GALACHANI GULATINO: Fire of youth must keep fight against racism burning
The 2020 Youth Day has come at a time like no other in recent times. It comes at a time when in just six months, the world moved from going on with its business to having to shut economies down and fight for its life against a deadly virus, to coming face-to-face with its oldest demon: racism.
Apart from the Fees Must Fall Movement, apathy has been on an upward trend among the youth since 1994. While successful in reforming the funding model for higher education, the Fees Must Fall Movement has failed to serve the role of foundation for a sustained youth activism – a precondition for real change. In many ways, this year’s Youth Day came at a time where it is most opportune to revive and sustain activism against racism. WEB Du Bois, one of the father figures of Pan-Africanism, a thinker and writer famously said: “The problem of the 20th Century is a problem of colour line”. These words are as true today as they were in 1903 when this African son of the soil said them.
What the Black Lives Matter Movement is finally doing – thanks to the brutal murder of George Floyd by a white policeman in America – is waking the world up to the knowledge that racism is not merely an act of hatred against the black race. It is exposing racism as a global system of thought and practice that manifests in every sphere of life, and is designed to position non-white races, especially the black race, as sub-human – to paraphrase psychiatrist Dr Frances Cress Welsing. It is beginning to show us that the fight against the various manifestations of social and economic injustices against the races of colour should ultimately be the fight against the global system of racism.
Out of a single act of taking a breath from someone by pressing a knee on their neck until they die, we now acknowledge that there is something wrong with the myriad of daily symbols that subliminally perpetuate and reinforce the sub-humanity of black people. In the last two weeks, TV shows portraying black people as dangerous criminals, companies using symbols of racism in their brands, and many other institutions so affected, have decided to either change and remove such offensive materials and symbols. They acknowledge that there is a relationship between such symbols and the treatment that George Floyd and countless other victims received from white policemen.
Soon they will also have to acknowledge that these symbols are also responsible for black people faring low in all positive indexes such as income levels and faring high on the negative ones such as early school exits.
The bad news for all of us is that it’s not only corporations and government departments that are now faced with reexamining their ways. Us as individuals and private entities, black and white, will soon have to do the same. A friend advanced the argument that it was hypocritical of us black people that we complain when whites inflict pain on blacks but look away when blacks, such as Idi Amin and other known African dictators do the same to their black political opponents. I was quick to agree and reminded him that Ian Smith, Hendrik Verwoerd, Idi Amin and any black or white person engaging in actions that perpetuate the retention of black people as second-class citizens read from the same script that is racism. Indeed, much of the discrimination that blacks suffer at the hands of other black people are actions are motivated by the same ideology as that which motivated Floyd’s killers – racism.
With this particular complexity of racism, restoring justice for blacks will take full appreciation of the underlying beliefs we hold, beliefs we must rid ourselves of. It is not a secret that many blacks have themselves adopted whiteness as a standard for self-worth and have actively contributed to debasing blackness. We have allowed ourselves to become agents of our own destruction by adopting the beliefs of racism. Such actions by us blacks cannot go unchallenged if we are to challenge the actions of those white policemen against Floyd with the smallest measure of honesty to ourselves.
It is my view that youth activism henceforth must be anchored in this framework of thought. This framework is of such all-encompassing nature that it will allow the kind of activism that fires on all cylinders, rather than an issue-based activism that skirts around the problem and lacks staying power.
I implore the youth, especially here in Africa, to not allow the symbolism of a heinous crime perpetrated in daylight against a fellow African by the most powerful authority on earth today, to go quietly without igniting that internal fire inside them to fight and defeat racism for good!
Galachani Gulatino is the author of 'The Tail-End of The Tale: History of Bantu South Africa from Prehistory To Date' (2014). Copies available on Amazon.com.