Heart of Arts

The Black Cross: Racism, Xenophobia, and ‘Tribalism’

Toyin Falola


The existence of some strata has been societal norms from time immemorial. People have been defined by the circumstances around their birth, social status, wealth, and many other factors that could fit into several societies. Africans, people of African genetic traces, those with high concentrations of melanin, and others of different origins have been valued on the pedestal of their skin colour or origin. Racism is a global error, but there is a need to pay attention to black people’s dilemma. Outside the shores of Africa, they face different levels of racial discrimination; within Africa, there is a likelihood of xenophobic apprehensions by one’s countrymen toward African “foreigners,” and when back in their respective countries, their kinsmen remind them of the ethnic differences overblown out of proportion.

The people of black skin are strongly of African descent either to the early contacts of Africa with other parts of the world, including Trans-Saharan and Trans-Atlantic Slave trades, as well as contemporary migrations of Africans to the Americas, Europe, and Asia. For centuries, people of African descent have been put below social standards with others as many early significant individuals, including scholars, doubted their ability to reason like the rest of the world. They have been wrongly construed without identity, history, spirit, conscience, intelligence, or reasonableness. Africa, Africans, and people of African descent had to embark on different endeavours to create rebuttable grounds for the misled presumptions of the African identity or blackness. This historical inferiority perspective of the African people, especially occasioned by the long period of the slave trade, has created bias consciousness against black people. There are countless occasions of embarrassment where black people are asked on the streets for their tails or thrown bananas as monkeys. Although Africans and blacks do not need to prove anything, they have set the pace in global scholarship and developments and, as such, underlined the psychopathic instincts of a racist that has blocked all channels to reasoning.

There are not less than 200 million people of African descent in the Americas and million others in Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world. Although there is no more frequent lynching in the South than in the 19th and 20th centuries, systemic lynching and racism are deafening and depressing. There are laws set up in countries and their respective institutions and systems to discourage racism, but the problem persists due to its transformation into subtle forms. Enforcement of human rights laws and policies has been a major challenge in countries that are the champions of the free world. President Biden, recognizing these dynamics of systemic racism, described it at the early stage of his administration as “destructive”, “corrosive”, and “costly”, especially because of its fast rate of tearing apart the fabric of the society. In a 2021 FBI analysis of Hate Crime Statistics, a single-bias analysis showed that 64.5% of victims were discriminated against as a result of Race, Ethnicity, or ancestry. In 2018, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health conducted a survey that showed that 57% of black Americans have stated that they were discriminated against in terms of pay and promotions at their workplaces, 51% have been subjected to the usage of racial slurs at a point or the other, 21% noted that they had intentionally avoided medical care facilities for themselves and their relatives because of the fear of outright racial discrimination and 60% stated that they and their families have been subjected to undue suspicion by the police and law enforcement agencies because of their colour. In another survey of the same year by BBC on November 28, 2018, it was noted that the racism rate is between the range of 63% to 20% in EU countries, with Finland having 63%, the UK at 21%, and Malta having 20%.

One of the most common sectors that have attracted several racial abuses is the football sector, where players, coaches, and individuals are subjected to the unchecked excesses of fans. Romero Lukaku, Dani Alves, Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka, Didier Drogba, and loads of black players have at one point been harassed on the pitch whether they were doing fine or not. Sake, Sancho, and Rashford faced harsh racist abuses when England crashed out of the Euro 2020. Moise Kean, who is of Ivorian descent, Alex Sandro, and Blaise Matuidi, of the Juventus Team in Italy, were racially abused by Cagliari’s fans in August 2019; particular racial interest was taken in Kean. Unfortunately, Kean was blamed for having provoked the attack.

African migrants who have left their countries searching for greener pastures have learned to swallow their “pride” when faced with undue suspicions. Several Black people who have decided to school outside Africa have difficulties settling down because of the discriminatory attitudes of many of their colleagues. There has been a tendency that black and migrant children in schools to be about four times more likely to have out-of-school suspensions, and they are more than twice as likely to be arrested for school-related offences. African migrants are largely treated as unwanted visitors who cannot protest because they lack assurance to protect their rights. Africans deciding to visit, stay, study, or work overseas must be aware of possible racial abuse and discrimination. This is not to say that overseas communities are toxic in their entirety. However, an allusion is strongly made to deforming systems that tolerate the few racial assailants and allow racial subconsciousness to grow. This has led to constructive slavery, human trafficking, and other ranges of harassment. The death of George Floyd has raised another consciousness in contemporary society and has given voices to others that suffer similar ordeals but are swept under the carpet.

Discrimination is not solely an issue of whether you are black, African, or white. At least many things could be said about racial sentiments by some supposedly distinguished Africans, like Kais Saied, the President of Tunisia, who has faced intense criticism for his racism and hate speech comments early this year against people of Sub-Saharan Africa, who are core blacks. Saied had stated that Tunisia needed to take proactive steps against “hordes of illegal immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa” and qualified their migrations thus “The undeclared goal of the successive waves of illegal immigration is to consider Tunisia a purely African Country that has no affiliation to the Arab and Islamic nations.” Saied could have been right if he had purely frowned at illegal migration, which is criminal, but he went below the belt by making such divisive comments, considering his position in Africa. A similar issue could be found in Libya and the Maghreb as several Africans, especially from Sub-Saharan, who aim to cross to Europe through that route, were subjected to inhumane treatment in slave auctioning. It has been reported that being Black in Libya is difficult, and stigmatization could knock one into depression. This African version of discrimination snowballs into xenophobia from African citizens to migrant Africans in African countries. You see, the shouting woes on discrimination are not just putting the White on the receiving end but every human that has failed to accord basic regard for others: the collective protection of our humanity.

