This book is written to tackle what in recent times has become a significant issue when equity in multiracial settings is being discussed, especially as globalization continues to encourage diversity and inclusion around the world. It begins, like most books on the subject, by giving the reader a view of the different expressions of racism; and as the reader progresses, the book provides suggestions on what victims of racism can do collectively on their part to proactively reverse circumstances that invite racism. The book’s intent is not to exacerbate racial tensions; instead it is a call to positive action that can roll back the symptoms which perpetuate racism with an action plan that aims to reduce its manifestations in society. It is a gathering of the authors thoughts on what minorities in the West and people of African descent, as the main victims of racism can do to subtly address the traits that encourage racists’ behavior. In writing this book the author hopes to galvanize readers into undoing the social structures that ensure people of color remain economically and socially disadvantaged and thus easy prey for racists. It is of course based on his personal experiences and thoughts on the subject; hence, there might be points with which some readers may differ in opinion. To better appreciate what these experiences are, the book begins with a little background on the author, before delving into the subject matter in the subsequent chapters. The author has made the book as condensed as possible by not overelaborating the points raised. It is a light read, with language simple and easy for the lay as well as the scholarly to understand. This way every kind of reader can appreciate it, even those who do not like voluminous books can get through it in a day or two. So, please go ahead and enjoy this brave foray into the sensitive subject of racism.
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About the Author
Uche Ekezie is a seasoned APICS certified supply chain professional and founder of the Peter Ekezie Foundation, a nonprofit organization offering partial scholarships to indigent undergraduates. He worked for one of the world’s largest Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) companies, responsible for identifying and managing third party contract manufacturing companies. He started a consultancy service after a 12-year career. Uche and his wife Joy are blessed with 3 children.
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Why this Subject?
The Free World is witnessing another cycle of Racial Activism. In the last century, we have had the likes of the Civil Rights Movement, the American Indian Movement among other Movements aimed at inclusiveness, and most recently we had the Black Lives Matter Movement. These cycles of racial activism are beneficial due to the fact that each time they serve as a reminder of just how far nations that make up the Free World are from the societies of liberty they desire to have. This is not to say that remarkable progress has not been made the entire time. After all it was just seventy years ago that George McLaurin; a fifty-four-year-old African American, received lectures at the University of Oklahoma in an anteroom apart from Caucasian students in 1948; despite the US supreme court ruling which allowed him to attend the institution. Again, it was seven years after in 1955 that the indelible Rosa Parks, then a forty-two-year-old seamstress made her famous stand when she refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. So, we should not fail to acknowledge the progress these cycles of Racial Activism have yielded as well as continue to acknowledge those who led these leaps in civil rights. However, despite these leaps forward, there is still ways to go before we can consider our societies as level playing fields for all ethnicities.
I find it ironic that while these movements go on in the West, there are millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa and other underdeveloped nations, who never having left their homelands, and but for movies and news bulletins about racism are oblivious to the phenomenon. The concept of racism is as foreign to those of them in the heart of Africa as snow, for understandable reasons; they might have heard about it, but a majority of them have never experienced it. It is more often when you move to southern Africa where colonials marred the continent with apartheid history and toward the Arab North of the continent, that you meet blacks who actually have had a personal experience of racism. I am one of those "privileged" black Africans who was fortunate to have his dignity preserved well into adulthood by being shielded from what I see as scourge, and I would like to share how my first experiences and those of my black brothers and sisters have affected my being to the point of writing this book.
As introductions go; first and foremost, I am Nigerian, born and brought up in the most populous city in sub-Saharan Africa – Lagos – current population over twenty million. Lagos is a buzzing metropolis and melting pot of some two hundred and fifty ethnic groups that make up Nigeria. The predominant languages spoken in Lagos are English (the lingua franca in Nigeria), Yoruba (the indigenous language of the state) and Pidgin English (part of a continuum of English Pidgins spoken in West and Central Africa). Born to two civil servants (government employees) and raised in a Roman Catholic home; though today I cannot confidently say I am a confession-going, church-reconciled, practicing Roman Catholic. Why? Well, let us just say I have not been worthy of receiving holy communion at a Catholic church in the tenor so years, that led up to me writing this book – Catholics will understand what that means.
