Racism is an evil which destroys harmony in multi-racial societies. At the height of colonial rule, being a black person meant you were sub-human in the eyes of people who were of different colours, especially whites.
Sometimes Africans themselves seemed to admit that they were inferior to white people. It was in such situations that Dr James Kwegyir Aggrey, also known as Aggrey of Africa, used to say “I am proud of my colour. If I died and God said ‘Aggrey, I want to send you back to earth. What colour would you like to be?’ I would say ‘make me as black as you can. As a black man, I have work to do that no white man can do.”
Aggrey was not an agitator for African independence, but his philosophy that black people were as good as other people was fertile soil on which African nationalism sprouted.
Though Aggrey was proud of his black colour, he did not despise other colours. Instead, he said that all people should be proud of their colours. He went on to say “In a piano, you play a tune of sorts with white keys only or with black keys only, but for harmony, white and black keys should be played together.
He was preaching racial harmony. This made him popular with both fellow Africans and white liberals. Indeed, the first people to write his biography after he died in 1927 were white missionaries.
With the end of colonialism and apartheid in Africa, we thought everywhere in the world Africans would no longer be subjected to racism. But news about racism has reached Africa from an unlikely corner of earth.
On page 49 of The Economist of June 4-10 2016, there is an article titled “Africans in India” and sub-headed “They do not love us”. We then read that some Indians taunt Africans, calling them kalu meaning ‘blackie’.
In May, three Indian men beat a Congolese named Masonga Katanda Olivier. Last February when a Sudanese driver hit an Indian woman in Bangalore, a group of Tanzanian students were attacked. A female was stripped naked and frog-marched through the streets—barbarism at its worst.
There are said to be 25 000 Africans studying in India though some experts believe that as many as 40 000 Africans study and work in India. African students have been attracted to India because of the high reputation of its universities.
India, of course, is not a land of social equality. Under its caste system, Indians discriminated against each other. All the same, my memory threw me back to the year 1963.
I was then in Dar es Salaam working. When I heard that Mrs Gorda Meier, Prime Minister of Israel, was to give a speech on life in Israel and Jewish problems in general.
Instead of rushing home after office hours, I drove to the hall where ‘modern Deborah’ was to speak. Mrs Meier pleaded with us, Africans, to have an understanding of the Jews: “You have suffered discrimination on account of your colour; we have suffered on account of our religion.”
Why should Indians engage in racism against Africans when they too have experienced the agony it causes?
It was in South Africa that Mahatma Gandhi launched his career as a freedom fighter using satyagraha or non-violent means. On arrival from India, he found that Indian lawyers in South Africa were not allowed to practise there. He struggled to get a licence and that is when he discovered that Indians suffered a variety of discriminations just because they were not white enough.
Let us hope that Indians who have settled in Africa and those who are just doing business here will reason with their compatriots not to harass Africans in India. If those Africans who have lived and worked in India come back and speak negatively of their experience, this might affect the relationship between people of Asian origin and their African hosts.
On the page of The Economist cited above, we see Africans posing with a poster which reads “Racism ruins lives.” Yes it does. In the globalisation, it is inconceivable to expect any country to have a populace consisting of one race or colour.
In case we may think we are holier than others, there is something also nasty to say. Rarely does The Economist contain a matter relating to Malawi. But in the issue dated June 11-17 2016, there is a news item about the killing of albinos in Malawi. This is a national disgrace. The barbarians among us deserve the stiffest punishment.