Racism first and foremost is an issue created by and perpetuated by white people. Reni Eddo-Lodge wrote about this well in her new book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race and blog post. But what I have learned is sometimes Black people can reinforce racism, too. Particularly Black Africans.
There’s a belief that every Black person innately “gets” racism. We expect that because Black Africans share the same skin colour with Black Americans and Black Europeans that there will be some sense of solidarity when it comes to blackness. But there isn’t.
Most Black Africans don’t get the nuances of racism and it is time to stop discussing it with them.
I am a Black man who lived his formative years in Nigeria, though I was never “Black” until I began living in the UK 10 years ago. Before then, living in the most populous Black nation in the world, I saw the idea of blackness as situated along the spectrum of colour, but I never experienced racialized discrimination. Of course, Nigeria has problems with tribalism and colourism, just not racism.
Before coming to Europe, I thought I knew what it means to be Black, but I was wrong, even though I was woke enough to call out racism or empathize with Black suffering. Since arriving in the UK in 2007, I have learned first-hand what it means to be Black in a white-dominant country.
So many people have called me the N-word that I have lost counts. People have walked out of a lift just because I am in it. I have seen questioning eyes demanding in unspoken terms why I occupy a space that white people think belongs to them. People have seen me as an object of their exotic attraction. People have questioned my accent. When I complain about racism, I have been told to go back to where I come from.
I am not alone. A few days ago, a video of Diane Abbott MP went viral in which she recounted the racism she faced not just during the general election in the UK but all through her political career as a Black MP. Also few days after, David Lammy MP, a Black London politician, posted a screen shot on Facebook of a Tweet he received where he was called the N-word. Last week a white MP, Anne Marie Morris, casually used the N-word at an event and many people there saw nothing wrong with that.
This kind of daily racism is not what Black Africans face and they never will if they stay in their home countries. Even still, when racism issues are raised, some Black Africans feel they can voice an opinion.
Recently, I recounted on social media an experience I had at the Pride in London, when a young white man refused to give me water, walked away and then came back to inform me it was not because I am Black. I struggled to understand why my blackness needed to be mentioned. I never asked for the bottle of water as a Black man but that’s how he saw me first and foremost. After I posted this incident on Facebook, I was shocked by the Black Africans who tried to explain the situation to me and told me I was just being touchy and over-reacted.
This was not the first time I have disagreed with Black Africans on the reality of race and blackness. Things really grew heated when a Black African told me to be appreciative to white people for allowing me into their country. This sense of appreciation is what underlines the relationship between Europeans and Africans; the belief that being issued a visa is worth going to church on Sunday or Mosque on Friday to do thanksgiving. Most Black Africans seem to believe the Hollywood narrative of the “good white” and “bad black” and this sits perfectly within their understanding of the reality of blackness.
I remembered once having a conversation with an African friend about Black American’s deaths while in police custody, and his reaction was to say that if Black people are thugs, what do you expect? Another argument used a lot by Black Africans within the discourse of race is that Black on Black crime is rampant and so police brutality against them is justified (even though white on white crime is higher but less reported in the media).
Another one said Black people shouldn’t get upset when white people used the “N” word when it is all over Black music. I spent time explaining to these people the importance words have depending on who is using them. While I will never allow anyone, irrespective of race, to use the “N” word for me, I do understand how empowering it is for some Black people to use it. Related, some within the LGBT community have taken ownership of the words “queer” and “homosexual”. While there are still LGBT folks who will argue they don’t want to be identified with these words, many sees the words as empowering when used within the community.
Given my experiences, I was not surprised by a recent Pew Research Center poll. In it, countries were ranked based on their confidence in U.S. President Donald Trump to “do the right thing regarding global affairs.” African nations polled among the highest, including 58% of people in Nigeria having confidence in him, despite his racism, sexism and homophobia. This was more than even Israel (56%) and Russia (53%).
Over the years, I have found it excruciating and painful to have to fight societal, structural and institutional racism from white people on a daily basis and then to also have to face ignorance from Black Africans about what blackness and racism is. There are only so many battles one can fight in a day and it is depressing and painful that the reality of racism is lost on the people — Black Africans — from whom one sought support.
So I am no longer talking to Black Africans about race. It’s too exhausting and demoralizing. As Eddo-Lodge said, “I’m no longer dealing with people who don’t want to hear it, wish to ridicule it and frankly, don’t deserve it.”