So, continuing with my life's story. When I was old enough, in keeping with the family tradition (a tradition started by my parents who are now late), I proceeded to the University of Nigeria for my first degree in Electrical Engineering. At the University of Nigeria, we had and still have what I consider a very interesting motto which reads: "To Restore the Dignity of Man". As an undergraduate, I occasionally wondered what the institutions founders and academics who conceived of this motto had in mind? Why would Mankind need its dignity restored? Could it be because of the horrendous things' mankind had done over the course of history? Maybe treachery to other less privileged human beings and our abuse of the planet perhaps, meant we needed our dignity restored? I would occasionally wrestle with these thoughts and sometimes joked about them with fellow undergrads.
It was not until many years after graduation when I sojourned to various continents that I began to see, and occasionally experience the demeaning treatment colored people and Africans in particular, endured in these parts of the world. It was then I realized what the founders of my first Alma-Mata might have had on their minds when they conceived of this grand mission of restoring Man's dignity. It was not necessarily the dignity of all of humanity they were overly concerned about; after all, how could they hope to impact the dignity of humanity from a little-known university campus in the heart of sub-Saharan Africa? I eventually came to the conclusion that it was more likely the Dignity of the African Man they were hoping to restore, and my theory was premised upon the goings on at the time this motto was conceived.
In the 1960's when the university was founded, many anti-colonial and pan-African movements were just at their peak. In addition, many sub-Saharan African nations were breaking free from colonial rule and gaining independence like dominos right across the continent. On the other side of the pond, a wave of racial activism– the Civil Rights Movement – led by Martin Luther King jnr. and the likes of Malcolm X was also taking the United States of America and indeed the free world by storm. It is noteworthy that in spite of the fact that Nigeria was colonized by Britain and most of her post-colonial institutions were replicas of the British, our true beacon of democracy has always been the United States. This may explain why we eventually dumped the British parliamentary system for an American Presidential model. In addition, a decade or so after independence, we switched from the British right-hand steering drive to the more popular American left-hand drive for our vehicles. So, you can understand why scholars in a newly independent state could have been influenced by the civil rights struggles of brothers and sisters across the Atlantic in America as well as in Africa, to the point that they must have adopted as a mission statement; the restoration of the dignity of the African man. However, they decided to shroud it in the more pragmatic and broad statement – To Restore the Dignity of Man.
Like a majority of students who studied at the University of Nigeria (because of its location), I am from the Igbo tribe in the South-East region of the country. Igbos historically are an egalitarian people believing in the equality of every man, which would explain why our societies were republican in nature even before the West introduced democracy to Africa and the world. With exception of few communities, in earlier days most of Igbo land did not have monarchs who ruled over a vast number of peoples like our neighboring kingdoms. Majority of our communities were pretty much governed by a council of elders or chiefs and a chief priest or seer not unlike the seers who advised kings in ancient Middle Eastern civilizations. To this day, there are jokes made about how difficult it is to gain consensus amongst Igbos because every Igbo man is literally an authority unto himself – answerable to no man. However, as is normal with even the most egalitarian of societies, a leader emerged from among these councils of elders' primus inter pares, but the position was not hereditary back then like it is today. Because of this lack of monarchs, the British Colonials went on to appoint Warrant Chiefs to head clusters of communities; not necessarily to make us civil but more to facilitate their very cost-effective governing policy of indirect rule in our part of the country.
