I only encountered the bizarre new concept of “cultural appropriation” within the past 2-3 years. I remember the moment well: a black Facebook friend posted a picture of some white, middle-aged women dressed in traditional African clothing. It was a sweet photo, so I was taken aback by the commentary that accompanied it: apparently, here was an example of white supremacy, once again stealing from Africa. The women were guilty of “cultural appropriation”, apparently. And that’s bad.
Here was a new and puzzling idea. The left of old was insistent that Africa was victim to the exact opposite problem: something we referred to as “cultural imperialism”. We thought that culture could be imposed by those with the money and the guns. It was a superficially obvious idea: but we failed to understand what culture is, or how it works.
There are genuine moments when a culture has been forced onto an African population: the South African attempt to teach children in Afrikaans was one example. This policy prompted an uprising by school students who demanded to be taught in English, and led to the Soweto uprising, and the famous 1976 massacre of school students. The imposition of Islam in the Sahel by the Arabian empire was, one suspects, not done entirely peacefully.
Suppressing culture for the sake of it is simply expensive and pointless. This doesn’t stop politicians, police and control-freaks from repeatedly trying.
Culture doesn’t flow by force, nor does it necessarily follow the money. The story of black American music is the ultimate proof of that. Even in pre-civil rights segregated America, black music found widespread popularity. Recording fuelled the rise of jazz, swing and rock & roll. The racist white establishment attempted to suppress this, but were unable: when something is good, people will find a way to get it; this is as true of “dangerous music” as it is of illegal drugs. For sure, it was easy (prior the civil rights era) to suppress black artists, by refusing to record them, banning them from radio and from live performances. But this couldn’t prevent white artists – Al Jolson, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly – from helping to popularise black music.
The dominance of black music, dress and language over white culture was undeniable. The African diaspora filled vacuums in Western culture: music, rhythm, dance, spoken word, new styles of humour. African culture also brought a more straightforward approach to discussion of sex; this fact alone might explain much of the resistance to black culture from conservatives.
Culture is neither imperialised nor appropriated: it flows where it is welcome, usually because it fills an existing gap. It is the self-appointed job of conservatives, racists and small-minded bullies to prevent the flow of ideas, but they will inevitably fail, in the long run.
The significance of “cultural appropriation” is that it marks the shift of racism and conservatism from the right to the left of the political spectrum. Rather than exhort people not to buy “NEGRO RECORDS”, the neo-bullies tell people that black culture is for black people, and must not be appropriated.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve seen black racists and their confused white “liberal” cheerleaders use cultural appropriation as evidence of how racially oppressed they are. Apparently, wearing African clothes, listening to hip-hop or making soul music is today’s evidence of just how much white people still hate black people. Which is weird, when you think about it.
This idea is the work of a racist minority, and certainly doesn’t reflect the views of most black people. In fact, many older black art-forms still only exist because they’ve been adopted by white people. The dub reggae scene – which I’ve frequented for many years – was once mostly black, and now mostly white. The same applies to many other music scenes, from soul to traditional African music. With the exception of current Nigerian pop superstars like Wizkid, who can fill large London venues with young, black Brits, African music is largely ignored by black people in the UK. Senegalese friends of mine are currently touring Europe, playing to appreciative white audiences. Without this appropriation of (i.e. love for) their culture, these African musicians would never get to leave Africa.
Most Africans love to see whites wearing their clothing, and would be bemused to learn that some angry black people in America and Britain see this is a symbol of racism. Furthermore, there is no such thing as “African clothing”. If I wear Nigerian clothes in Senegal (as I’ve once done), the locals don’t see the clothing as theirs, but as foreign.
One can also note that Africans and western blacks themselves have happily appropriated foreign culture. Today’s most enthusiastic flag-wavers for Christianity are found among Africans and the African diaspora. Although konscious black Christians will angrily point out that Ethiopia was an early Christian society, Christianity (and its European-made book) was brought to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa far more recently by Europeans, not Ethiopians, beginning with the Portuguese explorers of the west coast. Islam, likewise, came overland from Arabia. Just as African rhythm and spoken word filled a void in the West, so Islam and Christianity provided what sub-Saharan Africa had never before encountered: complex, stable religions, with their own books.
Sections of today’s left are continuing the work of the white supremacist right of last century. They try to define rules that only apply to certain racial groups. Blacks can “appropriate”, whites cannot. Black culture must be left alone, white culture can go where it chooses.
The difference between the person who rails about “cultural appropriation”, and the person that organised a boycott of “negro records” is wafer-thin. The language has changed beyond recognition, but the ugly, bullying, divisive intent is the same.
As I’ve blogged often, the intellectual collapse of the left in recent decades has left me bereft of a political home, forced to re-evaluate my beliefs in the absence of a tribe I can belong to. The idiot new left, having noticed that brown people are less wealthy than white people (on average), has made that most basic of all mistakes: confusing correlation with causation, and has decided that the economic dominance of Europeans in recent centuries is all about racism.
There’s no doubt you’ve heard about the shocking kidnap of over 200 Nigerian schoolgirls by the moronic rebel group Boko Haram. This is one of those rare catastrophes that captures Western public attention. In part, this illustrates a positive trend: a mere generation ago, few people cared what happened in far away lands. But nothing is far away any more. Everything is within the reach of live satellite broadcast and the Internet reaches ever further. The empathy we once reserved for our close neighbours is now extended globally. Humans are becoming more caring.
But this doesn’t explain the focus on this particular incident. The kidnap and enslavement of the girls is doubtless horrific. The likelihood that they are being sexually and physically abused makes the episode even more sickening. But kidnaps in Nigeria are daily events: over 25,000 have been recorded in the past couple of decades.
