You may have seen the widespread outrage over the recent killings of two black men – Alton Sterling and Philando Castile – by police in the US. You may have wondered why black people were getting so worked up about it, especially black people outside of the US. It’s not their country; it’s not their problem. Right?
I’m very opinionated, but for the most part, I’m pretty laidback. I currently live in London and I had a lot of thoughts about the recent mayoral election. Did I vote? No. My participation in politics tends to be limited to the big things – voting in general elections and the recent EU referendum. Local council seats? Nah. Protests? Hell nah.
Yet, there I was hauling my non-morning person ass out of bed bright and early on a Sunday morning to do just that. Protest. As a Nigerian living in the UK, you might be wondering “What’s her own?”. Well, it is our own.
You might see yourself as a Nigerian with absolutely nothing in common with an African American. Your culture is different, your experiences are different and maybe you can’t relate with them at all. You might be right. But if you happened to be on an American street, and a friendly neighbourhood officer decided to “randomly” stop and search you, he’s not going to care about your accent, or the fact that you don’t like soul food.
Being stopped by a police officer for speeding could mean the difference between never seeing your loved ones again, or continuing with the rest of your life – simply because of your skin. We should all be incensed that someone can be killed just for looking like us. We have a common problem – diaspora or not – and we need to start acting like it.
Beyond the specific issue of police brutality in the US, this problem matters to us all as black people because it is a symptom of a larger force that holds us all back, directly or indirectly. Racism might not exist to you as a Nigerian, and white supremacy might be even further from your reality than that. But the white supremacy that has many African countries trapped in endemic economic inferiority is the same force which killed Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Mike Brown and the numerous other human beings turned hashtags who have been slaughtered by those tasked with protecting them.
This same white supremacy allows them to collude with thieves, then turn around and call us “fantastically corrupt”. This same white supremacy makes it possible for them to undercut our international competitiveness through harshly protectionist policies, while aggressively pushing for our markets to remain open, yet somehow maintain the moral high ground through development aid. This same white supremacy encourages them to meddle in and criticise the affairs of developing countries, when they are often major culprits in creating that very instability in the first place.
So I went to a #BlackLivesMatter protest in London even though the events that sparked it happened all the way across the Atlantic. I went because these murders were horrific, but beyond these specific acts of violence, I went because we need to stand against the system that makes such crimes possible. Till this day, whiteness continues to hold us hostage – through the oppressive financial arrangements that often strangle our continent’s development and direct oppression of people who look like us on a day-to-day basis.
None of this absolves us of our responsibility to govern ourselves well. None of this suggests only black lives matter. Yes, all lives matter, but for some reason only one group needs to reiterate it. I wonder why.
Making a decision to not be a bystander was a personal choice. For me, it was about race. For you, it might be something else. Whatever you care about, you cannot continue to watch it deteriorate while offering an “eyah” from time to time. Say something. Do something. It matters.