By Mustapha Kah
In 1889, a notorious poem was in print in McClure’s magazine entitled the White Man’s Burden. The poem is not venerated for its radiance, but its approbation derives from the writer’s rationalization of imperialism. Rudyard Kipling wrote the poem at a time the United States was footing into an imperial expansion by conquering Philippines. Just like Britain took over other European colonial empires, Kipling advocated and urged the United States to take the Queen’s colonial possessions.
Kipling’s position was based on his deep-seated belief that colonialism and imperialism were a civilizing vigor in the lives of the colonized. This so-called humanizing undertaking is what he called the “White Man’s Burden.” His discernment is that the colonized were barbaric, uncivilized, and uncouth and a symbol of everything erroneous with humanity.
He felt that given the advanced civilization of the White race, they have the honorable compulsion to colonize and civilize others, to rid them of all downbeat tendencies, which defined their lesser way of life. By being civilized by the colonialist, the colonized people would be elevated he thought.
His discourteous perception about the low echelon of courteousness among the colonized was not only unfounded, but it became a justification for gross degrading and inhuman treatment. Of course, by his own account, civilization for the colonized meant accepting the Europeans way of life. Sadly, he didn’t know the true origins of civilization and that the foundations of western intellectual power base derive in Africa.
It should not be a bolt from the blue to anyone that Kipling made such observations. The truth of the matter is that Kipling didn’t say anything new. Such expressions have been at the root of the intellectual support for the colonial exploitation of a people. There had to be a justification for the expropriation of foreign lands. And how best to do that than by inventing stories about how barbaric and backward the colonized are?
Chinua Achebe, the great Nigerian Pan-African writer explains this by saying suppose someone comes to your land and wants to take advantage of it, he will concoct a tale about how you can’t control it. He will then claim that he is taking it on your behalf and will use it for your benefit. This is the story behind Kipling’s White Man’s Burden.
What should also be noted is many great Western philosophers had analogous views with Kipling. Despite his liberal leanings David Hume, one of the most known Western Philosophers was once quoted remarkably demeaning the Black race in the following condemnation: “I am apt to suspect the Negroes and in general all the other species of men (for there are four or five different kinds) to be naturally inferior to the whites. There never was a civilized nation of any other complexion than white, nor even any individual eminent either in action or speculation. No ingenious manufactures amongst them, no arts, no sciences.”
As noted earlier, it was such intellectual dishonesty which underpinned the domination and the resultant self-hate Black people endure to this day. The certainty of the heinous nature of claims like these is that sadly enough, many of our people accept them either consciously or subconsciously.
Shoddier is that it is reflective in the day-day reality of many of us in the Black race. This is why it is important to talk about our present predicament and how it relates to the global knowledge structure; how unless we tackle our connivance in debasing ourselves, our match into the future will continue to be a march to nowhere.
I was duty-bound to write this article after listening to a radio program called the Kinkiliba. The program comes early morning daily and different topics are chosen. However, on Monday 25th July 2017, the topic at the center of discussion was skin bleaching. This was not the first time this topic was chosen. On my own part, I have written on it several times. But the intensity of self-hatred from some of the listeners was quiet horrendous.
It is mind-boggling that in this day and age, many a person would overtly spurn their skin colour for no logical reasons. Can you visualize some of the listeners going as far as saying that “they will only marry fair/white women because they bring good luck.” In fact there were worse comments on the show. I would not want to publish some of those here. They are not worth the time and space.
But then after a thorough scrutiny of our society, I came to settle on the difficult, but realistic comfort of not blaming anyone on some of the unpalatable comments we make of ourselves as the Black race. Rather I made up my mind that blaming anyone on these kinds of thinking without educating them and understanding the genesis of the predicament would be futile. This view is powered by Bob Marley’s redemption song quote: “Emancipate ourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds.”
Therefore, it should be noted that this article is a direct effort to make us all understand that a great part of our march into the future depends on how well we are able to liberate our minds to believe in ourselves and to accept the fact that skin bleaching amongst other condensing practices are an unswerving consequence of the international supremacy and knowledge structure which uplifts anything white and degrades black. In this, many of us in the black race have been entangled unaware as some of the comments on the show clearly show.
It is our action and inaction that make the rise in skin bleaching very rampant. Just take a walk into the streets and market and you will be surprised as to how many women and even men you see with bleached skins. The number of bleached skins is phenomenal in relation to the small size of our population. We may not have reached the level of skin bleaching in many African countries, but the numbers as small as they seem should be an apprehension for all and sundry.
Even more intriguing is the number of shops and businesses which strive and endure on the sale and buying of bleaching creams. The rise in skin bleaching and the businesses dependent on it fly in the face of the religious doctrines against it and the Anti- Skin Bleaching Law passed to nip the practice in the bud. Just as is always the case, passing the law without enforcing it or educating and concentising people will definitely bear little or no results as the skin bleaching situation has clearly shown.
There are different reasons why people bleach. Many are compelled to bleach because of misconceptions of beauty that black is not attractive. Low self-esteem that we have of ourselves drives many into bleaching. For many people both young and old, bleaching is a must if at all they are to make headway in their professional career. Without bleaching, they feel they will not have any chance of climbing the sturdy ladders of life.
Bleaching however, is just one manifestation of our self-hatred. Aside from our skin colour, we subscribed to other forms of indulgent, which contradict our natural creation as Blacks. We are too happy to wear weaves and hair from Brazil and Asia. We really do not realize that we have created a billion dollar industry for so-called beauty industries the world over.