My own Facebook news-feed has been filled with outrage of various kinds. Friends of mine who never normally protest have gathered in solidarity at the Nigerian embassy. Moronic rumours have been spread. From some black friends, the insinuation that the world isn’t paying enough attention because the girls are black. I’ve even seen the suggestion that Boko Haram are part of a CIA plot – thus neatly reviving the afrocentric meme that everything bad that takes place in Africa is somehow the fault of foreigners. Meanwhile, at least three of my white friends have taken to spreading far-right anti-Muslim propaganda, focusing on the fact that Boko Haram is an extremist Islamic group (but not the fact that most northern Nigerians, and many of the kidnapped girls, are Muslim, or that such episodes frequently happen in Christian regions too).
Of course, to Western eyes, this incident is a big deal. But everything is relative, and by the standards of much of what takes place in Africa, this is a minor thing. For years, the Democratic Republic of Congo has experienced warfare and terror. Six million people are said to have died there, and mass kidnaps and rapes are commonplace. Not so long ago, 48 women per hour were estimated to have been raped (and many men also have been raped). Yet this failed to catch public attention. Of my own Facebook friends, only one regularly posted about this, and she is of Congolese background.
Genocide has been raging across Sudan for years, and since the country split into two, South Sudan is now undergoing a new wave of genocide. Women and girls are kidnapped, raped and murdered in far greater numbers than in Nigeria. Yet this has failed to capture public interest.
It’s not just Africa: Sri Lanka just five years ago, an estimated 40,000 civilians were slaughtered, and hundreds of thousands rounded up into camps, where many still remain. Rape and summary execution has been recorded on a huge scale.
But not, apparently, on a big enough scale to warrant a hashtag.
So why is this event different from the others? In the case of my own Facebook feed, there are a couple of obvious reasons. I have a number of British-Nigerian friends, and it seems obvious that they will be interested in this. Also, given the dominance of Nigerians in today’s black British culture, many of my other black friends also feel close to the issue. Meanwhile, Sudanese people play little, if any, part in black British culture, so few people here are aware or interested in the South Sudan events.
But the fascination with this kidnap is global. Michelle Obama has expressed her outrage (though cynics have been quick to point out that her own husband’s foreign policy has slaughtered far more children than Boko Haram ever could). The British and Israeli governments have offered military support. And of course, both Britain and Israel have long records of providing international humanitarian support without asking for anything in return*.
The politically-correct and the far-right are united in presenting this as an unusual situation; the former are terrified to generalise about African human rights abuses; the latter are determined to blame this on Islamism, and add to the growing demonisation of Muslims around the world.
But the plain fact is that this is one of a long string of similar incidents in Africa, both in Muslim and Christian regions. African conflicts from Biafra to Congo to Sierra Leone to Sudan to Uganda are routinely characterised by mass abductions, child soldiers, industrial-scale rape and slavery.
Given the incompetence and corruption of Nigeria’s military and government, there is a strong argument for Western intervention to help find and free the girls, but we should not try to pretend that such interventions are primarily motivated by the fate of a couple of hundred girls. So why this place and this time?
To say “oil” would miss the point. Nigerian oil is already flowing freely to the West, and many billions of dollars of revenue are flowing into Nigeria… much of which then finds its way into Swiss bank accounts (this fact alone provides a far better explanation for Nigerian instability than the “Islamism did it” theory). The true explanation for the West’s sudden interest in African human rights is even simpler.
It’s The Economy Stupid
Last month, Nigeria’s GDP suddenly grew by 89%, catapulting the country ahead of South Africa to become the continent’s wealthiest, as the result of a long-overdue recalculation. Nigeria’s economy is now more than a fifth the size of the UK’s and is growing much faster. The West, long used to dismissing Africa as an economic irrelevance, and captivated by Asian and Brazilian growth, has only just woken up to a key fact: Africa is finally joining the big boys. By mid-century, Nigeria’s population will be bigger than America’s and (all being well) its economy will outstrip many Western ones.
Investors around the world want a piece of the action; but the instability of the country, and its neighbours, adds serious risk to any investment. If Nigeria wants to secure its place at the table of leading nations, it will need to play by global rules. It will need to ensure that taxes are collected, and that they’re spent on public services and infrastructure. It will need to accept that global economies don’t have most of their citizens living on less than $2 per day, and start distributing the nation’s wealth more fairly. It will need to adopt global human rights standards. Western liberals will need to swallow their dislike of “cultural imperialism”, if it means an end to child soldiers and slavery.
The kidnap of the schoolgirls is nothing new, but it might be the last straw. To focus on this one incident alone might be hypocritical, but if it is the catalyst that brings about African progress, it’s worth it.
Growing up in the political hotbed of 1980s Cold War London, I found myself among interesting people. The African National Congress, after being banned in the 1950s, had set up a leadership-in-exile, based in London and Amsterdam. One of my teenage friends was the son of senior ANC exiles, a couple who had fled South Africa when the clampdown on the ANC began – including the jailing of the activist lawyer Nelson Mandela.
My friend, and other children of the ANC leadership, tried to be normal teenagers, but that must have been hard. I was warned to keep phone conversations with him minimal and to the point: their phone was almost certainly bugged by British intelligence which, despite our nation’s professed love of “freedom”, was working to monitor and help the South African government suppress the ANC. These children of the ANC had been raised in London, but groomed for political leadership when they one day returned to a country they had never visited. They also had to endure their parents leaving on long, secret trips to southern African countries, from which they might never return.
When Mandela walked free, my friend’s parents returned to South Africa, his father becoming a government minister in the first ANC government. My friend moved to Johannesburg shortly afterwards, was offered a diplomatic career, but decided to follow other paths.
