserving of respect. Undeserving of pity. This sentiment was not directed to Floyd alone but all black people. Floyd was just an object to channel their disdain and frustration. The knee was left there for an eternity to squeeze the life out of a race he clearly had no affection for. Even though they had enough time to snap out of it and salvage a bad situation, they chose not to. Their madness was far from momentary. It was nurtured from a much greater, systemic, and generational madness that goes back centuries. The George Floyd incident, like many others, paints an ugly picture of a racial divide that has refused to close.
After publishing …And the night hissed some years ago (a fictional suspense thriller about the exploits of a white slave trader in 19th century Yorubaland), I took a step back and asked myself if the racist sentiments I described in the narrative hadn’t been over the top. Well, visits to Elmina and Cape Coast Castles in Ghana a few years later cleared any doubts I might have had. I realized that my depiction of the African slave trade was just the tip of the iceberg. It was a sobering trip for me but one I would surely recommend to anyone. What I couldn’t fathom however was how such bile… such racial abuse as witnessed in the 17th to 19th centuries could still exist in our world today and why certain countries would treat it with kid gloves. Racial mistrust and resentment for blacks haven’t faded away with modernisation; it’s just been hiding in the shadows. Recent cases like the Nigerian woman in Lebanon who was sold at an online auction or the blacks caught on CNN being sold at a Libyan slave market or the racist chants we hear and bear at European football matches…all show that we are not there yet. Not yet uhuru!
Cape Coast Castle had a lot to show and tell but what probably struck me most was the chapel located directly above the male dungeons which, by the way, still carries a strong pungent odour. Lord knows how it must have smelled two hundred years ago! Did these people actually worship over the heads and stench of thousands of naked men and boys crammed into dark tunnels and shackled together with no toilets waiting for months to be shipped? How did they pray to their God with a clear conscience? How did they utter words of prayer over cries for help? How did they? How could they? The only explanation I could find to this disturbing question was that they considered us sub-human. In other words, we didn’t count: just like Floyd and Arbery and Breonna and Michael Brown and Diallo and Rodney King didn’t count. Many racists and Neo-Nazis in our world today still describe themselves as ‘God-fearing, righteous white Christians’ while they proudly ascribe little regard to nature and ‘Negro’.
You may ask how the slave traders slept at night with all this on their conscience? Well in Elmina Castle at least, the answer would be with a slave girl. The master’s bedroom was directly above the female dungeons and it had a trapdoor and cat-ladder that descended to where hundreds crouched in fear. The master would raise the door and select a woman or girl to be brought up to him for the night. So we ask again: How could they do all this without finding it a crime against humanity? If we could ask Arbery’s or Breonna’s killers, I bet the answer they would give would be no different from those given hundreds of years ago by slave masters. Racial inequality demands neither reprimand nor repentance.
It is a sorry state of affairs for us to still have a closet and systemic support for racism in some Eastern and Western countries. The challenge for us therefore seems daunting but there is hope. From the number of pensive white tourists at those castles years ago to what I see now on TV with all races protesting together worldwide for Black Lives despite a pandemic, there appears a steady growth of conscience. I am thus of the strong opinion that we can only combat racism if we refuse to shy away from it however disconcerting the topic may be to some. Therefore, I was (and still am) quite appreciative of reactions to my novel which delves into this disconcerting subject. Our comfort zone needs shifting once in a while for people to see another view. Floyd’s video was disconcerting and haunting enough to evoke change. It succeeded in exposing the harsh reality of racism to a world that has played the ostrich for too long. Now that our common neck is out of the sand, we need to strike more cords to move the legs so paralyzed by inertia.
So the million-dollar question remains: can we ever eliminate racism? I have my doubts. We can’t change the hearts of every man but like the Abolitionists of the past, we can rely on a collective resolve to attack it wherever it surfaces. So long as there is good and evil in the world, racism will find a place. We just need to ensure that it no longer finds hold.
Author, …And the Night Hissed @nighthissed
Bayajidda: An African Legend @bayalegend