Updated: May 11, 2020
I am not a stranger to racism. Racism is a global experience for African people, and Coronavirus is intensifying that reality. I am an African woman currently residing in the United States. I was confused when I heard the slogan,“We are in this together.” Who is this “we” the mainstream media is talking about? In the U.S., because of systemic racism, African-Americans die at a higher rate from the virus.
You would think China would be more empathetic since it was the first nation to be impacted by the pandemic. On the contrary, Chinese citizens singled out African immigrants by attacking their businesses, barring them from public services and evicting them from rented apartments. African women, who depend on demeaning jobs mostly as domestic workers, are humiliated and often deported from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
With no evidence, these countries blame Africans for spreading the virus. As my village elders in the Yotti/Bali community of Northern Nigeria put it, “when a person is drowning, he or she would hold onto even a straw.” Blaming Africans gives racists a sense of comfort in a time of uncertainty. And because anti-Blackness is normalized globally, racists have no fear in dehumanizing Black people. Africa has been good to the world, yet the world does not reciprocate. The world can learn from Africans about ubuntu (the philosophy that teaches about community). A true community looks out for its members--and also looks after strangers--in times of crisis. When Europeans were searching for greener pastures and natural resources in order to build their infrastructure, they came to Africa. Unfortunately, many of them repaid the continent by forcibly colonizing and enslaving Africans. This maafa (a Swahili term for great suffering) did not prevent Africans from being kind to foreigners, especially refugees. In my region of West Africa, we opened our borders to Lebanese refugees fleeing violence in their home country, making it possible for Lebanese to thrive on African soil. In fact, African hospitality goes back to ancient times. It is said that Ethiopia provided shelter for the Prophet Muhammad and his disciples when they escaped persecution in their homeland of Mecca. To avoid the wrath of King Herod of Judea, Jesus and his parents are reported as having fled to another part of Africa--Egypt.
Africans provide a concrete model for how to treat vulnerable members of a collective. Being in community entails a commitment which means letting go of some comfort in order to make room for others. The racist attacks that Africans are experiencing during the pandemic tells us we are not in this fight together. Perhaps someday we may get there and see Blacks of whatever background as equal members of the human family.