Mandela, like many leaders of oppressed people, showed immense bravery and self-sacrifice. He famously spent 27 years in prison for his “seditious” activities, and refused to leave until a transition to democracy was assured. But Mandela differed from other revolutionary heroes: he tamed his people’s justifiable thirst for revenge, and instead crafted a new, multiracial South Africa; he taught a love of democracy and racial tolerance; he stood down from power rather than try to cling on to the bitter end, like so many other African revolutionary heroes had done. He refused to repeat the mistakes of earlier African independence movements which had angrily expelled the white and Asian elites, only to lose their most educated people and wealthiest investors.
Racists and white supremacists hate Mandela more than any other black leader because he didn’t just outperform other black leaders: he has a valid claim to be named as the greatest national leader of the 20th century. Neither of the great Western “heroes” of the 1980s, Reagan and Thatcher can remotely compare.
Yes, the ANC’s acts of resistance included acts of terrorism. But ANC atrocities are tiny compared to the real terrorism of that era. South African forces repeatedly gunned down civilians, including school children. The South African, US and UK governments supported far greater acts of terrorism in Mozambique and Angola, as they tried to stamp out the ANC’s fighters. How ironic that Mandela, a creator of democracy, was labelled a terrorist by the terrorists – Thatcher and Reagan – who crushed democracy and free speech in the name of freedom.
Mandela rose above all the world leaders of his generation. It is testament to his greatness that the people and newspapers that labelled him a menace in the 1980s are today lining up to praise him.
“But Mandela wasn’t a saint”, people are saying. So what? Both right and left revel in the simplistic idea that the world divides easily into good and bad people. His early activism, his time in prison, his ascent to the Presidency, his founding of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, his creation of a stable nation where most others would have created war and misery; all these things mark him out as far greater than his peers. He wasn’t a superman. He was a human being. But he was a remarkable human being.
“But look at South Africa now”. It’s easy to cherry-pick bad things in the country today. Mandela’s successor, Thabo Mbeki, was easily convinced that AIDS was not caused by the HIV virus, and effectively killed hundreds of thousands of people by suspending treatment programmes. Corruption is rife. The ANC leadership now stuffs its pockets, gorging itself on countless millions of dollars. President Zuma lives in enormous luxury, and boasts an impressive collection of wives. South Africa is a violent country – but then that’s nothing new. Only generational change, coupled with free speech, housing, education and healthcare, can address the violence. South Africa is a deeply racist place too, as attacks on immigrants (mostly other Africans) demonstrate.
Mandela understood his country and his continent. He must have realised much of this was inevitable. Just as in the rest of Africa, the liberation struggle was just the first of a series of struggles. Colonialism and Apartheid put a racial mask on inequality, but now in South Africa, as in the rest of Africa, inequality, corruption and brutality can no longer be conveniently blamed on a foreign devil: it is home grown. Mandela and his ANC comrades, sowed the seed of democracy, human rights and free speech, allowing future generations to renew the struggle – this time a class struggle, not a racial or tribal one.
I finally visited my old friend in Johannesburg last year. A local celebrity, he mixes in a wide multiracial circle. His black friends are internationally educated and well travelled, unlike their parents’ generation. They are part of a confident and rising Africa that is just starting to be noticed internationally. This Africa is the creation of generations of leaders who shook their people awake and harnessed their resentment; but one man stood head and shoulders above the others.
As the so-called “war on terror” grinds into its 12th year, it’s the duty of every intelligent person to occasionally take a step back and remind ourselves that the “terrorist threat” today is vastly bigger than it was on September 11 2001. The Neocon “war on terror” turned a small group of fanatics into a global threat, firstly, in the minds of a gullible public, and then (via the Iraq War, kidnap, illegal imprisonment, torture and drone strikes) in reality.
Now, we’re told (by salivating warmongers), that a “new front” has opened in the Sahara. Mali has collapsed into civil war. The average war-loving moron hasn’t heard of Mali, let alone could find it on a map; they tell us that this is about the expansion of militant Islamism. Yet, they don’t seem to understand that Mali has seen Tuareg rebellions before, in the early 90s, and in the 60s.
I visited Mali four years ago, to attend a music festival, and see/photograph some of the country. It is perhaps the most dreamily beautiful place I’ve visited, and I’ve wanted to go back ever since. The map is key to understanding what is happening there. Like most African countries, its borders are a colonial creation. Most of the population is black, and lives in the bottom-left part of the map. The largest part of the country, in the top-right, is in the Sahara desert. The Sahara is sparsely populated by nomads from the Tuareg and others tribes. Most desert-dwellers are of “white” North African origin.
When the European powers carved Africa into nations, they ensured that in states like Mali, the Tuaregs would become a small racial minority, governed by very different people and cultures located hundreds of kilometers away. To the Malian government in the South-West, the Sahara is only of interest for its mineral wealth. To the Malian Tuaregs, they are people of the Sahara, with kin spread across Mauritania, Algeria and Niger. The outcome is obvious: who can be surprised that the Tuaregs, seeing little in common with Mali, have repeatedly tried to gain independence?
When I was in the country, it was largely peaceful, although tourists had occasionally been kidnapped, usually for financial gain. In the unofficial Tuareg capital, Timbuktu, I visited a peace monument made of destroyed guns from the 90s uprising, set into concrete. It was clear to me, even as an outsider, that Tuaregs and other Malians weren’t always on the best of terms – centuries of history between the groups, including slave-taking, have left them still uneasy with each other. Yet these problems are in the distant past – Tuaregs have become increasingly assimilated into urban Malian society. But as we know by looking at other societies with old racial divides (USA, anyone?) a calm surface can hide division and bitterness.
