By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
All lives matter. Black, white, brown, or yellow lives do matter. This means that life matters. It is not an abstraction. It is practical. If you witness life go out of somebody and you are not moved, it means that you are not a human being. No matter the colour of the skin, blood, red blood flows in the veins of everyone. There is nothing like blueblood in the real sense of the word.
It is a social construct that is predicated on perception or social stratification. For, we are all children of God, created equal. We are all equal products of nature. We do not choose our skin colour. We do not choose where to originate from. No one life is more important than the other. All the major religions subscribe to this. Life is life.
The life of a poor local farmer is equal to the life of a king! Life is life to a slave and life is life to a king. Life is life to a White-skinned person. Life is life to a black-skinned person. Life is life to a Christian. Life is life to a Muslim. It is ignorance to celebrate the death of a person because they practice a religion different from ours. Anyone with such a mentality should not go near the corridors of power.
The common denominator for humanity is not the colour of the skin. It is character. It is man in action, both in word and deed. It is his belief system, his culture and his regard for fellow human beings and the other creatures of nature. To protect animals from extinction and strive to eliminate the other race is convoluted thinking. To love dogs and hate black or brown people or Jews is a form of illness. Social illness. Prejudice. Stupidity. Ignorance. Why should an ignorant person preside over the affairs of the majority? ‘My people perish because of lack of knowledge’, the good book says! To have an ignorant or bigoted leader is the death of a clan or a country!
When we say black lives matter it is within a context. A socio-political context. And a historical context too! When we say all lives matter it is also within a context. In a white-privileged world, ‘black lives matter’ both as a slogan and as an affirmation is fundamental. It is a reaction to oppressive policies, especially acts of injustice that are institutionalized. It is reminiscent of the ‘I’m Black and Proud’ Black Movement slogan of the 1960s, popularized by the singer James Brown.
The song ‘stood for black empowerment and self-reliance. The political climate in which he wrote the song couldn’t have been ‘more timely’. If James Brown was the Godfather of Soul, he was also the musical expression of the black power movement. Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud is a landmark, groundbreaking song’. The Western world is yet to rid itself of racism.
It was in this spirit that African-American poet Langston Hughes had written in his seminal poem titled ‘I too I‘m America’: I am the darker brother/They send me to eat in the kitchen/When company comes,/But I laugh,/And eat well,/And grow strong./Tomorrow,/I’ll be at the table/When company comes./Nobody’ll dare/Say to me,/“Eat in the kitchen,”/Then./Besides,/They’ll see how beautiful I am/And be ashamed—/I, too, am America.
Black lives Matter! As a slogan and as a philosophical if activist reaction to racism it captures the imagination. It drives home the point especially against police brutality. Yet our history shows that black lives have never really mattered to us as black people. This accounts for our people being sold into slavery by our own people, our leaders and rulers. ‘For two hundred years’, writes Kevin Sieff, ‘powerful kings in what is now the country of Benin captured and sold slaves to Portuguese, French and British merchants’. Here in the territory that became Nigeria, Efunsetan Aniwura as Iyalode of Ibadan, made a name, now notorious, for being a slave dealer. To be sure she was not the only one. There were other merchants in most of Africa who sold their brothers and sisters into slavery.
In postcolonial Africa, the manner governments have treated their citizens does not subscribe to the fanciful notion of ‘black lives matter! Apart from negative economic and political policies, there has been outright neglect of all that make life happy for the black man. If black lives matter to African leaders they would not make the continent inhospitable to their citizens. If Black lives mattered to rulers in Nigeria, they would not be so cavalier about the number of people who lose their lives daily to bandits or kidnappers.
When former American President Donald Trump referred to some ‘s..thole’ countries, the language and sentiment were considered unbecoming of a world leader. Yet in practical terms, we have created countries which cannot guarantee the survival of the black race. Europe and the Americas have become so attractive to our young men and women. Sadly, when they arrive in those well-structured countries, they are treated as second class citizens.
Too many Black lives have been lost to the belief that the death of a Black man does not really matter. Across the world and over the ages, the colour of the skin and the self-negation which some Black people subscribe to have contributed to promoting notions of inferiority. The point must be made that once any human being has a tinge of Black ancestry, no matter how light their skin colour, they are classified as Black. Black is a taint in this regard. This is the result of inferior thinking. So, our sisters who bleach their skin to look white or advertisers who promote fair-skinned ladies over Black ones are guilty of racism, of self-abnegation. Why is my skin so Black or so dark, they seem to say.
In the real sense of the words, no one has a white or black skin. Early Africans thought Caucasians were ‘pale’ skinned. They thought that their coffee-skin was superior. They never aspired to be white. Black is not pejorative even if we associate black colour with things that are not pleasant or evil. It has nothing to do with the character of every black person. A time will come when African will sponsor a motion at the UN that they should be referred to as Africans and not Black. But before then, let African leaders and rulers prove to their people and people of the world that Black Lives Matter to them.
- Eghagha is a Professor of English, acclaimed author and Social Commentator