Saturday, June 13, 2020

Racism and the confessions of a black criminal

"Here’s my confession. I am a black man. As a matter of fact, a black African man. As a black man, I’m born a criminal. I’m guilty until proven innocent. “What’s my crime?”, you may ask. It doesn’t matter. Just know that being black, you’re guilty until proven innocent. The burden of proof lies with me."

Please read my blog below or you can also listen to the full podcast here

Systemic discrimination based on race aka State-sponsored racism

The biggest problem that we face today is the systemic discrimination based on race: institutionalized racism. In fact, I’ll call it for what it is: “state-sponsored” racism. When laws are designed and rules are put in place, consciously and unconsciously, to keep certain segments of humanity under oppression with limited opportunities to enjoy life and the pursuit of happiness equitably, then the state is complicit in racism. Nations are implicitly condoning racism. Here’s why.

Racism is a power game. It is about domination and control.

It may have started with slavery or may be even before that, who knows. But, over the years, we have systematically marginalized huge segments of the human population by creating hierarchies and privileges that are purely based on race. We have systematically created a privileged class not based on merit but on the color of the skin. The darker your skin tone, the lower you are in the hierarchy. The lighter your skin tone, the higher you are on the hierarchy. The black man sits right at the bottom and the white man sits at the top. Every other variation of skin tone fits somewhere in between. This is the root of the so-called “white supremacy”.

This is not happening in the United States alone. Racism exists in all corners of the planet and it follows the same principle. This is a global phenomenon even in Africa, which is believed to be the ancestral home of black people. 

Why so much attention on the Police?

The Police is a reflection of the society that it is policing. The Police values what society values. Therefore, if society itself has defined different levels of human beings and how they should be treated in everyday life, sadly, the Police is there to reinforce that belief. Police brutality exists to dominate and control the hardened criminals and savages so that they can be flattened and humiliated to hopelessness, helplessness and extinguish the will to resist and fight. By doing so, those who need to be protected can be protected from these savages and their way of life is preserved. Unfortunately, in a racist society, the oppressed is characterized as the hardened criminal and savage that civilized society needs to be protected from.

The gruesome slaughter of George Floyd in plain sight, in the hands of Police Officers, with everyone watching and recording, and asking for his life to be spared, is a testament to how the powers that be and the law enforcement values the life of people in that society. The officers did not only proceed with the slaughter of another human being, they prevented bystanders from intervening and preventing it from happening. This shows the real value of that life. More disgusting is the fact that it is believed to be racially profiled and racially motivated.

This shows how vulnerable we are as a black race. It shows that you are not only guilty until proven innocent, but you can even die before you get to prove your innocence. This is really disturbing. This is a new low in what you may expect from a civilized society. This is the kind of thing you’ll expect to witness in rebel war zones where jungle justice and mob justice are the order of the day. These are not the images that we expect to see in a free democratic and civilized society. So, if this does not scare you, nothing will. 

Also, remember, if it can happen to George Floyd it can happen to you, no matter what shade of dark you are. So, this is not just about the black man. As Martin Luther-King Jnr puts it, “injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere”.

The black man is guilty until proven innocent

For many of us Black people we are constantly subjected to discrimination and humiliation at every opportunity. Many of us have suffered and have witnessed all kinds of prejudice and discrimination. You are viewed with suspicion just by your presence. You can be pulled over for questioning simply because your skin color sends a loud and clear message that you do not belong here and therefore you look suspicious.

You get pulled over at the airport to inspect your travel documents. You get pulled over to search your bags. Your documents get taken away for further inspection. Sometimes, you get taken away too. When it’s all over, you ask what was this all about – assuming you have the guts to do so. You are told that it’s just “random” checks as per standard procedure. But this “randomness” is so predictable if you’re a black man that I sometimes just volunteer to be selected at “random” to avoid the embarrassment of being selected.