At about the time I was penning down my thoughts in this book, a certain African American performer came under heavy criticism for comments which suggested that the docile nature of slaves permitted the trade to thrive, and hence slavery was more of a choice. The backlash reminded me of a tragic, yet resilient story of Igbo slaves at Dunbar creek on St. Simons Island, off the US coast of Georgia in 1803, called the Igbo Landing. A white overseer on a plantation, named Roswell King recorded the incident. A group of seventy-five Igbo slaves in chains and on a coastal vessel, the York bound for St. Simons, rose in rebellion aboard the ship, drowned their captors and grounded the vessel in Dunbar Creek. As they relished their brief spell of freedom they broke out in song, but realizing their certain fate in a strange land, led by their chief they marched into the marshy waters where most of them drowned in mass suicide, choosing to deny their oppressors the pleasure of avenging the ship's crew. I recounted this story for two reasons; first it lends credence to the proud and egalitarian nature of my people – the Igbo. Secondly, it and similar stories of slave resistance such as the Zumbi led resistance on Quilombo dos Palmares of Brazil, in the 1600s and the Nat Turner led revolt in the US state of Virginia in 1831 on which Nate Parker's "Birth of a Nation" movie was based, show that slavery was anything but a choice.
Half a century after the 1914 British Amalgamation of Northern and Southern Protectorates (two regions with very distinct peoples and customs) into one country – Nigeria – Henry Kissinger, the US Secretary of State in the administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, a man believed to be one of the most effective US Secretaries of State of the post-world war II era; had this to say about my people. "Igbos are wandering Jews of West Africa – gifted, aggressive, westernized, at best envied and resented, but mostly despised by their neighbors in the federation." This he said in early 1969, nine years after Nigeria had just gained its independence from Britain and at the height of a separatist civil war between mostly Igbos and the other tribes in the North and West of Nigeria; a war which pitched an ill equipped Biafran (mainly Igbo) army against the Western and Russian backed Nigerian forces. Among the mercenaries who fought in the war, were Egyptian pilots who flew fighter jets for a newly formed fledgling Nigerian Air force.
Although, differing casualty figures were peddled at the end of the conflict, the conservative estimate was that over half a million mostly Igbo civilian lives were lost in that civil war. Surprisingly, most mortalities were not recorded during battles or skirmishes as one would expect but mostly from starvation as the Nigerian side put up sea and air blockades which cut off food supplies via the coast of Biafra and led to death tolls of genocidal proportions. It is possible that because all this was happening round about the height of the cold war, with the United States licking its wounds in Vietnam, the Nigerian civil war (1967 to 1970) did not get the kind of global attention or condemnation that kind of genocide would attract today. Also, I guess the fact that it happened in an African country in the late 1960's did not help either; Black lives matter – need I say more?
To give an idea of just how under reported these pogroms were, on May 30, 1969, Bruce Mayrock a twenty-year-old Columbia University student set himself ablaze on the lawn of the United Nation's New York headquarters and eventually died of his burns to protest the genocide being committed against my people at the time. The selfless young man probably did not realize that world powers set their priorities on oil rather than black lives in those days when human rights was still at its infancy. World renowned Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe (1930 – 2013) an Igbo Professor at my Alma-Mata, wrote his account of the Biafran Cause shortly before his death, titled "There Was a Country." He wrote the book from his unique perspective as Secretary of State of the then breakaway Republic of Biafra, and in it gave an account of his efforts on the behest of the then Biafran leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Ojukwu to draw international attention to their struggle for self-determination. Achebe is better known for his book "Things Fall Apart", which is the most widely read book in modern African literature and now exists in 57 translations around the world.
Despite the unpleasantness of this portion of our history, it and our pre-colonial culture and traditions form part of my ancestry and hence my identity, giving me a sense of pride and belonging. Today Igbos, not unlike Jews, Indians and Lebanese have a reputation as world travelers. It is in our nature to travel anywhere in search of opportunity. In fact, though I do not have the data to back this, but I am quite confident that you will find an Igbo in nearly every nation of the world. If for some reason, you are unable to find an Igbo in your country, then chances are that you must be lacking opportunities there.
