Chigozie Obioma, Foreign Policy, August 9, 2016
Early African-American intellectuals and cultural elites saw that the future of their race could not be advanced by endless protests or marches of “equality” or “justice.” It could only be done through the restoration of the trampled dignity of the black man. Great men like Marcus Garvey, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Malcolm X all knew that a people is only respected when it has a nation worthy of respect. A man who lives in a shack cannot expect to be treated with respect at a palace. They knew that for us to reclaim power we must first reclaim dignity and that this comes through the construction of a solid black state with a demonstrable level of development and prosperity–and which can stand as a powerful advocate for the global black.
Today, no such state exists.
Nigeria, the most populous black nation on Earth, is on the brink of collapse. The machineries that make a nation exist, let alone succeed, have all eroded. One might argue that the nation’s creation by self-seeking white imperialists engendered its failure from the beginning, as I did in my recent novel. But this is only a part of the cause. A culture of incompetence, endemic corruption, dignified ineptitude, and, chief among all, destructive selfishness and greed has played a major role in its unravelling. The same, sadly, can be said for most other African nations. States like Zimbabwe, Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea are farcical democracies ruled by men who exclusively cater to their interests and those of their clipped circles.
Thus, it is no surprise that in the absence of any healthy black nation–in the midst of chaos, senseless wars, corrupted religiosity, violence, and economic collapse–African and Caribbean people leave home en masse. They beg on the streets of Greece, prostitute in the red-light zones of the Netherlands, and make up 40 percent of the migrants flocking to Europe. As they turn up in these countries, helpless, unwanted, starved, or maimed, they are treated like dogs. Last month in Italy, a newly married Nigerian man was murdered simply for being unwanted. Everywhere from Ukraine to India, nearly every day, black indignity, black helplessness, stares us in the face. And all we do, we who hold the platform can do, is scream “racism!” and court the sympathy of others.
The Yoruba say, “Eniyan bi aparo ni omo araye n’fe,” meaning the world loves a person who is like a partridge. The partridge is a poor bird that, enfeebled by its creation, has little ability to hunt, gather, protect, or feed itself. The Yoruba believe that the world loves these birds because they provide the space for people to show both sincere and insincere sympathy while holding firm to their position as the superior and maintaining the place of the partridge as the weak. Which is to say that if the partridge relies on the sympathy of others, it will not elevate its position. If we, black people everywhere, cannot gather the resources within our powers to exert real changes and restore our dignity, we will continue to be seen as weak. Our protestations and grievances will be met with sympathy, which does nothing to inspire respect.