During my trip, I made friends with a Tuareg man, who I’ll call M, a middle-class university graduate. We kept in touch since then, mostly exchanging small-talk about London, Bamako and Timbuktu. Then early last year, Mali’s peace collapsed. A coup in Bamako, the capital, triggered the current problems, and as had happened before, some Tuaregs used the chaos to restart their war of independence. The Malian nationalists united with Islamists. The response was vicious – Tuaregs were attacked from the air. From the very start of the current problems, the Malian army made little distinction between any Tuareg, whether civilian, nationalist rebel or Islamist. Murder and rape of Tuaregs became widespread, and my friend M fled into a neighbouring country, where he slept rough and looked for work, then eventually managed to reach Europe – where he now faces a new set of challenges, new forms of racism.
The rebels quickly stalled Mali’s army. Islamists seized control of the North and East; tragically, in Timbuktu, once a Western outpost of the Arabic Empire, many ancient treasures were damaged or destroyed by Islamist hard-liners (West Africa’s version of Islam differs from the Arab version, and fundamentalists reject the African modifications).
Mali’s troubles give weight to “war on terror” propagandists who claim Islamism is a global “threat” to the West – without pointing out that the rise in hardline Islamist groups such as those fighting in Mali can be linked to the “war on terror” itself; their roots are in the US war in Afghanistan/Pakistan in the 80s, in the Iraq War, in missile strikes on Yemen and Somalia, in the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya.
I didn’t support the attacks on the oil states Libya or Iraq – these were both functioning, if repressive, states. Mali is a different issue – the state was weak, even in peacetime. The case for intervention is stronger – to restore rule to Bamako and to free northern and eastern Malian towns from the control of Islamist hardliners.
The Malian army, too weak to react, had been stalled, but with French support in recent weeks, has quickly regained the initiative. However, sections of the Malian army have used their new advantage to declare war on the Tuareg civilian population – the French and their European/American supporters appear to be turning a blind eye. Under the mythical “war on terror” banner, an apparent genocide is being perpetrated. Unless the French now use their presence to prevent it, the support for extreme Islamist groups, far from shrinking back, can only grow. Very few modern military interventions achieve their objective – let’s hope this French action doesn’t end up the way of Iraq or Libya.
The following is a brief Facebook conversation I had with M yesterday
M: In Mali very bad
MW: Do you think the French army will help?
Will the French make it better or worse?
M: So many touareg has been killed by malian army in the last days
Now France are making tuareg situation worse
Now malian army are just killing tuareg people
We don’t understand why france don’t say for malian army to stop killing civilans
West Africa is probably my favourite part of the world. It contains some of the oldest, most stable and (therefore) most developed human cultures on the planet. Its economic development (it probably goes without saying) lags behind much of the world; but in spite of this (or more accurately, because of this) West African societies are culturally more developed than many other societies on the planet. Tens of thousands of years of uninterrupted cultural evolution have created beautiful musical, dance, language and social skills – which explains in large part why I go there. I’ve spent part of winter there for most of the past few years, dividing my time over six countries.
This year, I’m freshly returned from The Gambia, mainland Africa’s smallest country (with under two million people) – a bizarre side-effect of the British/French scramble for Africa whereby the river Gambia (and a little land either side) was carved out of French Senegal by the British. Although Gambia comprises the same main tribal groups as Senegal, and Gambians typically have family ties with Senegalese, Senegal has managed to create some form of democracy, and forms part of the wider community of French West African nations. Gambia meanwhile has effectively been the private plaything of one man, Yahya Jammeh, since he was “elected” in 1996.
Gambians take great care when speaking out against Jammeh. In a nation so small, political rivalries are personal ones. Anyone who raises a voice against his bizarre behaviours will quickly reach Jammeh’s attention, and run the risk of vanishing in the middle of the night. I previously mentioned Jammeh’s magical ability to cure his citizens of AIDS; it seems that his near-insane behaviours have only increased since then. On this trip, I noted a change in tone when talking to Gambians about local politics. They are angrier, and less reticent about sharing their views on Jammeh.
Last summer, Jammeh got rid of a few minor problems by reinstating the death penalty and having nine prisoners shot by firing squad. This led to some unusually outspoken opposition, in particular by the leading Imam Baba Leigh. The response was sadly predictable; Imam Leigh was taken from his home in early December, and has not been heard from since. In turn, this has led to Imams uniting to call for Leigh’s release, and growing organisation of ex-pat Gambians in New York and elsewhere.
Against this backdrop, most ordinary Gambians live on the verges of poverty. Electricity is only widely available along Gambia’s short coast (which serves its tourism industry). While some African states (notably Ghana and Rwanda) are introducing near-universal healthcare, Gambian healthcare remains for the wealthy. And there are plenty of wealthy Gambians; the contrast between rich and poor is striking.
And in yet another insane presidential decree, Jammeh has declared each Friday a public holiday (to increase mosque attendances) and decreed that public workers should work longer days over a four-day week instead, and schools should open on Saturday. He has imposed a new Valued Added Tax. While African states undoubtedly need to increase their tax take in order to build desperately needed infrastructure, Gambians are under little illusion that much of their tax will go to help build the nation.
The 2011 uprising in North Africa led to hopes of an “African Spring” in sub-Saharan Africa too. There were protests in Uganda, but these were viciously suppressed by President Museveni (also a contender for most-moronic leader). Black Africa was not quite ready for its “Spring” moment. The Arab/North Africa uprisings were driven, in large part, by the rise of instant communication. While most people in sub-Saharan Africa now own a mobile phone, the services are limited, and most important, the region is not well-connected to the Internet. Access is usually via Internet cafés, and is extremely slow.
