BY ARTHUR KENNEDY
THE WORLD is in overdrive in reaction to remarks allegedly made by President Donald Trump in the Oval Office during a discussion with lawmakers on immigration. He is reported to have wondered why there were so many immigrants from “S******* countries”. That remark was racist. Period.
People should stop rationalising it. Unfortunately, in addition to the racism implied, it portrayed the President, perhaps falsely, as uninformed about immigration.
The value of an immigrant to America has nothing to do with where they come from or how they got here or what brought them here. Thus some whose ancestors came on slave ships, like MLK or on other ships from the Caribbean, like Alexander Hamilton or on planes, like President Obama’s father, have made contributions that are as noteworthy as the descendants of those who came on the Mayflower!.
And except for the slaves, they were all looking for a better life. They left their homes because they hoped to build a better life for themselves and their descendants.
President Trump has become the eccentric uncle who voices in public, at the most inopportune times what the family has been discussing in whispers. Indeed, many Americans share the sentiments behind the President’s comments. And these include many of those expressions. There are racists in both the Republican and Democratic parties.
And there have always been racists in both parties. Those whose ancestors fought to preserve slavery and to make discrimination a way of life have not disappeared— they have just become more polished and good at denial and the mouthing of platitudes. Racism and hypocrisy were America’s birth defects.
When Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, who made Trump’s comments public, accused him of being the most racist President, he was exaggerating quite a bit. Twelve of those who held the Presidency before Trump, including Jefferson who penned the stirring declaration that affirmed that “all men are created equal” owned slaves at some point in their lives. And the racism is not historical.
It is current. America did not protest the internment of Japanese or the failure of the Clinton administration to lift a finger while a million Rwandans were slaughtered while white Bosnians were saved with a bombing campaign. And many had no problems with Obama’s description as a “clean black” by a leading Democrat.
And for the avoidance of doubt, there are racists and ethnic bigots in all races, including the black race. The experiences of blacks in China, India and elsewhere, as well as their experiences as immigrants in Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa make this abundantly clear. America’s redeeming grace is its historic determination to deal with its birth defects. It fought a civil war.
It passed the 14th amendment. It gave us the examples of the civil rights struggle with MLK and Brown Vs Board of Education and the election of Obama! These are why, despite its blemishes, America continues to inspire.
The reaction of Africans to President Trump’s comments has been fascinating. On African forums and radio stations, Africans disparage Africa and African countries all the time with language just as colourful as the President’s words. That is why the furore with which the President’s words have been greeted has been interesting. Is the problem the message or the messenger? We lead the world in the burden of most diseases. We lead the world in most corruption indices. Our infrastructure leaves much to be desired.
We are mired in debt. We survive on aid– Most of us could not hold elections without aid and our Africa Union headquarters was a gift from China. As the Akans of West Africa put it, “The bathroom was wet before it rained.”
If the continent with all these problems that have produced leaders from Amin and Abacha to Bokassa and Zuma should not be described as Trump did, then who are we?
As Nkrumah put it in 1965, “Africa is a paradox which illustrates and highlights neocolonialism. Her earth is rich yet the products that come from above and below the soil continue to enrich, not Africans predominantly but groups and individuals who operate to Africa’s impoverishment.”
Why is Africa more upset with the flawed messenger than those who have made us who we are in spite of our riches? Long live Africa.