By Fr Augustine Awuchie
The recent unfolding of events in the US and around the world has opened the lid of racism and racial debate. With the death of George Floyd, many are beginning to question whether the issue of racism and racial equality can actually be said to be getting better with intellectual, social-political and technological advancement or getting worse as mankind progress. One will be left puzzled that despite memorable score sheets in racial equality like the abolition of slavery, the legacy of Martin Luther King Junior and the end of apartheid in South Africa the question of racism and racial discrimination still remains as glaring and challenging as it has been. In response to this, the ongoing protest in the world has demonstrated that while institutionalized racism may have been abolished, racial discrimination and prejudice are realities we no doubt are living with.
Drawing from the above, one could ask “what is the spirit beneath 21st century man to discriminate against his fellow human being on the basis of race and colour? This question is very important because unlike before, we now have access to other people’s culture, history, language and other opportunities that helps us to understand and appreciate our diversity that we have no reason to prejudice against others or deny them being human more or less treat them as unequal. The simple answer is that some people in their self-imposed selfishness and superiority complex are bound to hate.
Racism has been an issue since time immemorial. In the Old Testament we can already see impulses of discrimination based on skin colour. For instance, the sister of Moses discriminated against the wife of Moses Zipporah because he was black. The fact that this mentality shaped the ideology of early Europe and that some people have continued to pose as its heir can be said to be behind the progression of racism. For instance, as early as the 15 centuries, Europe has developed a philosophical and ideological and even religious basis for racial inequality which justified slavery. These were found in the thought of its finest intellectual like Hegel and Kant, the former even excluded Africa from universal history and even believed that Africa must pass through the stage of western domination in other to be free. In fact, Adolf Hitler a racist who supervised the Jewish holocaust and boasted of turning Africa into a vegetable garden was a committed racist who was influenced by the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer and Fredrich Nietzsche. It was following through such European line of thought that many early Europeans believed that Africans have no soul or that they are less human and even today some westerners still live with this ideology in one form or another.
However, this may sound, there is no justification for racism. This is because the myth of origin of human (where ever they are found) have the common denominator that man originated from a single source or progenitor. According to the bible mankind originated from Adam and Eve who were created by God and installed in the Garden of Eden. This entails that whether you are white or black we all came from the same parents. Again, for those who are scientifically minded the theory of evolution is also founded on the logic that all men originated from one source. This is also the position of various stories of origin found in various myths and religions.
More so, it will be more emphatic to say that those who are racists deny their own humanity. This is inferred from the logic that if we have the same biological origin, those who discriminate against others on the basis of colour or racial difference in turn diminishes or deny their own humanity. This is founded on the ground that racism is a denial of our common origin and caricature of natural right and natural justice. These two inalienable values are intrinsically bound to our existence as beings that have reason and dignity.
According to Thomas Aquinas the basis of the natural law entails to do good and avoid evil. Natural laws are innate property of reason in everyman; those laws ingrained in man and known by human reason. This law is intuitively known by man and is objectively valid and universally accepted. This is what Saint Paul called the law written in the heart of the gentiles (Romans 2:14-15). From natural law is derived the natural justice which are principles and procedures that are known to us intuitively as rational beings. One of the biblical examples of the natural justice is the golden rule which specifies that “you do to others as you would like to be done unto you” and this line of thought is the basis for justice in every society. For instance, the Igbos have a proverb that say: “Egbe bere ugo bere, nke si ibe ya ebekwela, nku kwaa ya”: in English meaning says “both the kite and the eagle should perch, but if any refuses another to perch let his wing break”.
Once more, in the biblical account of creation man is said to be created in the image and likeness of God. This means that man has a dignity which accrues from his divine origin, this is a truth of revelation, and this is why the psalmists even said that we are gods (Psalm 82: 6) because we are sons and daughters of the Most High.
Unfortunately, the western democracy which is founded on equality, dignity of man, love for reasoning and respect for natural and positive laws has not only hanging on its shoulder, a legacy of slavery and institutionalized racism but presently a racial prejudice which has refused to die. It is true that this racial prejudice has what I will call a hermeneutic of continuity because it keeps evolving in different forms and reinterpreted to suit the same motive. We can see in this context that it began with slavery and transformed into colonialism and after this, neocolonialism. All these have a finger print which sees Africans and the negroid as inferior race that should be exploited.
In as much as we appreciate the debate the Black Life Matter has entrenched, there is still some reasons to look deeply into what it constituent to understand the plight of racial discuss. Presently, the world is awash with Black Life Matter (BLM) movement yet this awakening which is aimed at restoring the dignity of the black race portend the danger of being swallowed by million-dollar sponsors and politics of interests. What is the benefit when the white professes anti racial precepts but doesn’t live it? How can one explain a situation where a white man donates thousands of dollars to Black Live Matter but cannot sit with a black man as his equal? This is a critique found on the basis that racial discus has been thrown to the domain of ideology. Our hope is that the present protest should not be left to end at the level of racial debate but should be followed by grounding breaking laws on the magnitude of abolition of slavery and the racial segregation.
The American dream seems to continue to elude the black Americans daily, because inequality in standard of life also contribute to racial inequality. This is why the fruit of this protests should also address this.
It is also important to note that despite as the world fight for eradication of racism, the entire black race has a lot of work to do in the fight against racism. Racial inequality cannot be overcome without some level of progress in economic inequality. There are some economists who think that African economic and political backwardness have something to do with race. Why this is not true, political and economic advancement can go a long way to give the black race a more independent and respectable face. When people like Donald Trump places a visa ban on countries like Nigeria he does that because he finds Nigeria dispensable. Even if he has a racist motive, he can always get away with it on the grounds of political, economic and administrative flaws ravaging Nigeria. This means that African continent should seat up and restore its economy and shed off neocolonialists’ mentality because in a globalized world racism also has a political and economic face. An example is China, it is obvious that the Chinese with its vast economy and growing political interest are becoming less racially discriminated against unlike before when they are pitted in the same trunk with Africa. Today China has more respect in the world because it is economically independent. This doesn’t mean that racial tolerance should be determined by economic power but economic slavery is also a form of slavery and a factor in racial discrimination. Unfortunately, African leaders are busy mortgaging Africa for Chinese dollar and yuan. This means that the Chinese may be in the course of recolonizing the black race and we see the consequences on how black immigrants are treated like ordinary criminals in China.
The progress in civilization should bring us together. It should close gap not widen it. If the West with all its political, social, religious and economic achievements still allow the question of race and color to take a center stage of this magnitude, then our contemporary world may be nailing itself into a difficult moment and self-destruction.