Or at least, was extremely slow. France Telecom has invested heavily in the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) project, high-speed connectivity between Europe and the West African coast. The first phase of this project went live in December. While South and East Africa already have high-speed connectivity, this is West Africa’s first real access to the global Internet. The impact can’t be understated; since Europe and West Africa first met each other 500 years ago, the relationship has been asymmetrical to say the least. For the first time in human history, the playing field in communication has been – to some extent – levelled. Simultaneously, African economies are growing at breakneck speed. Education levels are rocketing, and many wealthy ex-pats are returning home from Britain, France and the USA, bringing skills, investment and employment.
West Africa is on the verge of emerging as a global force, primarily via its biggest member state, Nigeria – ACE may represent the tipping point. While European morons attempt to drag the continent back into nationalism and isolation, Africa rises and joins the global economy (indeed – for the first time, I met several European ex-pats living in West Africa not for travel or charity, but for work).
All of these factors mean the writing is on the wall for Africa’s moron leaders – especially Jammeh, perhaps the most moronic of them all. A seismic event is about to happen; as with all earthquakes, we can predict where, but not when. Perhaps Jammeh, Museveni and their like have another decade to rob and brutalise their people, but I predict it won’t take that long.
At long last, Africa’s lagging economic development can start to catch up with its unparalleled cultural leadership. The Western world has a surprise coming.
Back in London’s bad old racist days of the 70s, many council estates were National Front strongholds, and dangerous places for blacks and Asians to go. London’s middle classes, of course, abhorred the crude violence of the working class NF supporters. We fast-forward into the 90s, and the picture had changed drastically. London’s working class areas were now becoming racially mixed, and were producing ever greater numbers of mixed-race kids. Working class Londoners were creating new, mixed cultures, cutting-edge music and were transcending race.
Meanwhile those middle-class neighbourhoods that had scorned the National Front were as white as ever. White liberal London was almost untouched by the explosion of racial mixing, or the new cultures and musical forms it was generating. It seemed that the liberal aversion to racism didn’t extend as far as actually mixing with racial minorities. London developed two distinct cultures: a multiracial one formed of immigrants and their offspring mixing with white working class Londoners; and one of the middle/upper classes that avoided mixing at all costs – either with immigrants or the poor. Ironically, the children of the fascist gang members of the 1970s were far more likely to grow up having non-white friends and sexual partners than the kids of NF-hating liberals.
Liberal racism is far more effectively veiled than the more crude types, but being better disguised, it’s also far harder to identify and tackle. In Uganda, parliament seems set to pass a draconian anti-gay law this week; this was originally drafted to include the death penalty for “aggravated” offences, but as it currently stands, looks set to be passed but without the death penalty. It’s almost impossible to discuss this subject with liberal-minded white people without someone pointing out the role of Westerners in this law. You’ll be told that existing homophobic laws are a hangover from British rule, and that American evangelists are backing supporters of the law. Both of these things are true, but the implicit assumption in this “liberal” thinking is a colonial one: that Africans couldn’t possibly have invented homophobia without our help. That these simple people have been corrupted by our influence. It assumes that African minds are so supple, so easily corrupted, that Westerners can make them believe anything.
This argument is dishonest, flawed and fundamentally racist. Yes, anti-gay laws were exported by European powers to their African colonies; but so were entire legal systems. It can be noted that while Europeans have scrapped homophobic legislation since African independence, most African states haven’t. Perhaps Africans can think for themselves after all… perhaps homophobia is a factor of African society, rather than something “we made them do”. Perhaps African culture even goes back further than European colonialism? Well yes – Africa has the oldest and most socially developed human cultures on Earth. African language, music and social customs are often far more advanced than the equivalents anywhere else. Yet still, the liberal racist can’t grasp that African actions – such as viciously anti-gay laws – are the creations of Africans themselves, not us.
One of the most blatantly racist articles I can remember reading in the mainstream media was (surprise?) in the Guardian. Film-maker Tim Samuels wrote in 2009 about Western-made porn reaching Africa. He starts the article with:
I used to think porn was tremendously good fun. The adolescent thrill of sneaking a copy of Fiesta home inside the Manchester Evening News. Crowding around a PC at university as a smutty picture revealed itself pixel by pixel…
and goes on later to say:
The moment porn truly stopped being fun came in a remote Ghanaian village – mud huts, barefoot kids, no electricity … but that doesn’t stop a generator from being wheeled in, turning a mud hut into an impromptu porn cinema – and turning some young men into rapists…
So you see, Tim Samuels and his uni pals can look at porn and not become rapists. But Ghanaian men are obviously made of something different. What could the difference be? Samuels doesn’t explain, but the implication is clear. The old stereotype of the over-sexed, out-of-control African male is alive and well in 21st century Guardianista-land.
If Samuels had provided evidence, the article may have been of some value. But the only evidence he provides comes in the form of a few anecdotes from locals. There are no stats provided to show an increase in rape since the arrival of porn videos – just a smug “it stands to reason” attitude. The Guardian editor accepted and published this racist article – an article that blatantly brands black men as potential rapists – because it is sold on the liberal pretext of protecting women. Bizarrely, this is very similar to the thinking that saw black men lynched for rape in the Deep South. They can’t help themselves, you know? We have to do something about it. Incidentally, the same thinking was part of the justification for banning marijuana in the US – it was said to turn blacks and Mexicans into rapists, which of course was sufficiently frightening to get whites behind prohibition.
In fact, in the West, there is evidence of a correlation between increased sexual openness (including access to porn) and a decline in sexual violence. This is backed by scientific evidence, such as the paper Porn Up, Rape Down, as well as much other research. Samuels doesn’t explain how the Democratic Republican of Congo simultaneously has the world’s worst rape statistics, coupled with among the world’s lowest levels of Internet access. But evidence matters little to those who have a doctrine to sell, whichever part of the political spectrum they come from.
