How do we support the Black Lives Matter movement in the US, when we are comfortable watching our societies perpetrating xenophobic acts against our own African brothers and sisters?
I asked myself this question after listening to a recent discussion on Ethnocentrism, Xenophobia and Racism facilitated by the African Centre of International Criminal Justice (ACICJ) Accra Ghana and moderated by accomplished journalist Nana Yaa Mensah. Panelists were Prof Anthony E. Cook, Prof of Law Georgetown Law School, USA, Prof Emerita Takwiyaa Manuh former Director Social Development Policy Division UN Economic Commission for Africa and Prof ‘Dejo Olowu, a Prof of Law at Walter Sisulu University, South Africa.
The panelists looked at the difference between ethnocentrism, xenophobia and racism. How deep do the roots of these concepts run? A lot of people would claim to have been victims of one of the three, as ethnocentrism, xenophobia and racism are not foreign to any society.
How then do we elaborate the issue of Black Lives Matter? Do Black lives matter? And to who?
In the discussion, a lot of issues spanning hundred years ago to date were brought up, from days of slavery to colonization, to apartheid, to racism, to xenophobia, and ethnocentrism. When we look at the roots of these three issues, would we be honest with ourselves to admit that we have been both perpetrators as well as victims? For example, in recent years, some South Africans have been perpetrators of xenophobia against their Black brothers and sisters from fellow African countries. And, as we are all aware, in the past weeks the same South Africans were rallying behind the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States of America. Where do we draw the line?
We all are aware of the divide and conquer concept. The slave masters used it against slaves and, unfortunately, the same tactic has filtered down to present-day Black communities, hence we suffer ethnocentrism and xenophobia. As Black people, before we can demand to be valued by other races, we seriously need to deal with the deep-rooted divide and conquer mentality that we as Black people, whether in Africa or America, have.
Some of you may still argue and say Black lives matter, and I would say absolutely Black lives matter more to us and should be valued more by us Black people. We need to move to a point or level where we do not need validation from any other races. Instead, we should matter to ourselves, love one another so much that there is no gap for xenophobia and ethnocentrism. That way we will be able to tackle any racism thrown our way collectively.
I like the statement that one of the panelists Prof Olowu said, “It is racist thinking that feeds ethnocentrism, racism thinking that feeds xenophobia”. So maybe before we can start crying out about Black lives mattering, we need to deal with issues close to home.
If, I as a Black woman, I teach my children to love fellow Black people and value them regardless of their backgrounds and ethnicity, then maybe our future generations will be able to tackle issues of racism.
To listen to the whole discussion, click here.
Nonhlanhla Lallah Ngwenya is a journalist and Editor at Community Radio Harare, Zimbabwe. She is a 2020 WINner.