TIME TO STAND UP AND BE COUNTED FOR OUR HUMANITY SAKE
Article Written By: Christian N. Ihenacho, Environmental Specialist/Political Analyst
June 4, 2020
The trajectories of multiple forces converged on the United States, which adversely impacted the African-American community, the most. Life was getting better for Blacks, especially the men, as employment number rose at an all-time high. In a twinkle of an eye, many of the gains Blacks made in employment evaporated due to the shutdown of businesses, government offices and institutions due to the coronavirus; followed by the disclosure of disproportionate deaths of African-Americans; then came series of senseless killings of three nonviolent, unarmed African Americans, all within a span of one month. As if a keg of gun powder was lit, the Black Community became enraged in an unbearable anger, and took to the streets to protest. The demonstration has since turned into nationwide and worldwide solidarity of an unprecedented number of Brown and White races joining to protest against police brutality and systematic racism against Blacks and people of color in the United States. How did we get here, and what can we do about it?
Over the past three months, most of the world has been brought to a standstill by a global pandemic as activities we tend to take for granted were involuntarily shut down to stem the spread of COVID-19 devastation. The COVID-19, otherwise referred to as “the coronavirus”, has ravaged population of nations across the globe, infected over 6 million people and caused over 375,000 deaths. The death toll from this pandemic in the United States alone now stands at over 107,000 and counting. The virus while disproportionately affecting the poor and the minority, particularly in the United States, has affected the rich and poor nations alike, calling all of us to our common humanity.
To the chagrin of Blacks all over the world, and especially in the United States, we have learned about the disproportionate number of African-Americans who have died because of the virus. The cause of this disproportionate rate of death can be attributed to centuries of institutional and systemic racism and discrimination against Blacks in the United States, which manifest in poor health conditions (high blood pressure, hypertension, diabetes, etc.), lack of access to quality healthcare, living in environmentally degraded communities, working in low paying jobs, and exposures to hazardous work environment. Undoubtedly, hundreds of years of subjugation to such conditions have greatly contributed to this manifestation of high death rate of Blacks during this pandemic. Incidentally, the rate of death for Blacks from COVID-19 is higher in the United States than in any other advanced economies of the world.
Within the Nigerian Community resident in the United States and Europe, we noticed that the majority of those who died as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, did not die for the same reasons as did the large number of Blacks in US and Europe. Majority of the Nigerians who died from COVID-19 infection were mostly frontline workers. The reason for this is simply because many Nigerian professionals work in the medical field as doctors, nurses, pharmacists, technicians, etc. Consequently, Nigerians and other medical professionals who are exposed as frontline workers are more susceptible to contracting the coronavirus and dying from it.
As if the ravages of COVID-19 impacts are not enough, as the nation grappled with the reality of coronavirus surpassing 100,000 deaths, the entire world witnessed in horror, the murder of an unarmed, handcuffed African-American male in his forties, George Floyd, by four uniformed police officers in the City of Minneapolis, Minnesota. This happened against the backdrop of the killing of Ahmed Aubrey in Georgia, and before that, Breonna Taylor, an EMT worker in Louisville, Kentucky. A tinder box was lit, and protests erupted in many cities across the United States, with cities across the globe joining us in solidarity.
As I watched all of these killings, especially how George Floyd was murdered, it ignited the deep-seated concerns that I have had about my life in the United States, being a Nigerian in the United States, and how my Nigerian community might be feeling about all these happenings. I have lived with memories of police brutality at the hands of local police officers, racial discrimination at the work place, and shared the fear and concern of being Black in the United States of America. But this week, all that I may have experienced and felt are now compounded by great sense of hopelessness and helplessness I feel as a Black man today in America. To witness a human life snuffed out in the glaring sight of many, even with someone recording the incident and pleading for mercy to the officer, who nonchalantly, but deliberately pressed his knee on a helpless Floyd’s neck until he was dead, is devastating. I have never been so impacted with grief and fear that I had to put a temporary halt to my evening strolls through the neighborhood streets.
After talking with some friends, relatives and my children, who undoubtedly shared similar sentiments, it wasn’t enough to soothe my fears and aching heart in the face of what we all have seen, and now feeling. I began to think that I need to share my thoughts and call the Nigerian Community to action, to wake up, and be engaged.
Nigerians are part of the growing class of American citizenry, a class of highly educated professionals, working in all works of life in the United States, with a household income above the national average, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Ironically, the Nigerian Community is not a collective of single minded, single purpose, and united group of people. The Community exists in the virtual realm, but not in reality, as it is broken into ethnic, tribal, religious, and political divisions, all stemming from baggage and bondage carried over from the home country, Nigeria. Because of these divisions, we have neglected our presence and existence in the United States, and the need for us to build a community of purpose, one that is structured and actively engaged in the socio-economic and political affairs of the United States. Individually, majority of Nigerians are quite successful and well-accomplished, which account for the over $24 billion the Community remitted to Nigeria in 2018 according to the New American Economy. On the other hand, collectively, we have failed to harness our collective strength, resources and acumen to advance the cause of our community here in the United States.
