Tuesday, February 15, 2011

An interesting... differentiation, repeated a thousand times over

Mukoma Wa Ngugi, a Kenyan writer who posted in the Comment is Free section of the Guardian today that he’s noticed that white people in America treat black Africans differently to how they treat black Americans. He’s managed to write a whole column on something I feel doesn’t really exist in the USA any more than it does around the rest of the world.

As we grow up to be racist – and by that I mean differentiating by race, not necessarily hating on people – and we do, particularly in places like South Africa, we forget that race is not the only factor we have when it comes to hating people. Look at the Irish – they only have white people there so instead of race conflicts, they fought over Christianity. The Sunni Muslims and Shi’ite Muslims played out a similar scenario. Cantonese-speaking Chinese think they are a level up from Mandarin-speakers while in India, a land where most people are Hindu and Indian, there are class criteria which exclude.

Even here in South Africa, a chit-chat here and there will make one realise that not all black folks are the same – good god, nine of the official languages are taken up by them! The other two are split amongst white folks, who have also gone through some troubles together – an English-speaking South African should never respond to “It’s been 16 years. Blacks should just get over apartheid” with “They probably will when you get over the Anglo-Boer war”.

So while Mukoma Wa Ngugi may feel that white Americans do indeed prefer foreign black folks to homegrown ones (and I doubt he has ever visited Arizona), I argue that it is a trait which is hardly exclusive to America. There is no one single degree of any group you could point out, as we tend to think.

And this begs the question: are differentiation and prejudice the same thing?

No, they are not. While these two concepts often walk hand in hand, and the former is necessary for the latter, it is incorrect to assume that because one acknowledges that one is not the same as someone else, that hating them is the next logical step. It is tempting, I suppose, because it is easy. But it is an intentional decision, not part of the deal.

History may not be so kind to my interpretation, but I find there are more people willing to break the divides down nowadays than there ever have before. So to ascribe something to America in blanket fashion is to propagate something westwards that applies everywhere. And to allude to the fact that this is exclusive to the USA is not just a lie, it is easy to jump on to. I certainly don’t deny the existence of racism in the States. What I do deny is the fact that it is more prevalent there than anywhere else.

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