In this exclusive article, International journalist, migrant activist and TED Fellow Yasin Kakande, author of a new book on the historical and contemporary reasons for African immigration, ‘Why We Are Coming’, traces the intersection between Black Lives Matter and African Migrations in the Covid-19 Pandemic.
From the video images of a Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd to the images of African immigrants sleeping on the streets of Guangzhou in China, after being evicted during a racist fallout in which they were accused of spreading the COVID-19 virus, all these images have unleashed an intense way of emotions for black people all around the world.
As Black Lives Matter protests have mushroomed across all over U.S. states and at least 18 countries, the gatherings have emphasized that black lives from all perspectives must be included in the dialogue, including those of African immigrants. It was more than 20 years ago, for example, when Amadou Diallo, 22, from Guinea was shot and killed by four New York City police officers, who later claimed the victim was mistaken as a suspect in a rape case. Diallo, who had no criminal record, was unarmed. The officers, who later were found not guilty, fired 41 shots and 19 struck the young immigrant in the February 1999 incident. In 2004, Diallo’s family received a $3 million settlement under New York’s wrongful death statute.
Black people of African ancestry continue to be viewed suspiciously throughout the world. In China, photos showing printed signs banning black people from entering shops to buy food have been shared widely across social media. Meanwhile, the Chinese government has denied any racist sentiments were behind the actions.
The attacks on black people are not new, nor limited to China. African migrants have been murdered in the Middle East. Europeans have done little to save African migrants from drowning in makeshift boats as they seek refuge in their countries. And, in the U.S., innocent black citizens continue to be gunned down indiscriminately by the police or self-proclaimed white nationalists or vigilantes. The abuse and torture of black people occur everywhere.
There is no moral obligation for any country hosting black people to protect them and consider their standing as recipients of human rights. In the court of many host countries, unfortunately, more than a few African migrants are deemed guilty before charged and, therefore, are urged to stay in their countries. The current pandemic has intensified these sentiments. Instead of addressing the continuing plunder of African resources that has continued to starve Africans of opportunities for decades in the post-colonial era, and which has left them little choice but to migrate elsewhere for a modicum of economic justice, the world still manages to heap blame onto Africans. COVID-19 has not changed the circumstances.
Today, Africans are not welcome anywhere but the resources from their lands remain a fair game for the world’s most developed countries and those aspiring to join this powerful elite. Africa is still the richest continent in terms of available resources on the planet, yet its people are the poorest. In Africa, European and American foreigners own the land, mines, banks, factories, fuel stations and airlines, with the wealth transferred expeditiously to the West. Should anyone note this in the global immigration debate, they are immediately dismissed as a whining, trivial distraction.
We have leaders in Africa whose main role is to oversee the ongoing massive plunder of their countries by foreign corporations. They are funded and armed to restrain African efforts to disrupt the status quo. These leaders issue decrees that ensure thousands of Africans can be forced from their lands to pave way for corporations to pursue lucrative projects without domestic consequences.
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So, what does the future hold for ordinary black people? What does it mean to be black in a world where hate is on the rise? What will happen to our children and grandchildren? These questions ring more acutely now as the Covid-19 pandemic’s most serious effects are being felt everywhere.
This is a crisis not only for poor black people but also for the slight numbers of successful African elites who have managed to squeeze themselves through the narrow escape hatches toward economic freedom and prosperity. However, they cannot guarantee the same success for their children or grandchildren. Reality catches up after spending a fortune to enroll children in the best schools of the country, only to realize after graduation that the only substantial opportunities are to send them to Saudi Arabia or Dubai to become servants to Arab families. These are painful truths.
Other black elites who have managed to settle in the west struggle to bring over their families. The rules which are always changing in the west only allow one to bring along their closest family members: children, spouse and parents. However, African families always have been larger than what the West considers typical. African culture acknowledges that one’s immediate family encompasses not only brothers and sisters but also cousins and nieces, whom we wish to rescue from permanent poverty in their homeland.
But, even for those rescued children there are new challenges. Children risk being subjected to hostility in their new communities in the west, where their black neighbors might be gunned down while jogging or playing in their grandmother’s backyard or for just holding binoculars. One hopes that the despair being suffered on their home continent does not find new sources or expressions in their new home. These risks and dangers continue now, even as the world’s attention is absorbed with the pandemic. In fact, this present moment is absolutely the right time to deal with the issues, especially as the public health crisis has exposed so many disparities and inequalities in historically disadvantaged communities.
Sadly, it is not only Europeans or Americans citizens who not yet ready for a honest debate about the reasons behind African migrations. Even my fellow Africans are unprepared, afraid or paralyzed to address the metaphorical elephant in the room.
As a journalist, I was among the first Africans in my field to raise the issue of abused African migrants in the Middle East and though the response of the Gulf Arab rulers to deport me back to Africa shocked me, even more shocking was the number of fellow Africans who told me to stay quiet. Many of those who urged that I remain silent benefited from deals with foreign recruitment companies but, surprisingly, there were others—especially African migrants much like myself who thought my reporting and writing served no other purposed but to expose their secret games of survival in their host countries.
These misfortunes on black people are not going to exhaust themselves on their own and disappear. We cannot afford to bury these injustices and go on because the risks of having our children and grandchildren living on this planet as second-class citizens pleading desperately with Europeans, Americans, or the Chinese to just take them on, even if it means being subservient to the point of slavery, have become inexcusable and unacceptable. The pandemic has revealed a crisis of human dignity on many dimensions. The plight of Africans is just one of them.
The Black Lives Matter protests are unlike previous events. The anger against police is being fused with the frustrations of economic inequities which only have been exacerbated by the corporate practices of global capitalism.
As we struggle and eventually find our way to a new normal, there is the political will to rectify many long-standing injustices. One should involve a thorough, honest discussion about the future of ‘Blackness’ on this planet. We should not expect to find answers in summits led and orchestrated mainly by Americans and Europeans. After all, we should never trust the arsonists to be firefighters.