A Global Pandemic: Lessons for Black-ness By Rev. Fr. John Segun Odeyemi

We Africans at home and in the diaspora quite recently had to react with righteous indignation at the effrontery of two French doctors, who on TV in France, suggested that a possible vaccine for COVID-19 be tested in Africa on Africans.  The reaction was immediate; it was strong and unanimous from the world of the black peoples from around the world. 

The said French doctors recanted immediately and offered their immediate mea culpas.  For anyone who pay attention to the myriads of theories flying around the web, there is no denying the fact that there are theories about the French collusion with the Americans and the Bill Gates’ Foundation to carry out vaccinations in Africa, which are dubious and suspect in intentions.  Africans around the world have had plenty to say about this matter.  Videos upon videos have been made by coalitions, self-acclaimed professionals in the medical field and bloggers creating a ragtag misfit army of resistance. I have seen these outbursts like that of a toothless bulldog, barking all day long while tethered in chains to a post. Like that bulldog, the barking slowly withers into whimpering and then fizzles out as it gives up and lies down accepting its powerlessness to attack even if it wanted to. For a long time, Africans have perfected this art form of immediate reaction on paper, on social media, we whine, whine, and succumb to the inevitable powerlessness and unproductive venture of a lightweight wanting to engage a heavyweight in a boxing title match. 

I have seen this circle of risible reactionary tendencies among black people, which, simply losses steam after a short while, and smolders into mere aporetic naiveté. A very short while ago, President Donald Trump, in one of his childlike outbursts made the comment that Haitians and Africans (Nigerians) should crawl back into their sh**holes.  Outrage, a maelstrom haranguing the offender followed. Then it simmered down and we all went back to queuing up at the various American money laundering systems named “American embassy” all over Africa. When Africans were dying in droves in the Sahara Desert and on the Atlantic trying to cross over, or when the Arab world started to re-enslave Africans for cheap labor or sex trade, all we did was excoriate the offenders, propound theories about the mistreatment of Africans. Only for our visionless leaders to then cower in the presence of other governments and lead us back into our tethered powerlessness. This also can be said of Africa’s newfound attraction to China’s money and the immediate superiority complex of the Chinese over Africans and the continent as a whole. Unfortunately, this is not a new story, as African nations over time has been saddled with a good number of absent-minded panhandlers who occupy leadership roles in successive African governments; this is what we have always done in history.  When the colonizers came and took over our land, the resistance was childlike. Our so-called victory at independence was no more than a trick where the colonialists entrusted their creation into the hands of their lackeys. God forbid at any time, that a true Pan Africanist were to lead his nation, the same colonial master will systematically eliminate him, always with the help of an African.  Black folks will yell blue murder, write incisive commentaries then momentarily lose steam and lapse back into inertia. The ongoing Coronavirus pandemic has given me an epiphany – a new light by which I can re-negotiate my former claims and understanding of blackness the type that is common specifically to the black continent.

As a matter of historical reality, the black human has suffered more indignities than any other homosapien on the face of the globe not minding the color of their skin. Studies have shown that most Caucasians from the very moments of first coming in contact with the black person, perceived themselves to be of a superior kind.  They make the unsubstantiated claim to be a more advanced society due to their technology and sophistication.  However, history shows that civilization stems from Africa and many kingdoms already established a far superior form of trade, government and culture while Europe was still floundering, living in stone cottages without electricity or in house convenience.  Some scholars argued that the self-introduction, intrusion and usurpation by the Europeans accounts for the stunted growth of African.  Whether this is true or not is not the point of my essay.  I know that not one African was at the Berlin Conference when Europeans scrambled for and decided on the partitioning of Africa among themselves.  The United States refused to participate in the said conference.  They simply brought ships and kidnapped at will black men, women and children into slavery, without negotiations, terms of agreement or any known contractual agreement to the possible years of servitude on sugar cane plantations and cotton fields of the ‘brave new world.’   

These black bodies abducted from their homelands and brought into a new nation without visa requirements, work permit or green cards became the back bent in labor to birth a new industrial nation. Through years of servitude and oppression, treated less humanely than the ‘gentry’ treated their pets, from one lynching tree to another, some civil rights were achieved; the right to sit on buses, to desegregate schools and public places but not the same right to equal opportunities economically, educationally and worse still in matters of justice. After emasculating the black body and robbing them of basic human dignity, the black male became habitués and most time, permanent residents of the prison system. Most of the remaining black men yet to be a guest of the government in penitentiaries across the nation are jobless and are engaging in addictions that can only lead in either of two directions; an early grave or the HQs of the black American nation – prison!  The ties that binds the black person is family and faith, even that surreptitiously has been taken from them. I do not consider myself qualified to tell the story of the “African-American”, but I can tell the story of the Negroid around the world, subjugated, classified as less intelligent, and of a lower class within the human species.  The current pandemic especially in the United State , not knowing yet the decimation it may wreak on the face of the black continent, has shown that a new virus is attracted to blackness than to anyone else’s’ color!  

