By Franck Bertrand Ayinda
By Franck Bertrand Ayinda
Ifarn – Lyon, France – Samia Nehrez, an African American author on decolonization prefaced the celebrated African American author, Bell Hooks on her book, Race and Representation stating the following:
“Decolonization … continues to be an act of confrontation with a hegemonic system of thought; it is hence a process of considerable historical and cultural liberation. As such, decolonization becomes the contestation of all dominant forms and structures, whether they be linguistic, discursive, or ideological. Moreover, decolonization comes to be understood as an act of exorcism for both the colonized and the colonizer. For both parties it must be a process of liberation and dependency. Decolonization can only be complete when it is understood as a complex process that involves both the colonizer and the colonized”.
I believe very much that the idea of race is meant to differentiate, enclose, belittle and segregate various ethnic peoples like children. Slavery and colonization have served to legitimize and bring into reality these philosophical beliefs. People are born, grow, and evolve with these structures of representation shaping their existence. In a country like France, structural racism is even more perverse than the common daily racism.
This structural racism limits, frames, and locks groups of people, whether, Black, Gypsy, Asian, or Arab, into what I call “urban camps” and what some sociologists call “the ghetto.” In such areas, a sense of solidarity amongst these victims of discrimination is nascent. These people now internalize their racial identity which is assigned and deployed in public spaces. Therefore, in the urban areas in France, there is an apparent anti-white racism which is a reaction to structural racism and the daily racism that Black, Gypsy, Asian and Arab peoples are victims of.
In Africa, the situation is even more complex because not only is the question of skin dominant in the analysis of relations between the North and South, but there are also what the author Axel Kabou calls: “primitive Anti-Westernism.” Which is a systematic rejection of all that can in any way be related to the West. Here it is not only a matter of skin color which structures reactions, but also a deep feeling that attributes the misfortunes of Africans to the former colonial power. Therefore all those who are of mixed race, have had a western upbringing, or have made careers (academic or professional) in the west are perceived as potential “enemies” or “co-conspirators” with western colonizers.
This brings me to Benin’s presidential election campaign this past week. The arguments used against the French-Beninese presidential candidate Lionel Zinzou, sufficiently illustrate these symptoms. It is not my intention to assert that Lionel Zinsou’s rival, Mr. Patrick Talon, was elected on the basis of racist votes, but I struggle to understand and make sense of the arguments and statements made during the campaign.
Lionel Zinzou could not win Benin’s presidential elections because he suffered principally from two flagging attributes: his skin color (mixed race similar to Barack Obama with a Beninese father and French mother while being perceived as a white man); and his very close proximity to the French political and economic establishment which is still perceived in Africa as the organizers of, or accomplices to, the suffering of the African people. Patrick Talon, a Beninese billionaire, was a step ahead of his opponent in the polls, but does that necessarily mean that he is a better presidential candidate than Lionel Zinzou simply because he is dark skinned, was born in Benin, and had done business in Benin?
The same question applies to those who only oppose the Senegalese-French political prisoner Karim Wade’s candidacy for the Senegalese presidency because of his upbringing. Karim Wade, whose father is black and mother is white French, has served in government under his father Abdoulaye Wade, but is being deemed as an illegitimate political figure by some people in Senegal because of his mixed heritage and his ostensible inability to speak Wolof.
Ironically, these people did not oppose Barack Obama’s ascension to the presidency of the United States. In fact they support and approve of some of his controversial free trade agreements which he signed while traveling to Africa.
We cannot have an obvious answer to that question, but it is important to remember, simply, that capitalist neoliberalism, which tends to favor the rich over the poor, is the operating base of the masses and manufacturing mold of new “niggers” (to get into the spirit of the French Cameroonian author Achille Mbembe); and is not just western but is transnational. Many businessmen are participating in this oppressive system of pillage worldwide. Moreover the business community in Africa helps traders to maintain the climate of corruption, cronyism, and nepotism. Skin color, therefore, should not be the main determinant in voting for a presidential candidate.
What is important today, is to no longer have in mind that identity is solely based on skin color, tribe, religion or sexual orientation. Rather, it is important to realize that we all have several identities coexisting inside of us. This is the proposition defended by the famous Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf, in his book dangerous identity, which I validate. The new Africa is a plural Africa, whose historical, social and economic changes have built new societies where a multitude of people with different origins and identities can coexist and stand united in the fight for a strong Africa. This new identity is the Afropolitan identity dear to the Cameroonian historian and political scientist Achille Mbembe.
 Bell Hooks, Race and Representation, page 2, 1992
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