[OPINION] strong The Clumsy Ways of Racism

By Benjamin Opene

The celebrated theoretical physicist Dr Albert Einstein once declared racism “the disease of white people”. He had every reason to despise the scourge of this societal disease as he equally found himself a victim of it. Although the Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist will always be remembered for his outstanding contributions to science, including the discovery of the theory of relativity and to a lesser extent, his pacifist movements, there is barely a mention of his advocacy for racial equality. Einstein visited Lincoln University in 1946 and had very useful interactions with the African-American students there. Although Lincoln was America’s first degree-awarding black university, Einstein’s associations with it were largely ignored by historians and the media.

At the time, he summoned up his observations on racism with these words; “There is a somber point in the social outlook of Americans. Their sense of equality and human dignity is mainly limited to men of white skin. Even among these, there are prejudices of which I, as a Jew, am dearly conscious; but they are unimportant in comparison with the attitude of “Whites” towards their fellow citizens of darker complexion…..The more I feel like an American, the more this situation pains me. I can escape the feeling of complicity in it only by speaking out”.

It has become necessary to reflect on a few events of global significance and the disparity in the response from the global community. An example is the recent magnitude 7.2 earthquake that devastated the Caribbean nation of Haiti on 14 August 2021 and has already claimed 2,200 lives with nearly 10,000 injuries. But this number is increasing as the plight of stranded survivors worsen. Unfortunately, not much is coming by way of support to the devastated nation even as the tropical storm Grace wreaks more havoc. 

Sadly, there appears not to be as much interest in highlighting the dire situation in Haiti, a nation within the same hemisphere as the United States of America. At the moment, the western press continues to dwell almost exclusively on events in Afghanistan. The US and its allies have already sunk nearly US $1 trillion trying to salvage democracy in Afghanistan, yet they are left where they started some 20 years ago. Could the massive effort and resources have brought about more tangible results if used to address fundamental human issues elsewhere? 

The Taliban’s advancement and dramatic takeover of Afghanistan have rightly generated stunned reactions around the world. The media coverage of Afghanistan’s unravelling is unprecedented. Multiple news organisations are hosting live updates of the situation and there is no doubt that scenes depicting violations of people’s basic rights will help to galvanise global action against the excesses of the Taliban as an occupying force and rally support for its Afghan victims. 

However, the fact is that the success of the Taliban is more likely already inspiring insurgents in places like Nigeria where the federal government has consistently demonstrated a very little appetite to fight or contain the excesses of regional Islamist groups. Some senior members of President Buhari’s administration have actually been publicly identified as having strong sympathies for Jihadist groups, yet they remain in government with access to very sensitive information that could undermine national and international security.

As recently as early August 2021, President Buhari of Nigeria was in London and was joined by Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a former state governor and leader of the ruling party, and Governor El-Rufai of Kaduna State in northern Nigeria. These three key figures are part of a government that is presiding over the slaughter and destruction of indigenous communities and the burning of churches across Nigeria by Jihadist elements. They abandoned Nigeria and embarked on medical tourism to the UK at a time when all public health workers in Nigeria had gone on strike for poor working conditions and lack of remuneration. Yet, their presence here in the UK was never called out by the UK press, nor was it condemned in any way by the UK Government. 

The same double standards are equally applied to environmental issues. For the past 60 years, the Niger Delta region of Nigeria has hosted the petroleum prospecting activities of several multinational companies. Some of these companies continue to generate a significant part of their revenue from the region at an eviscerating cost to the ecosystem. The entire Niger Delta region is literally being scorched by the senseless and callous flaring (burning) of natural gas which pollutes freshwater, destroys crops and damages human health. Records show that in the year 2020 alone, natural gas reserves valued at the US $6.3 billion were burned by these multinational oil companies. If converted to the more useful purpose of generating electricity, this would have been sufficient to provide over 800 million Nigerians with electricity. 

There is an endless list of other situations that demonstrate an obvious case of apathy by the West when black people face serious existential issues. For instance, why would the British media be happy to ignore the presence of the Nigerian tyrant, Muhammadu Buhari, who continues to violate the human rights of the Igbo and other ethnic people by subjecting them to mass arrests and harassment simply because of their agitation for freedom, but then dedicate substantial efforts to the coverage of a similar issue by the Taliban in Afghanistan? I see clumsy and dated racial considerations as the main culprit!

 In this eternal conflict between the forces of good and bad, it is important that

we align with the forces of good. As humans of different races, colours and creeds, we must look beyond our minor differences in order to see the bigger picture; that our destiny is one and interrelated.  We must therefore resist the temptation to revert to racism at every turn and strive to do that which is right and just. Posterity will judge us fairly when we pull together as one people.

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