An African’s perspective on America’s “racial” shootings

Hardly a week passes nowadays without news of a significant shooting event in the US. Sometimes there are two. Whether it is a white policeman shooting an innocent black man, a black man luring and shooting policemen or a disturbed man shooting 50 nightclub patrons, the news coming from America, mixed with its unenviable current political prospects, has become an unhealthy mix of discrimination, bigotry and death.

Every shooting jolts the country awake. But it seems Americans share that quintessentially Kenyan characteristic of forgetting a tragedy as soon as the news cycle picks up on something else. So harsh words are exchanged, sit-ins are staged, and social media feuds are fought out. Then the dust settles, to be raised again by the next shooting. Rinse, dry and repeat.

So what’s an ordinary African to make of this madness? Has that time finally come when, based on the reports of their own news sources, America is more dangerous than we’ve been led to believe Africa is? Or is it just an anomalous case of America looking inward and realizing it’s more rotten than it has convinced itself it is?

The problem is vast, so I’ll limit myself to one of its facets: the allegedly racially-motivated shootings in the past few weeks.

The statistics are out there, so I will not take the trouble to enumerate them. But the larger narrative is that the American police force is rife with racist tendencies, and the boys in blue unfairly target black people. Of course there have been dissenters, who pipe in that the reason for this kind of targeting has nothing to do with race and more to do with statistics.

Growing up as a black person, even in most parts of Africa, is a perfectly ordinary experience. But to get to a certain age and come to the knowledge that, in some parts of the world and in yours in the past, the colour of your skin is actually a sign of inferiority for some of your fellow human beings, is not only annoying, but also immensely degrading.

It arouses one of those emotions that you try to hide at the back of your mind, helped not least by your close friendships with non-black people, but it never really goes away. It stays there like a monster in the dark recesses of your brain, waiting to attack your reason every time something jolts it awake.

I guess many blacks in the US also have this monster somewhere in their minds, considering their temporal proximity to the racial subjugation of their forefathers. Acknowledging this isn’t a concession that blacks are racist, but rather that they are predisposed to blame many of the ills they suffer on people’s interpretation of the colour of their skin. And sometimes they are right.

It is this sentiment on which, I believe, movements like Black Lives Matter thrive. They take the vulnerability of a whole people and turn them on other people. The result is that the racial undertones become overtones, and it becomes racist to even bring pertinent contents into the conversation, like the undeniable fact that blacks are more likely to be criminals, and the toll of black on black violence paints a clown’s face on the shootings by white policemen.

Political correctness takes over from civility, and insults fly all over the place. All this while, more people die and others lose their loved ones. No problem solved. The President might say tough words when another policeman shoots an innocent black man, and nice words of consolation when a deranged Black man shoots policemen, but his contribution to the whole debate smacks of an attempt to hide from the truth, which is that, though it cannot be denied that racism plays a part, it is the appalling state of the black family that really explains most of the ills visited on the community.

It bears no repeating, but seventy percent of black children are raised by single mothers, black women are 5 times as likely as white women to procure an abortion, and have had about 16 million abortions since 1973. The litany of statistics reads like a thriller novel. And the link between statistics like this and an overall predisposition to social problems and crime has been proven over and over.

If all of America were black and a specific portion of the population could be described by these statistics, then it would not be surprising if this specific portion complained of the same problems the whole community now laments, namely being disproportionately targeted by policemen. Only there would be no basis to blame it on racism.

The problem of America’s violence runs deeper than many people are willing to admit. Alluding to historical reasons like racism, which enjoy more sympathy, is admittedly easier and less damaging than facing up to reality. But the madness has to end; this is from a black man living in the depths of Africa: America’s black population has to style up and solve its problems before alluding to a victim complex.

Not doing so would not only be an insult to the legacy of the many civil rights activists, of all colours and creeds, many of whom gave their lives, who fought to make this possible, but also an admission that perhaps, just perhaps, the black person is actually sillier than the rest of mankind. Then racism would have a basis.

Feature image: Tennessean.

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