It should be little surprise that it has been found out that on an annual basis, we spend billions of dollars annually on fake conceptions of beauty. For a continent with the majority of people living on less than a Dollar a day to spend such astronomical sums of money pursuing fake notions of beauty, one is then forced to wonder that our entrenched poverty is sometimes individually induced. Ironically, our leaders are always quiet happy to go on with a begging bowl mentality, losing sight of the fact that as Ghanaian Political Economist George Ayittey observed, our begging bowl is “leaking.”
The false impressions which give rise to the low self-esteem resulting to practices like skin bleaching are usually given weight by the global entertainment and educational base. We watch movies where we see anything other than black being chosen for major roles. The Black characters like Bernado in the Venezuelan movie series Mary of the Angels are given undignified roles, which only add to the stereotyping of our people. It is rare to see anything productive about the Black race in Hollywood movies. In much of Hollywood, the Black race is usually portrayed as the worst of humans living on trees and having no idea of civilization.
Many who engage in skin bleaching have little or no knowledge of the harms of this practice. Dr Azadeh observes that there are many harmful substances present in bleaching chemicals. He said: “Harmful effects of bleaching include mainly two substances which are present in these are hydroquinone and mercury. Hydroquinone is very harsh chemical present in the bleach which makes the cell of your skin completely dead and this if once happens cannot ever be repaired.”
He added: “Also the Harmful effects of bleaching are also seen if you start bleaching your skin at a very young age that is may be below the age of twenty. As this is a young age your skin is very tender and delicate and thus the chemicals present in the bleach have many harmful effects on the skin.”
The global education structure worsens this by claiming that the Black race added nothing to civilization as claimed by Hume. In fact most of what history has written is that our history only started when European explorers arrived on the African continent and discovered us. For the centuries of our existence as a race, we were “dark people” killing and eating each other. It was the hard work and stubbornness of the likes of Prof. Sheikh Anta Diop that proved the indelible link between the Black and the pyramids.
Martin Luther King Jnr., observed that to see how much the Blackman is demeaned by the overall education authority structure; one only has to take a look at a dictionary and the meaning of certain words. Words attributed to the colour Black always come with the off-putting and pessimistic nuance. Looking at a dictionary, it will not take anyone long time to come to the conclusion that the word Black is synonymous to evil. Black magic, the devil, black sheep of the family, black market just to name but a few lay-bare this unfortunate fact. On the other hand, the colour white is always associated with good, pure, high, mighty and power amongst others.
An African proverb says “Until the lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” The burden of the Black man is to act fast to correct an anomaly that has chronological implications on our collective prospect. Einstein was once quoted as saying that: “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” And that provides us with a good starting point.
Dr. Ivan Van Sertima one of the foremost Africanist scholars argued in his book “They Came Before Columbus” and other bodies of work that it is centuries of exploitation and subjugation that has created the kind of thinking which compels one to see his own race as inferior to others in a manner which compels them to do all in their power to change the way they are created. Such thinking can’t be changed in a day. It will take more centuries to win this battle.
Winning the mêlée against self-hatred would to a great degree depend on how thoroughly we discipline our people in their true history. Africans need to be empowered with knowledge about self which shows that the Black race is the mother of all races. It is from us that all the other races descended and there is no single race which is not born from mother Africa.
Our incredible genius can be seen all over the world. Dr. John Hendrik Clarke notes that well before the arrival of European explorers, we built civilizations when most of the world was living in caves and eating raw meat from hunted animals. The ingenuity of Egypt here in Africa became the inspiration and foundation behind the existence of Greece, the mother of Western civilization. The debt Ancient Greece owes to Africa is often swept under the carpet and so-called philosophers like Hume are too happy to insult us and tell us that we have contributed nothing to human progress.
Egypt is just one of the incredible contributions we have made to human civilization. We built ancient Zimbabwe. Well before higher education became a reality for most people in other parts of the world, we had built three universities in Sankore, Al-Ahzar, and modern day Morocco. The University of Sankore gave the world one of the most distinguished scholars Prof. Ahmed Baba who John Hendrik Clarke exclaimed told the Africans to “Believe in God and Man.” Prof. Baba wrote more than 40 books in all areas of life including Science and religion. Sadly, most of our people do not know about this and such ignorance makes it easy for our people to believe that they are nothing as a race and can only be human enough if they bleach their skins and run away from who they really are.
But as has been ably pointed out, any such efforts must first start with empowering the minds of our young people and making them understand that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder and that skin bleaching and other practices are only the result of materialization of beauty and centuries of the dehumanization of the Black race. Colour is only incidental to beauty and not its major determinant. Beauty is worth noting if the beholder lacks the illuminating credentials of humanness and propriety.
There is more to beauty that colour. The kind of beauty our society needs to promote is the beauty which emphases the beauty of the heart. In his I have a dream speech, Martin Luther King Jnr. succinctly put it by saying: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” My dream is that one day, every human being will be judged not by the “colour of his skin, but the content of his character.”
Finally, I would not do justice to this topic if I fail to quote one of my favorite verses of the Quran where Allah said” “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” Quran: Chapter 49 Verse 13. This poignantly makes it clear that to move forward as a people we must accept Malcolm X’s assertion of the “oneness of God and the oneness of man.”
Mustapha Kah is a well known Gambian journalist and a social and current affairs commentator. He is the founder and first president of Debate Gambia Association. He is a debate coach and mentor. He is the convener of the first editions of the Masters Round Debate Championships and Banjul Open Debate. He regularly conducts debate trainings all over the African continent. He has both debated and served as an adjudicator in the Pan African Universities Debating Championship (PAUDC), World Universities Debating Championship, Accra Open Debate Championship, Nigerian Universities Debating Championship and Southern African Universities Debating Championship. In 2014, he won an outstanding leadership award from the University of The Gambia Debate Association; he also won a citation of honor in 2015 from the PAUDC. He was also listed among the 25 most influential young Gambians in 2015.