The most overt and vicious racism still comes predictably from the right, and the left has done a huge amount to tackle racism in society. But white middle-class liberal society hides a racist core, and in its infinite belief in its own superiority, it doesn’t even seem to notice.
I’ve blogged previously on some of the moronic theories surrounding Afrocentric thinking; this image, liberated from Facebook, illustrates one of my favourites.
Like many nonsensical ideas, this is based on a grain of truth: some European artists did paint Jesus as white, and often blond with blue eyes. There are two main reasons for this, the first being simple ignorance; the second being that the Vatican, on a relentless mission to persecute Jews, tried to hide the awkward fact that their Messiah (if he had indeed existed) was a Middle Eastern Jew.
From the Afrocentric perspective, the inaccurate depiction of Jesus as a northern European could only mean one thing: yet another white conspiracy to steal the true history of the black man.
14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.
So the designers of this image have decided that “hair white like wool” means Jesus sported an afro (they’ve obviously never seen a lamb) and “feet like bronze glowing in a furnace” means he had dark skin (they’ve obviously never seen molten bronze either).
This leaves the map, which is deliberately misleading. The continent of Africa is shown, with an inset showing the Middle East (which isn’t in Africa, although it is adjacent to Egypt).
This is about as nonsensical as conspiracy theories come, and incredibly easy to pick apart. So why do people believe it? This theory results from the collision of two strong and conflicting memes. The African diaspora has experienced incredibly brutal treatment from white society, but also received Christianity from whites. The impulse to separate the two is natural. Perhaps it would be more intellectually honest to reject Christianity altogether; many have of course done so. Some have adopted Islam (though this comes with the problem that it, like Christianity, originates outside Africa). Others have tried to adopt African animist beliefs, but this is fraught with difficulty. Animist belief varies widely from place to place in Africa, and has only been documented in recent centuries. Of course, adoption of Atheism may resolve much of this conflict, but is a step too far for Afrocentrics raised in strongly Christian homes.
Unfortunately, the teaching of myth as history is strong in the Afrocentric tradition, and it perpetuates rather than resolves the problems faced by the black diaspora in Europe and America. Teaching black children to adopt evidence-free dogma, rather than scientific reasoning, relegates them to the educational second ranks in Western society. Teaching a child to question, to look for evidence, and to keep an open mind, is essential to success in a modern, rational society.
The saddest thing of all is that, rather than celebrate the true strengths of African civilisation, which are unique, the Afrocentrics try to impose Western measures of success on Africa, and end up looking foolish in the process. The painting of Jesus (essentially a Roman invention) as a black man is a great example of this.
It’s Black History Month in the US (Britain’s being in October) – a time set aside for furthering the understanding of African and diaspora history among the black population and, hopefully among non-blacks too. The history of the African diaspora being such a bizarre and brutal one, Black History Month was created to create strength and stability in a rootless, subjugated population. It’s a time to learn about the heroes of the diaspora, those whose actions created hope in people whose position was apparently hopeless. From Toussaint L’Ouverture, the leader of Haiti’s successful slave rebellion against the French, through the Jamaican Marcus Garvey who fostered the idea of a black return to Africa, to the civil rights heroes Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, and beyond, diaspora history is the story of people overcoming enormous odds.
The era running roughly from the 1950s to the 1970s was a time of global black advancement, with African and black Caribbean states throwing off colonial rule while black Americans took huge steps forward. This movement created its own stories, which were used to raise black pride as a necessary part of putting right gross injustices. These Afrocentric ideas included much mythology, and many mistaken views of history, but played an essential political role nonetheless.
Prior to the rise of Afrocentric thinking, sub-Saharan African history had almost entirely been been written by non-blacks. With the exception of Ethiopia, literacy is a relatively new import to the region, first arriving in northern parts with the Arab Empire around a thousand years ago, and becoming more widespread as Europeans arrived in the past 500 years. The first written documentary of black Africa was done largely by white people viewing very strange and different cultures, and could never have been an accurate or balanced portrayal of African culture.
But Afrocentrism didn’t change that; it was a wishful view of Africa written largely by people who had never set foot on the continent. Its goal wasn’t accuracy, but to provide a counter-balance to white views of Africa and black people. The American descendants of slaves, existing as a minority in one of the world’s most brutally racist societies, understandably saw the world in a racial way; American politics have always been racial, and so the history of slavery and the slave trade was therefore rewritten in the same way, to suit black American sentiment: white people kidnapped Africans from their homeland and transported them to the Americas.
The slave trade however, was triangular: manufactured goods were taken to Africa; slaves were taken to the Americas; cotton and sugar were brought back to Europe. People became rich at all three points; the English cities of Bristol and Liverpool were build on slave trade money; equally, an African elite became wealthy by selling Africans. Many of today’s wealthy Africans descend from this same elite.
It’s estimated that when Europeans first arrived in West Africa, between one-third to two-thirds of the population were slaves. Even earlier, Arabic explorers who ventured south of the Sahara documented rich individuals owning hundreds of slaves. The first European involvement in the African slave trade was by the Portuguese, who bought slaves on the Slave Coast (Nigeria/Benin) and sold them to the Asante of the Gold Coast (Ghana) in exchange for gold.
When the British outlawed the slave trade, they didn’t just hurt European traders – even more, they damaged the West African economy, which was in large part based on slave exports. With demand diminished, prices fell and slave ownership rocketed within Africa. The 10 million or so slaves that were exported across the Atlantic represented a small percentage of the total number of Africans in slavery. The Afrocentric view either ignores this majority, or creates new myths: Afrocentric thinkers will often claim that slavery in Africa was a more civilised matter than what took place in the Americas; eye-witness reports of slaves being sacrificed, their blood spread in the fields, to appease gods, suggest otherwise. Afrocentric viewpoints write the majority of slaves out of history; to suit the political needs of black America, the stories of countless millions of Africans have been ignored.