This disconnect of our community from the greater community, directly affects our ability to constructively engage in matters affecting our collective cause as Black people in the United States. Much like many other minority groups in the United States have ridden on the backs of the African-American centuries of struggles in the United States, whether we are aware of it or not, African immigrants and Black immigrants from other parts of the world, have also been benefactors of the African-American experience and its continued struggle for equal and civil rights. As immigrants from the most populous black nation on earth, we don’t need to be reminded that the struggle of Black man for equality under the law in America is equally our struggle. We can see it in our lives and the lives of our children, and know that we share a common destiny. We must, as a matter of necessity, be part of the solution for equality under the law for the Black race and other people of color in this country.
Let me be clear, those who were brought here by boat centuries ago were our ancestors. Many of them could be traced back to the eastern and western regions of Nigeria, and the extant shores of West Africa. We share the guilt and shame of our Black existence, experience and history in the Americas because of the manner our ancestors were brought here, which robbed us of our collective dignity and cultural heritage. Who would have imagined that more than 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation and nearly sixty years after the passage of the Civil Rights Acts, America has not been able to device a color blind judicial system that extends equal rights under the law to all her citizenry and restore human dignity to her citizens of color? The system is broken, everybody knows it, but nothing is being done because of the innate prejudices of those who benefit from the status quo. Somehow, there are those who think they can only feel good about themselves when they have others to look down on. In my forty plus years in America, I can say unequivocally that the White race is not superior to any other in America, or anywhere else for that matter, safe the centuries old systemic imbalances that continue to confer upon it the misguided sense of superiority. When given the same opportunity, experience has shown that other groups perform equally well, or even excel beyond the capability of the Aryan race. So let’s get real. We can no longer afford to be quiet; our people are being killed senselessly not because of anything they have done, or failed to do, but because of the color of their skin.
The relationship between the African immigrants and our African-American brothers and sisters, have not been very good, but cordial. This has gotten in the way of both parties accepting the fact that what happened centuries ago is not of our making, and none of us now can change the sequence of events that have brought us to where we are today. What we need now is reconciliation and the commitment to work together for a better and stronger, all-inclusive, Greater African-American Community, of which the Nigerian immigrant community is a big part.
Over the past four months, we have noticed how the coronavirus has ravaged the African-American Community. We can disaggregate the deaths caused by coronavirus, still the body count reflects the number of Black dead bodies. Most importantly, the deaths that occur in the hands of police should concern the Nigerian Community equally, because long after the pandemic, the virus of police brutality in the United States could still remain with us. For these reasons, the Nigerian Community must be concerned because African immigrants are not immune to racism, discrimination and even death in the hands of police. We cannot afford to continue to sit back and disengage from the plight of Black struggles in the United States. This is our struggle too!
The Nigerian Community need to seize the opportunity now to mobilize and collectively demonstrate that what affects African-Americans, Blacks in America, affects us too, because “African-American Are Us,” we are one, nothing separates us. We owe it to ourselves, the African immigrants, our children and the future generation, who are themselves African Americans.
My road map to building a future for a strong Nigerian Community will require that we consider: i) strategizing on full integration with the Greater African-American Community; ii) building organizations and institutions which capture the essence of Pan-Africanism; iii) developing cultural festivals that accentuate the African, and African-American historic and cultural heritage; and iv) building strong political force that will strengthen the Nigerian Community, and help build alliance to influence more active cultural exchanges, political reforms, and socio-economic growth of Nigeria and Africa.
To this effect, there is a great deal of work ahead us. We cannot embark on the work to be done by sitting idly by and pray and hope that things will change for better. As we pray, we must be prepared to be the hands and feet God will use to accomplish that which we pray for. We must, therefore, get up and be counted, because action speaks louder than words.
This is a clarion call on all Nigerians in the United States to get out to register, and come November, to go out and vote to replace the current incumbent in the White House and his cohorts. America deserves better. Beyond the presidential elections, there is need for the community to engage in informed voting that will see aspirants from the community being elected in future elections. The upcoming election will mark a turning point in the direction the United States is headed. We cannot afford another four years of declining state of the Union, which could be more damaging to the health and well-being of many Americans, especially the state of Blacks in America. The Nigerian Community must stand up and be counted by working together with the Greater African-American Community to vote for major reforms or improvements in the next administration in the areas of: criminal justice system; healthcare; education; Environment; Supreme Court appointments; United States and Nigeria bilateral relations; and strengthening world organizations, and our United States international relations, especially maintaining our position as a leader of the free world.