Xenophobia has become more deplorable for moving from mere prejudice against people of their cultures and countries and apprehension of fear and hatred towards people of different backgrounds to outright physical assaults, lynching, arson, and other unspeakable inhumane actions towards others. Xenophobia in Africa has been growing since the 1960s, and those that were charged with duties to curtail it have done so with no full commitment. Several reasons explain xenophobic reactions, but they lack any form of justification. In Angola, Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa, the reactions were caused by economic ignition. War terror was the triggering cause in Kenya and Chad, politics and economics in Equatorial Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, and Gabon, Criminal rhetorics in Congo Brazzaville, Tanzania, and Burundi and politics in Congo Kinshasa. The exodus of about 900,000 to 1,200,000 people from Ghana, the arrest of about 4000 Somalis in operation “Usalama Watch” in Kenya, the repatriation of Beninese from Gabon in the late 1970s, the expulsion of about 100,000 Congolese from Angola in 2004, the expelling of about 50,000 Angolans from Congo Kinshasa in 2009, the “Ghana must Go” agitation in Nigeria, and the South African’s xenophobic violent attacks on Africans in 2008, 2015 and 2019 with its adjoining revenge, and other discriminatory reactions and prejudices are some of the worrisome discriminations in the continent. The story of Nathalie, a grade 10 student in a Cape Town public school who immigrated to South Africa in 2019 with her family from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and was harassed for being chosen as the class monitor, is a pitiful example. Several other individuals who are legal migrants and have prerequisite requirements and qualifications face this type of discrimination and harassment every day because of their nationality.

It would be wrong to say that countries should not look out for their citizens and protect their interests thereof, but the promotion of human rights and regard for humanity, no matter the origin or social status, must always come first. Illegal immigrants should be treated and dealt with without abusing their basic rights, and legal migrants should be treated as much as citizens without discrimination. Africa needs to hold up to a level of consciousness of togetherness and understand the progressive gains in collaborative economies.

When you decide not to go overseas or even migrate to any African country, discrimination waits for you in your country as an African in the form of “tribalism”. One of the characteristics of Africa is its diversity and variety of cultures. To cite the example of Nigeria, there are more than 250 different ethnic groups across the nation with over 500 languages. Ghana has about 70 ethnic groups; there are about 40 groups in Uganda, 42 in Kenya and three major ethnic groups in Rwanda. The diversity has left many minority groups, marginalized groups and others agitating for representation and recognition within their countries. This has been the major fuel for “tribal” discrimination across Africa. Today, several nations face insecurity for “tribal” differences or reasons not far from it. Unfortunately, the gap is becoming wider with more agitations emerging gradually. Such apprehensions in African countries are physical and constructive as individuals lose lives, jobs, properties and other things they hold dear.

Fighting discrimination in the form of racism, xenophobia and “tribalism” is difficult because of the array of stakeholders involved. However, there is a need for Africa to take a strong stance as one, and the role of the African Union in this endeavour is paramount. The Union should carry out collaborative actions with countries with consistent racial apprehensions and make their position known to other international bodies. Moreso, the same attention should be given to African countries and promote African unity, not at the level of what can benefit the respective countries as a whole but individual consciousness to tolerate people. In addition, human rights laws and policies put in place to capture the menace of discrimination should be revisited, and more efforts should be directed towards implementing and enforcing those laws.

Most importantly, individual African countries need to step up regarding social responsibility and development to not keep pushing human resources outside its shores in need of engagement. When there is a favourable economy and social system that would allow the growth and enhance the standard of living of its citizens, emigration, at least permanent emigration, would be reduced to the minimum. Furthermore, Africans, Blacks and other discriminated individuals should always look within the system to explore solutions to racial and xenophobic abuse. When there is a fear of disregard, consultation should be made with available NGOs and groups to stand for protection.

On the home front, an international or continental approach may not be as adequate as anticipated. Pan-Africanism is the pre-eminent solution, but it is growing rather slowly. Thus, for now, the solution is national. First, each African country should engage in structural reconsiderations to figure out the underlying motivations and causes of division. More so, there should be institutionalized efforts to erase traces of “tribalism” from every state entity and provide general consciousness and experience to reduce it. In doing this, several stakeholders of different ethnic groups must be engaged to reduce ethnic gaps and ensure equal representation in politics and social activities.

Let us always remember that lives are lost to the dangers of racism, pangs of xenophobia, and brutalities of “tribalism”. Efforts to resolve these issues do not just mean that one is saving a person’s life but saving a generation, rescuing mental breakdown and giving voices to the voiceless. I anticipate a time when there will not be reports or incidents of racism, xenophobic attacks, and ethnic apprehension for 365 days. This year is gone; I hope to see it next year.

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