Afrocentrism attacks other people’s stories too. Afrocentric thinkers find it convenient to claim that ancient Egypt, Africa’s first great civilisation, was a black one. This ignores the inconvenient reality that today’s Egyptians (and north Africans in general) aren’t black; to which the Afrocentric response is that the original Egyptians were somehow wiped out and replaced by Arabs, Turks or Greeks. As to when this enormous genocide supposedly took place, I’ve yet to hear a straight answer. It may seem harmless to allow people to maintain this mythology; yet it is an essentially racist one, denying the right of anyone who isn’t black to be an African. The black race is just one of several racial groups indigenous to Africa; Afrocentrics would write the others out of history, and deny modern Egyptians, Libyans, Tunisians their African identity.
Afrocentric moronic myths date back decades, and have been debunked many times, yet every black history month sees them resurrected. Black History Month was supposed to be about black history. Africa isn’t served by the repetition of made-up tales; neither are black children benefited by being taught stories in place of history. Black Americans still have a mountain to climb to find equality in their own country, but angry, racist groups like the NoI or the New Black Panthers seem to serve little useful role any more. But things are changing: an economically resurgent Africa is finding its own voice, as African universities produce graduates in ever greater numbers. The diaspora itself is increasingly dominated by African migrants – Nigerians for example are among the most successful immigrant groups, both in the US and in Britain. Africa can now speak for itself, and as America’s global cultural impact is fading, so is black America’s.
In the US, despite the election of Obama, black people are still the victims of institutionalised racism. Since the civil rights movement made all races equal in law, new methods of “legal lynching” have been invented; the corrupt War on Drugs has been used to target black people, and the black prison population has rocketed in the past 20 years. A million black people are currently in US prisons. It’s understandable that Afrocentric myths find a fertile breeding ground in the US, but they do nothing to help understand Africa or its history. Afrocentric thinking has served its purpose – it’s time to consign it to the trash can of black history.
It’s time once again to look back at the highlights and lowlights of the past year. The widespread economic and social problems have meant that, for millions, 2011 has been a difficult, challenging time. But not for MoronWatch! 2011 has one of the most moronic years in modern history. And it’s time to give thanks to all the morons who helped make it happen.
So here’s my attempt to remember just a few of this year’s moronic events, and the morons behind them. I couldn’t possibly cover every piece of moronitude, and I’ve undoubtedly missed some key events and people – feel free to add your favourites below.
Those who entertained us by promising to deliver, before completely failing to do so.
Winner: Harold Camping, who predicted the second coming would take place on 21st May, followed by the end of the world on October 21st. He worked it out using numbers. Sadly (at least for morons awaiting Judgement Day), his calculations turned out to be wrong. Jesus failed to show in May, but Harry stuck to his guns and said the world would still end in October (it didn’t, FYI). Honourable mention: the people who believed him.
Guido Fawkes (aka Paul Staines), a right-wing British blogger who tried (with help from the moron press) to show, via an online petition, that the UK public were clamouring for a return of the death penalty. They weren’t.
Donald Trump, who reignited the birther controversy, demanding Barack Obama produce his long-form birth certificate. With beautiful timing, Obama duly did so, destroying Trump’s presidential campaign (though to be fair, Trump had already destroyed it himself by being Donald Trump).
Christopher Monckton, a man who has profited hugely from selling climate change denial to morons, despite having been repeatedly discredited, opened a Twitter account. After skirmishes with myself and other “fans”, he quickly closed it down again.
The far-right English Defence League (EDL) have continued to keep us entertained with their moronic (and badly-spelled) antics, both online and offline. This year, they discovered that posting online threats to attack the Occupy protesters in London would lead to them being arrested when they arrived in town for Remembrance Day.
Rick Perry, presidential hopeful, had a moronic plan to close entire government departments, but when asked during a TV debate, he couldn’t remember which ones. Oops!
Michele Bachmann, after showing early promise to be the flag-bearer for American moronism in next year’s presidential election, vanished without a trace (as did several of her moronic competitors).
Who has been doing their best to destabilise world society, and (whether deliberately or accidentally) drive us towards war?
Winner: The Tea Party caucus in Congress for refusing to raise the US debt ceiling until the 13th hour, resulting in a downgrade for the USA’s credit rating. While some “moderate” Republican morons used the debt ceiling increase as a negotiating tool to try to force cuts in spending, the Tea Party, led by MoronWatch favourite Michele Bachmann, were genuinely prepared to force a US debt default, taking the global economy to the brink of panic.
European leaders for repeatedly failing throughout the year to take the actions necessary to stabilise the EU economy. Special mention to Silvio Berlusconi, for clinging to power despite having mismanaged the Italian economy for years, so he wouldn’t face prosecution for – well, pretty much everything. Very special mention to Dave Camoron and his nationalistic, Eurosceptic Tory right, who tried (perhaps successfully) to single-handedly derail a deal that would stop the European economy from collapsing.
Ongoing: The US for its moronic “war on terror” which grinds on, killing civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan, pushing those countries steadily towards social collapse and so putting power in the hands of the Taliban and other extremists, who are (in theory) supposed to be the enemy.
Binyamin Netanyahu, who has stopped even pretending to care about peace in the region, and endlessly accelerates Israeli aggression and land theft. Special mention: the moronic pro-Israel lobby in the US who continue to support Israel, regardless of what it does.
Ongoing: most world governments for their endless execution of the utterly failed War on Drugs, which swallows endless billions of dollars and millions of lives, and results in more people taking more dangerous drugs.
Terrorism is becoming ever-more fashionable, especially among those who claim to be fighting terrorism. Here is my selection of the year’s top terrorists.
