Yes, Anti-Blackness Can Exist in Black Countries: The impact of Colonial Influence and Imperialism
By Maryam Muhammad for Nappy Head Club
There is no country in the world where a Black person can go and be completely free of the effects of white supremacy.
As Black people, we must all be weary of the systems in which we live under, no matter where we live or who we live with. While it’s easier to spot blatant racism and abuses of power under governments where we are the minority, it might not be as easy to see them under leaders and politicians who look like us. Countries like the UK or the USA were not only built on white supremacy, but they find ways to continuously maintain it by passing laws and public policies that almost exclusively hurt their Black populations. With events such as the passing of Three Strikes Law in the United States (1994) or the Windrush scandal in the UK (2018), it’s not hard to figure out who the target demographic is when Black communities are directly impacted and hurt by the actions of the government. However, when Black countries become plagued with unfair laws and policies that hurt their citizens, anti-Blackness is usually not taken into account, and instead is simply written off as “corruption.”
Recently in Nigeria, protests and civil disobedience have sparked across the nation in hopes of abolishing the Special Anti-Robbery Squads (SARS), a policing unit known for harassing, stalking, and even murdering Nigerian youth. While the squad was originally created in 1992 to deal with issues like robbery and the possession of firearms, it has done more harm than good, committing multiple human rights violations such as rape, extortion, torture of civilians, and more. Recently, the SARS has been under fire for many of its brutal killings of several Nigerian citizens, most of whom were thought to be “suspicious” because of their physical appearance, despite there being no real evidence for such suspicions. To make matters worse, the Nigerian government and authorities are doing very little in response to the outcries of citizens. Though Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, had disbanded SARS, protestors are still not satisfied, as SARS has been known to re-establish themselves under different names in order to continue their reign of terror.
The idea of Black countries being safe havens for Black lives is a myth, as colonial influence and imperialism has still led to corruption, even in the countries with the Blackest governments.
This begs the question: How can Black people be guilty of anti-Blackness? And the answer lies in both “imperialism and colonialism.” While imperialism and colonialism from European nations isn’t the reason for every single issue in Black nations across the world, it is the reason for a number of problems including poverty, violence, and crime. European interference has not only caused these countries to fall on hard times, but they have also alienated people from one another using things like class and status. Nigeria, for instance, while having the highest rate of extreme poverty in the world, has some of the highest paid politicians in the world. Over the years, many have taken bribes and have been involved in scandals instead of actually tending to the needs of their people. While it may appear as though these nations alone are responsible for their own failures, colonialism still plays more of a major role than you might think. Despite many of the nations being independent from colonial rule, the influence is still ever present after decades of not being in control.
Long before European nations became involved in Africa’s affairs, Africa didn’t run under large central governments like it does now. Instead, people made decisions on more local or state levels rather than a national scale. Though this was still a hierarchy with only wealthy and elite men in charge, this still empowered civilians in the sense that they could simply move or go to another part of the land if they didn’t like how those in charge were ruling. One didn’t have to travel that far to move and go be governed by another set of individuals. However, things drastically shifted once countries like Britain, France, and Spain went into parts of African with hopes of colonizing the land and changing the way that people lived.
With the rise of colonialism came the rise of government on a national basis, African nations and the way they ran started to become patterned after that of European nations. Things like the traditional court systems, laws, and ways of life in general that they once had were discarded in favor of what was made to look like a more “civilized” lifestyle. Though this was advertised by European countries as a better way to exist, it was actually rooted in not only white supremacy, but cultural genocide as well. Everything from spiritual practices, language, and dress completely shifted.
As for the country of Nigeria specifically, the British empire began to invade and create settlements by the 1700s, but Nigeria didn’t become an official British protectorate until 1901. Over that 200 year period, the colonization of Nigeria led to many changes when it came to power and authority, including its police force, and its military. In order to maintain colonial power, the British would often rig elections, only putting leaders in charge who they knew would prevent uprisings and crush pan-African liberation movements — this created an authoritarian rule under British forces.
In an article for Quartz Africa, Nic Cheeseman and Johnathan Fisher, authors of the book Authoritarian Africa: Repression, Resistance, and the Power of Ideas, explain how colonial interference in African societies led to an authoritarian-like power structure. They state,
“To maintain political stability they therefore collaborated with — or subordinated — existing leaders and power structures. In many cases, this involved funding and arming willing collaborators to enable them to exert greater control over their communities. These leaders were expected to manage their communities and prevent a rebellion against colonial rule.”
Although they gained their independence in 1960, Nigeria’s government, along with a number of other African governments, have created an environment of anti-Blackness as a result of European rule. This goes to show that having Black leaders hold a position of power in a Black country alone means nothing unless they’re working to meet the needs of the people. Anti-Blackness, is a global phenomenon, one that harms people in all seven continents and various countries. Until we rid ourselves of anti-Black sentiments and the institutions built on them, we will be under oppressive forces, and not able to advance as a people. Anti-Blackness needs to be rooted and stomped out until it is eradicated for the sake of every Black life, by any means necessary.
We must ask ourselves: Across cultures, darker people suffer the most. Why?
About the Author:
Maryam Azeeza Muhammad is a poet, womanist, and journalism student from Bridgeport, CT currently attending Temple University in Philadelphia, PA.