In the wisdom of our African progenitors, they warn that if one does not take hold of one’s destiny, others will and determine if you will live free or die in chains.  Since no one is inured from the ravaging current global pandemic, and as the world is forced to reevaluate our common humanity on many phases, I have chosen to explore the impact and derivative lessons of this global event and how it has impacted the black race, albeit, those of the African persuasion.  The insult and insistence of forced vaccination trials on African ‘guinea pigs’ ought to call any intelligent black mind to an introspection.  There is a need to question the insidiousness and constant attempts by the west to pillage, lay to waste and subjugate the human and natural resources of Africa.  One easily comes to the simple conclusion, Africa’s continued profligacy in governance and leadership, the mismanagement of the continent’s natural resources is the cause of the pauperization of the continent- this is no news. What is news to me is my coming to a new awareness, an epiphany of some sorts; while I have argued in the past that the bane of leadership on the continent is based on a sad recycling of unpatriotic, unintelligent and uneducated greedy politicians and ex-military turned politician, I now know I missed the point by a mile! Upon a review of the various ‘democratic’ systems across the continent, a higher percentage of the political actors across board are lettered men and some women.  They hold higher degrees from the Harvards and Oxfords –first class universities of the western hemisphere.  In the hands of these ‘learned people,’ African nations continue to exist as pariahs among the world committee of nations.  They all seem to be ingenious only in accruing to themselves public funds from government treasuries and pilfering from the commonwealth.  When people are educated and have no moral or ethical compass, an entire nation becomes moribund, destined for poverty and internecine conflicts that leads only to the wasting of lives.  Sadder still for me, is the realization, that this umbrage, an assault to decency has been perpetuated by the ruling class only.  It has become a paradox that African nation states celebrate mediocrity, while projecting a farcical façade of wellness.  And it gets worse because the citizens have been so beaten down into subjugation by the political class that the only thing that matters is the ability to have a semblance of existence; wake up, go to a dead end job, eat, defecate, a few hours of conviviality at the regular ‘spot’, back to the house where electricity is factually non-existent.  Wake up the following day, repeat, continue the circle and wait to die, ignobly.  

Many African nations have come to accept a social culture of citizens’ sycophancy to whatever befuddling and belligerent idiocy occupies the seat of power.  Paying allegiance to politicians who feed from a trough of classism superimposing themselves over their fellow compatriots who wallow in self-abnegation.  In this state of nations with altered psyches, without external subjugation, Africa’s leadership succeeded in a neo-colonization that makes for a double whammy due to unceasing external imperialism.  One can only surmise that blackness and chains are contingent not on external forces but purely by the greed of black leadership and their kowtowing to the west.  These usurpers of nations’ commonwealth are the real danger; the reason black bodies are bent over in unnecessary fratricides, genocides and endemic backwardness economically and in social infrastructures.  They are the reason why some perceive blackness as backwardness.  Therefore, the first lesson to imbibe is to understand that whatever anyone else calls the black person, approach and treat blacks, both abroad and at home, is a painful result of how we have portrayed ourselves as consumers who produce nothing. African leadership while jaunting abroad from one country to another, either on medical tourism, family vacations or pursuing properties in choicest parts of these nations to buy and own, portray themselves and the rest of the nation as people only with a propensity for ostentatiousness, an uncontrollable appetite for hedonistic sybaritism.  They are the ones who promote an ideology that blacks cannot rule themselves, that our nations lack direction.  Worse of all, that Africans do not possess the acumen for progress or management of its human and natural resources.  These class of power mongers, slaves to unbridled materialism, and voyeurists of unending ‘enjoyments’ are the open sores of a people.  They need to be cauterized or in the direst needs, excised and where needed be amputated.

It is never enough to locate the abysmal dysfunctionalities within an attempt at political, and perhaps, cultural self-definition and identities.  African nations and critics such as myself must be willing to self-introspect and hold oneself accountable if one had been a participant in any form or shape in the denigration of an entire continent and black identity.  This altruism is the only way of washing off the decades of accumulated sludge of decadence and wastage.  Our relatives who by an accident of history are now hyphenated Africans in The United States and in the Americas often time refer to their ancestry in Africa as a people of noble birth, Kings and queens, people of great valor.  And that truly is what we were.  The world challenges Africans to be more, to regain and remain true to their heritage, one of nobility and valor.  The work at reconstruction, regaining the values of the past must start now. We must resist desultory actions, useless vituperations and time wasting rhetoric that dies out after its initial eruptions.  The continent possess more than enough of intellectually time tested human capacity for any undertaking that can bring about the much needed social and cultural reconstructions.  This is a task that must be done so it becomes the heritage that will be passed on to those whose tomorrow we cannot see but we can imagine.  

The current global pandemic is not anywhere new resolved.  One cannot even attempt a scientific, sociological or religious prediction of how all this will end.  One thing that is clear is the fact that the African continent is caught like a deer in headlights.  We are unprepared for anything simply because we have lapsed into handouts from outside the continent.  The entire landscape of the continent is a sorry site of successive governments constantly oscillating between demagoguery, broad facedly roguery, who in real time malevolently, unintelligently, willfully squander and botch every opportunity to lift up a flailing, ailing and failing nation.  This is the very reason why others, with their preconceived notion that blackness equal less human will continue to rehash same assumption.  We cannot continue to blame anyone but ourselves for dereliction of sacred and ancestral duties to the African earth and the legs and bodies that transverse it.  Because leadership, (which sadly is no longer its usual African synonym for elders) has been so completely corrupted, the nations are adrift on open sea.  We have for far too long allowed others to tell us our own story and give us names that are not our own.  I choose to tell my own story; I am as human as the next person not minding rank, language or color.  This earth belongs to all of us and we must learn how to cohabit it.  I hold myself responsible to be a productive part of any society I find myself a denizen.  I will live fully my blackness and refuse to be categorized any less than human.  For black Africans, the ancestors left us, as part of our heritage that “I am, because we are-Ubuntu!”  This is our starting point, this is where we must go back to so we can reclaim our humanity from those who see blackness as guinea pigs or less human. 

As Dr. King hoped and dreamed, I also dream and hope that a day may soon come upon us all, when a man will not be judged by the color of his skin but by the content of His character.  The onus for the realization of that day is in the hands, minds and actions of those who are black, proud and true to their heritage.

Rev. Fr. John Segun Odeyemi PhD, Adjunct Instructor, Department of Theology, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA

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