Opinion: We should make friends and not enemies

by Emeka Asinugo

The only meaningful way to “confront our self-hatred” as humans is by being useful to others at every given opportunity. The point being that whether we are white or black is not a guarantee that everything is OK for us as human beings. Whether black or white, we still lack, we still need. We still struggle to better our lives. We still hassle.

I am sure many people still remember Dr James Watson, the American scientist who co-founded the structure of the DNA in 1953. I am also sure they will remember that some years ago, Dr Watson came out with a theory which tried to convince the Western world that he had discovered that, contrary to globally held opinions, the mentality of black people was inferior to that of their white counterparts.  James Watson Wikipedia

Many people accused Dr Watson, at the time, of trying to usher a dangerous conception of race superiority into human relationships which politicians and even society itself would find difficult to handle.

Among those who seriously criticised Dr Watson were the Chairman of Britain’s Home Office Select Committee, Keith Vaz, MP and the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone.

Today, the eminent scholar has been proved wrong because recent data in the UK shows that Nigerian and
Chinese children are the best performing students in England.
But come to think of it.

The social conception of black and white ethnic dichotomy, especially in the developed countries, can be quite intriguing. I have a strong feeling that people simply adapt to the proclivity of contemporary society on the precarious “white” and “black” relationship which prevails in the big cities and villages of developed countries only when it is a huge joke.

It is an open secret that poverty plays a vital role in the promotion of this ethnic dichotomy. It is financial constraint, for instance, that makes people remain interminably local, irrespective of their ethnic origin. They cannot go out beyond their locality because they don’t have the money to do so. And so they get stuck in their locality, as it were. You find them in the local bars most of the times, drinking heavily and making trouble.

In some local cultures, those who cannot help their poor situations try to rise above them in one way or another. Some try to speak fast or colloquially in the local accent so that the prying sensibility of a stranger is thrown off-guard from the stark reality of the local’s poverty. If you didn’t know, you would think these people are too proud. But in actual fact, all they are trying to do is to cover up their economic deficiency.

Who can blame them?

When people are wealthy to some extent, they are not interested in remaining in one locality all their lives. They travel. They get to know people. They get to appreciate and respect other people’s culture. They begin to value the need to make friends, not enemies.

They begin to realise that beyond the vagrancies of urban life, there are circumstances about white and black relationships that transcend the colour barrier. Take a scenario for instance. A hit and run driver hits a white man. The man is lying critically in the middle of the road, bleeding profusely. You are passing by and see the incident. As a black man, what would you do? Turn away and run from the scene because you don’t want to be involved in “white people’s problem” or call an ambulance because a life is in danger and you can be of assistance. And if the white man sees that a black man came to his rescue, what would he do? Is he likely to reject help because it is coming from a black man?

This is what Jesus was illustrating when he told the story of the Good Samaritan to his followers.

Although on both sides of the divide there are blacks who hate whites with passion and there are whites who hate blacks with equal passion, the society frowns at such relationships because they are not healthy for the human family.

Professor Chinua Achebe caught the situation well, as it is in my native Nigeria, in his last book: “There was Country” when he observed that: “once a people have been dispossessed and subjected to dictatorships for such a long time as in Nigeria’s case, the oppressive process also effectively strips away from the minds of the people the knowledge that they have rights.”

That many black people feel somewhat inferior in the presence of their white counterparts has for a while been attributed to the effects of the slave trade. That may be true to an extent. The greater truth, however, is the fact that white people do not regard blacks generally because of the type of leaderships our people have, especially in African and Asian countries.

Take a country like Nigeria for example. It has everything, from coal, bitumen, manganese, ore, silver, gold, to crude oil and gas. It has over 50 rivers and huge forests that are home to the most exotic animals on earth. It has well educated men and women, some educated in the best universities in the world. But many Nigerians, especially the educated ones, daily escape from their country in “search of greener pastures” abroad. With all the money the country has, tell me why any citizen of Nigeria would want to leave that country to go abroad only to wash dishes, wash dead bodies or become a cleaner or a security officer, even as a university graduate.

If the leaders of the country had used the country’s enormous wealth judiciously to cater for the welfare of their citizens, even the rich white people would be sending their children to school in Nigeria. They will be  looking for jobs in Nigeria. They will respect Nigeria and Nigerians, whether such Nigerians are at home or abroad. But the whites are not doing that because they don’t see why, with all their enormous wealth, African citizens would be coming to do menial jobs in their countries. Why would they respect us? Seriously, do we Africans really deserve their respect? Your guess is as good as mine. After-all, charity begins at home.

In any case, not all of the whites think that way, though. You remember the incident I once told you about? I was to work at the United Bank of Switzerland (UBS) near Barbican Station one evening. I alighted at London Liverpool Street and hailed a black cab to the place because I was running late. It wasn’t the first time. Ordinarily it would take about £4.00 to the place. But on this occasion, I had a different experience. The driver never explained to me that the nearest road to UBS was closed due to road works. He had to take a longer route and by the time you knew it, the meter was reading £12.00 – and yet we hadn’t got to our destination! I was furious. Angrily, I told him to let me off. He stopped and demanded his £12.00.

An altercation between us went something like this.
“It is £12.”
“And why would I pay you £12.00? The cost should not have exceeded £4.00 or a maximum of £4.20 for this journey?”
“Well my friend, that’s what the meter reads.”
“No, you deliberately wanted to rip me off, that is why you drove through a longer route.”
“Listen, man, there was work going on at that road. What did you want me to do?”
“At-least you should have had the courtesy to tell me so before we moved from Liverpool Street.”
“I was in no legal obligation to do so.”
“You know what?”
“You are a bloody black monkey.”
“Me, a black monkey?”
“Yes, and you know why? Because your skin is white but your mind is black.”

The cab driver laughed and laughed and finally accepted £10.00 which was all the money I budgeted for the evening for transport and dinner. He must have thought: “I haven’t seen the last of this ‘funny’ Nigerian.” Sure enough, I met the cab driver days later and he instantly recognised me. We have since become friends.

Whether we are white or black, real pride can only come from what we can do for others, not what we can do for ourselves, or worse still what others can do for us. I have said it before. The only meaningful way to “confront our self-hatred” as humans is by being useful to others at every given opportunity. The point being that whether we are white or black is not a guarantee that everything is OK for us as human beings. Whether black or white, we still lack, we still need. We still struggle to better our lives. We still hassle. The bottom-line is that there are things that go beyond the colour barrier into the realm of humanism. And we need to seize every opportunity to be useful to our fellow humans. We need to make friends, not enemies.

This article was published with permission from Sahara Reporters

Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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