Winner: President Assad of Syria, for the mass-slaughter of his own people in the streets of Syrian cities. Of course, like all good state terrorists, Assad says that his victims aren’t civilians at all, but are themselves terrorists working in behalf of Syria’s enemies. No doubt, Syria has its own population of morons who believe him.
Barack Obama, for drone strikes on Pakistan that kill civilians on a regular basis. Obama fans may point out that it’s actually the Pentagon or the CIA carrying out these attacks, but if we blamed Bush’s wars on Bush, let’s be consistent and lay the blame for post-2008 terrorism on Obama. It’s only fair. And by the way, it’s probably about time Obama returned his prematurely-awarded Nobel Peace Prize.
West Bank extremist settlers for their barely-reported campaign of “price tag” terrorism against Palestinian civilians. Their strategy is to endlessly provoke the Palestinian population by ripping up crops, sabotaging irrigation systems or damaging mosques, then shooting people who protest. If the protests get too big, they go running to Mummy (aka the Israeli Defence Force) who shoot or arrest and torture Palestinian civilians.
Mystery winner: somebody, probably Israel or the US, carried out a terrorist attack on an Iranian military base, and quite possibly other attacks we haven’t heard about. If Iranians protest or retaliate in any way, it just shows how unreasonable they are. Honourable mention: Western media and politicians who ignore these attacks and continue to beat the drums of war against Iran.
London’s Metropolitan Police, who executed Mark Duggan, a young black man, in North London, based merely on the suspicion that he might be carrying a gun. Immediately after the shooting, the police lied to journalists, saying an exchange of fire had taken place – it hadn’t. The shooting triggered an uprising in Tottenham which led to the UK summer riots. Notably, this is the second time a riot has begun in Tottenham after the police killed an unarmed person. Special mention to the poorly-named Independent Police Complaints Commission, who are never independent and always ignore complaints. As ever, they came down on the side of the police.
While it’s useful to understand motivations, some people are just plain evil.
Winner: “Pepper Spray Cop” – the policeman in Berkeley, California who was videoed casually spraying peaceful, seated protesters in the face with pepper spray. He was just one of many US police officers who took part in violent attacks on peaceful Occupy protesters this year, showing that free speech isn’t as much an American value as we might have hoped.
The US state of Georgia, who executed Troy Davis, despite strong evidence that his trial had been rigged.
Supporters of presidential candidate and libertarian, Ron Paul at a debate. Paul was asked about his “libertarian” approach to healthcare: what should happen to people with no health cover if they were to fall ill? He confirmed that they should be given the “freedom” to die. At which, the audience applauded heartily, yelling “Let him die!”.
Everyone loves a little hypocrisy. Well, MoronWatch does, anyway. Here are some of the highlights.
Winner: Joint prize to The UK, France and the US for attacking Libya, to “protect civilians”. Strangely, their newly-found morality hasn’t been applied in recent years where civilians in their thousands (or tens of thousands) have been persecuted, slaughtered, raped or driven from their homes in various countries including Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria and Bahrain. Did I mention Libya is a major oil producer?
The Republican Party, who desperately fight for tax cuts for the rich, while proving decidedly reluctant to extend a tax cut for working Americans. Not only is this morally suspect, it’s also economically moronic: tax cuts for people on low and average incomes feed back into economic growth far more effectively than extra money for the wealthy.
Western conservatives, who enjoy using the words freedom and democracy incessantly but who, when faced with Arabs demanding democracy, proved decidedly lukewarm about the idea.
Just Plain Moronic
Awarded for general acts or statements of stupidity.
Winner: The British Public, for rejecting a modest improvement (the Alternative Vote, or AV) to our democratic system that would help weaken the current Labour-Conservative duopoly on power, open the door for the creation of fresh new political parties, and revitalise our democracy (as had already happened when AV was adopted in Australia). The newspapers (which mostly support the Tories or Labour) had largely come out against AV, and since most of the public pay no attention to politics, they voted as the press barons told them to. Thus proving that referendums, though seemingly democratic, are not in practise.
UK Prime Minister Dave Camoron for publicly giving the advice that people should pay off their debts. Although this advice is sensible, unfortunately our current economic system isn’t. A widespread shift from spending to saving, at a time when the economy is already struggling, would make the situation worse. By the end of the day, Dave was forced to reverse his advice. People are supposed to keep spending, and paying down their debts, even as the majority of them become poorer. How will that work? It won’t.
All-round weird moron Donald Trump, for suggesting that the US should take Libya’s oil as “payment” for “liberating” Libya. It’s almost like the good old days of Empire. In fact, I think it is the good old days of Empire.
Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, for his wonderfully simple (in every sense of the word) 9-9-9 economic plan, under which corporation tax, income tax and sales tax would all be pegged at nine percent. The tax would result in the poor paying more, the top 10% doing pretty well, and the top 1% doing fantastically well. Cain proved incapable of explaining how it could possibly work, just as he proved incapable of explaining anything at all, from foreign policy to why a series of women would accuse him of sexual harassment.
The delightfully named, but not at all delightful, Eric Pickles, Tory government minister, for the most pointless spending exercise of the year. Councils across the UK have been encouraging recycling by providing households with recycling bins and reducing general waste collections from weekly to fortnightly. Although this is sensible and desirable, the British press and public did what they do best: moan about it. So Pickles threw £250m at restarting weekly bin collections, thus managing to waste huge amounts of cash and reverse years of progress towards recycling, all to win a few moron votes. Not only was the idea moronic, but most councils have rejected the cash anyway.
The British government and media, for creating a new moral panic about Sexualisation, an imaginary problem designed to scare parents that society had become too sexual, and was threatening their children – and hence laying the foundations for future legislative attacks on sexual freedom.