And, I am speaking as a privileged black man (constituting less than 1% of the black population). I am educated with university degrees, I have a family, I have a decent international job. I can afford to travel internationally and take care of my family. Yet, just trying to be you is a challenge. Imagine what life is like for the millions of others in the over 99% that do not have similar privileges. They go through hell just to survive and see another day.

I’ve seen people being harassed simply because their skin color makes them suspect. They get detained endlessly at airports with countless inspections of their travel documents, with countless searches of their luggage, constant humiliation at the hands of the authorities. Putting it simply, as a black man, you are guilty until proven innocent.

I have personally been pulled over several times at airports and even missed connecting flights. If you’re a black African, you get subjected to additional health checks even if you haven’t been to Africa for years. It doesn’t matter whether you’re coming from an Ebola-affected country or where there has been another disease outbreak, your color and your nationality makes you a suspect case until you can prove your innocence. If you carry a privileged skin color or a privileged passport, no one cares where you’re traveling from or where you’re going. You’re are free man. For the black man, you’re a criminal until proven innocent.

Getting a visa to travel is another nightmare. As a black African, I cannot decide at the last moment to travel anywhere. It has to be purposefully planned months in advance. You need to get a visa to be allowed entry. To do so, you need to apply weeks or sometimes months in advance. You need to prove that you are capable of taking care of yourself by producing your bank statement. You have to prove that you have a place to stay by producing a confirmed hotel booking for the dates that you’ll be there. You need to produce a confirmed air-ticket to confirm that you truly intend to fly in and out on those dates. Apart from the logistical nightmare and inconvenience of organizing all of these things in advance, they cost a lot of money. Last minute changes and cancelations can be expensive. However, if you’re a privileged color from a privileged country, you don’t have to financially commit until you wish to go, and you can pick up your bags and go. For the black man, you’re a criminal until proven innocent.

Despite this hassle that they have to go through, you see people being treated like criminals when they arrive at the destination airport – being pulled aside, documents being turned upside down for inspection to check if they are fake, luggage being inspected, people getting delayed and detained at airports. As a black man, just doing simple things and going about and minding your own business is tough. For the black man, you’re a criminal until proven innocent.

I have countless examples of racial prejudice encounters while living in and traveling in Africa, in Asia, in the US, in Europe. Until people get to know who you are, you are just another guilty black man until proven innocent. But it shouldn’t be this way. Why should my color make me look like I am about to commit a crime? Why do you have to first interact with me and get to know me before deciding whether I am “not like other black men”. That condescending and patronizing tone bothers me a lot. What’s the problem with other black folks? Why should I be seen as different from them? Why can’t we all be seen as good people until we prove otherwise? It should not be this way and it doesn’t have to be.

I have engaged in a lot of social experiments just to check how I get treated as an ordinary black man versus after people get a chance to know me more. I have seen the difference it makes in dressing casual versus dressing formal. I have seen the difference it makes when you are alone versus when sitting with others. I have seen the difference it makes in being calm and wait to be served versus being assertive and draw attention to who you are. The difference is staggering. As a black man you get taken for granted and you are just a guilty person until proven innocent.

It is this inbuilt stereotypical racial bias, sometimes unconscious, that is making it extremely difficult to acknowledge our blind spots and tackle the issues.

Why am I bringing up some of these personal experiences and observations?

I am bringing this up and sharing some of these personal stories and observations without getting into the details, because it is important for us all (blacks included) to recognize our privileges in a racially-biased society. I hear a lot of times people blaming the victims. “Oh, these blacks are lazy. Oh, these Africans are lazy.” “They don’t want to try hard enough. They like to depend on others and blame others for their problems.” Let me say this, if you find yourself in a society where just getting by the day is a struggle and an achievement, how much opportunity do you have for personal growth? If you wake up every morning thinking of how to get something to eat in a system that is constantly putting obstacles in your path, how can you grow and become self-sufficient? My dear privileged black brothers and sisters, please stop blaming the victims. If you are in that situation, you will likely act the same way.