Knowledge of one's ancestry fills a void in every human being, a void associated with shared history and identity. This is a void some African Americans, people of the Caribbean's and black Latin Americans whose ancestors were whisked away forcefully from the continent aboard slave ships, must struggle to fill. Most European, Asian and Latin Americans are able to trace their origins to at least a nation of the world. In the West, when people like me with foreign sounding names and accents get asked where we are from: we can at least mention a country, but not so for these brothers and sisters in North and South America. Unlike other ethnic nationalities, they cannot trace their ancestry to any one nation on the African continent. All we can tell is that they are of African descent because of their skin tone. Even their native names that might have helped trace their ancestry were taken from them and traded in for their owners' names.
In a sense their continent betrayed them when their ancestors were left to be taken away as slaves. This betrayal should ordinarily cause some people of African descent in the diaspora to harbor ill feelings towards Africans from the continent, especially as we come over to the West and jostle for what really is their quota of opportunities, which their ancestors labored and died for over centuries. But amazingly that is far from the case; not only are they not hostile, the majority of African Americans for instance, are very welcoming and hospitable to their immigrant brothers and sisters. Honestly, I personally would not blame the handful of diaspora Africans who may harbor animosity in any way towards their kin from Africa. The kind of things their ancestors endured at the hands of their oppressors; slavery, lynching, segregation and other forms of human rights violations, were truly horrific and in-humane. More so, they had to live in societies in which the majority had convinced everyone (including some blacks) that their skin color was a stigma; a falsehood which many of them still struggle with to this day. This is an ordeal most of us from the mother land never had to experience.
The point here is that a lack of knowledge about one's ancestry can undermine one's psyche and indirectly affect their sense of self-worth. This makes some of these blacks susceptible to abuse and victims of racist behavior. Subconsciously, they may feel that the attitude meted out to them is well-deserved. More so, these subconscious thoughts can cause them to act in negative ways that will attract racist behavior. Every so often, I hear Brits from the British Isles make fun of their American "cousins"; saying they do not have a heritage and are therefore less cultured. What they choose to ignore in saying such things is that they share a common heritage with Americans; whether Irish-American, Anglo-American or Italian-American they share the same heritage as their Irish, English or Italian "cousins" respectively, on the other side of the Atlantic. This cannot be said about African Americans because Africa is by no means a nation; Africa is a wonderfully diverse continent. Without mentioning its size, the linguistic diversity alone is anywhere between 1500 to 2000 languages spoken on the continent. So, I beg to differ with Europeans that say Americans lack heritage, as it is the African Americans who specifically have lost touch with their heritage. They have had to adopt culture that they improvised during the era of slavery as their heritage, which has gone on to form the foundations of a great deal of the music enjoyed world over today. To have managed this in spite of all the in-humane treatment and prejudice they endured for centuries, is in itself a testament to their imbued strength and tenacity.
I am not implying that we do not have our own challenges with prejudice in Africa; like other people we struggle with tribalism, nepotism, xenophobia and religious intolerance and so much more. Nonetheless while these other prejudices may also discriminate blindly without reason, they do not quite view people of other groups with the levels of contempt that racism does; hence racism's status as the worst amongst all forms of discrimination. Sadly, as much as governments and other world bodies have done and continue to do quite a lot in trying to legislate these prejudices away, for instance the United Nations International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination of 1965, racism persists in society, maybe subtler than before but still damaging and dehumanizing.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Reversing Racism"
Copyright © 2018 Uche Ekezie.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
About the Book|xiii
Chapter 1 Why this Subject? 1
Chapter 2 Covert and Overt 15
Chapter 3 Trade Not Aid 27
Chapter 4 Leadership 101 47
Chapter 5 Decolonize the Mind 67
Chapter 6 Don't desert the Motherland 85
Chapter 7 Seize the Narrative 101
Chapter 8 Conclusion 115