Thursday, May 10, 2012

On Wretches and Kings

Last year I read Alaa Al Aswany’s The Yacoubian Building about the residents in an aging building in Cairo, Egypt. What struck me about this book was how similar Egyptian and Nigerian societies – as portrayed in Blackbird by Jude Dibia – were. The same rigid class structures, the same juxtaposition of extreme poverty and wealth side by side, the same corrupt government systems. It was eerie.

Then last week I read White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, an amazingly well-written book about how a servant manages to rise to riches and power – by murdering his employer, only to see all the same issues mirrored there. That got me worried. How was it that three very different books about three very different parts of the world seemed to reflect the same depressing realities?

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Right to Racism

April was a weird month for me. I got some devastating news that sent me to some dark places inside myself for a while. And it didn’t help that April was also the month that several race-related news stories hit the airwaves (or at least broke into my conciousness). From the murder of Trayvon Martin, to the Swedish Golliwog cake scandal, the expulsion of Nigerians from South Africa, and racist reactions to a black character in the Hunger Games movie, it just seemed like a bad time to be black in the world.

It is easy to attribute the racism that spawned these issues to a few bad eggs, but that’s not the problem. There will always be racists. The real problem is that racism is not just individuals who don’t like other individuals because of the colour of their skin. Racism is built into systems of power and privilege. Systems that allow some people – because of the colour of their skin – to have more opportunities than others.

Some people – because of the colour of their skin – have the opportunity to live in nicer homes, grow up in safer neighbourhoods, attend better-resourced schools, and live richer, more fulfilling lifestyles than others. Some people always get the benefit of the doubt – if they mess up, it’s not automatically assumed that it’s because of a “cultural” or racial pathology. Some people – because of the colour of their skins – can turn on the television and always see themselves reflected back. For them, race is not something they ever have to think about, if they don’t want to.

And the problem I have with too many of these people is that, because they don’t have to live their lives circumscribed by their race, too often, they dismiss the experiences of people who do.