Why are these protests important?

Protests help to raise awareness. They help to gain the attention of those who may not be aware of the issues or the severity and impact of them. By protesting, the issue is brought to the center in everyone’s mind. It should no longer be in our blind spots. Oftentimes, when we are not directly impacted, it is difficult to understand and fully comprehend the issues and the impact that they are having on others and how that might also impact us. In some cases, this complacency can lead to bigger problems when the issues are not tackled collectively at the beginning. For example, after so many gentle forms of racism, we are now witnessing an increase in fatal outcomes like the killings of so many in the hands of the Police. The “straw that breaks the camel’s back” is the open slaughter of George Floyd with millions of people around the world witnessing someone being choked to death slowly – close to 9 minutes – in the hands of the presumed protector of people and preserver of law and order. Suddenly, we are awakened by the fact that it can any of us with a knee on our neck or a gun to our head.

We can no longer afford to ignore the gentle forms of racism and shrug them of as lack of cultural awareness. In times like these, it is dangerous to be politically correct. We have to call things for what they are. It’s wrong to say that it’s not so bad or try to blame the victims and make excuses for the perpetrators. The problem is, like cancer, you don’t wait for it to grow and consume the entire body. You kill it the moment you able to find it. Therefore, acts of racism should be attacked the moment they are spotted. Don’t wait to see how the situation will evolve. Someone will be killed or destroyed for life – denied opportunities to grow and be somebody.

Why we all need to do more?

We truly appreciate the outpouring of support to raise awareness about these issues and to make the changes that are necessary for a just and free world for all. People of all color, all works of life, nationalities, religions have joined the movement to protest, make their voices heard and make donations to worthy causes that are fighting injustice and discrimination. This movement has picked up momentum and will continue to grow until change comes. I thank you all for that.

However, donations and protests are not enough. If we need to make meaningful and lasting change, we have to start within ourselves and our own institutions – our workplaces, our schools, our places of worship, our places of entertainment, our homes. Racism is so endemic and so systemic that it has become state-sponsored racism. We have to call out racism wherever it exists.

We have to consciously create safe spaces for others that look different from us. We have to recognize and respect our differences. We are all unique human beings. Your values have to be respected and you have to respect mine but not in a patronizing way. After all, racism is about power. So, if you’re white, having a friend who is black or you adopting a black child does not automatically make you non-racist or anti-racist. It is the relationship between you and those people that define racism. After all, slave owners had black slaves, and some liked them, but the slaves were their property. Even when the slaves were set free, they were not considered equals. It is like owning a pet. You can love your pet, you can do everything for your pet, you can be an animal’s rights activist, but you can never consider yourself equal to your pet. You own the pet and you are superior to your pet. So, the right question to ask oneself when it comes to the relationship with another human is: “do you respect the people of color for who they are without passing judgement that you are more superior?”

If you would like to know your racial bias, please take my anti-racism test below.

The anti-racism test

In my anti-racism test, I used a “black person” as the frame of reference. The reason is that in the “hierarchy of privilege” the black person is at the bottom and the white man is at the top. Every other shade or racial origin falls somewhere in between, based on the shade of darkness or whiteness. Therefore, if we fix the bottom of the pyramid, we would have fixed everything above it.

  1. Are you OK to work with and interact closely with a black person?
  2. Are you OK to supervise or coach a black person?
  3. Are you OK to be coached or supervised by a black person?
  4. Are you OK with dating or marrying a black person?
  5. Are you OK with your brother or sister dating or marrying a black person?
  6. Are you ready to speak out, stand up and be ready to get into trouble for defending a person who is being racially profiled or discriminated against?

If you answered YES to questions 1 to 5, then you may be non-racist. If you answered YES to question 6, then you may be anti-racist.

Thank you for helping in getting the knees off our necks.


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