The ‘blacker than thou’ syndrome*
Posted by CM on September 8, 2007
by Chido Makunike
One of the lingering effects of the great clash between the western world and Africa since the days of slavery and colonialism, has been how the formerly oppressed have interacted amongst themselves, and how they respond to their former oppressors. In one way or another, that has been the theme of several articles I have written recently.
One of the most fascinating manifestations of the strong, lingering feelings of the black world towards its hitherto mostly unfriendly relations with the white West, is what I refer to as the ‘blacker than thou’ syndrome. In it, one’s ‘revolutionary’ status is measured in terms of how strongly one expresses animosity to the white western world, and in terms of strong identification of one’s blackness with a state of victim hood.
If either of these clash with the reality of the life of the ‘revolutionary,’ well, it is hoped that it won’t be noticed. An African minister will express great pride and joy at the marriage of his child to a white westerner, but because of the political environment, he will feel the need to utter the most rabid, racist drivel against the race of his new in-law to prove his ‘revolutionary’ credentials. An African businesswoman will talk in the most crude but currently politically correct fashion, about her desire to violently “taste” white blood, hoping the public will forget that as the former wife of a white westerner, it becomes a little awkward and unconvincing for her to play the ‘blacker than thou’ card. A minister who for many years did rather well for himself while working for western donor organisations, now finds it politically and personally convenient to pose as the great gate keeper of his society against the dangers of interaction with western donors.
It is necessary to bend over backwards to distance oneself from his/her former benefactors to prove one’s new political credentials. Many people loved the hot anti-western rhetoric of Robert Mugabe and Sam Nujoma in Johannesburg recently. Yet both men almost entirely flaunt their power and prestige using symbols of the white West they never tire of telling us are diabolically evil in both intent and action.
But perhaps the most bizarre recent example of the ‘blacker than thou’ syndrome was of Anne Matonga, a white British woman recently arrived in this country, who is married to the new chief executive of public bus company Zupco. This couple had the good fortune of being granted a farm for free, and Mrs. Matonga, having quickly learned the rhetoric that will go down well with the natives, justified her windfall and the eviction of the white occupiers on the grounds that they were racist colonisers who had stolen “our” land. I must admit that it was the first time I had heard of a white person so brazenly using the ‘blacker than thou’ ethos to such cynical advantage, and getting away with it too, because absurd as it sounds from so many angles, it fits the times!
There are two central issues in my arguments about the task facing blacks in their efforts to overcome the long legacy of subjugation at the hands of the West. One, that economic strength is key to blacks having the power to match their numbers, and two, that the regaining of lost dignity and pride can only be done through black effort. The various ways that are found to flex rhetorical muscle at conferences, summits and other fora may be very effective for temporarily letting off steam, but they mean absolutely nothing if Africa, and blacks in general, remain as economically weak as they are.
I therefore find little benefit in the rantings of old school African leaders like Mugabe and Nujoma while their economies become steadily weaker. Rant and rave all you want, bask in the glow of the applause as long as you like, but if your rhetoric is not backed up by economic power, it means nothing. This is why we experience the embarrassment of African leaders breathing anti-western fire one day, only to sheepishly accept handouts from the targets of their fire the next day.
A writer calling himself ‘Joseph Neusu’ ripped into me for these sentiments a few days ago in the The Herald (1 October). The immediate cause of his ire was my column in The Standard’s edition of 15 September, but I’ve been making these kind of arguments for a long time and in doing so have probably left poor Joseph absolutely apoplectic with rage, if his article is anything to go by.
In The Standard article in question, I talked about the accolades many African American youths get from their peers when they behave in a way which shows defiance of ‘the man,’ even if that behaviour is harmful for them, and I drew a parallel between this and the rhetoric of some of our aging former revolutionaries in Africa today. I made the point that because of the deep seated resentments among the formerly oppressed, these shows of defiance could sometimes mask the more meaningful means of regaining one’s dignity.
The point I was making, of course, was that after 22 years of being at the helm of a country, ostensibly to move it forward from its colonial legacy, Robert Mugabe’s rhetorical posturing while his countrymen’s standard of living continues its steep decline neither fools nor impresses me. It is time to refuse to be hoodwinked and blackmailed into silence by the possibility of being called ‘Uncle Tom’ and all the other choice names the failed African rhetoreticians regularly hurl.
Says ‘Neusu’ of me: “…outrageously contemptuous of the black race…feels trapped by his non-white skin….exhibits ethnic self-hatred” and the coupe de grace, “his desire is to see the world purged of all forms of blackness and the colour of Africans.”
Ouch, ‘Neusu’, I had no idea I was that messed up!
He accuses me of putting the blame solely on African Americans for some of the destructive behaviour that still plagues many poor urban neighbourhoods in the US. He was so blinded with indignation at my sentiments that he missed the point of my article-that it actually transcended the whole concept of ‘who is to blame.’ It went beyond the mere issue of blame, to state that whatever the source of the problem of the American black underclass, or of an Africa that is getting poorer under the Mugabes, no amount of time and energy spent on telling the white westerners how sore we are at them, regardless of how pleased we are with ourselves for having done so, will make one bit of difference to our fortunes.
The “perpetual bouts” of self-pity that he alleges I suffer from, for not being impressed with leaders who can’t run their countries in such a way as to make available to their people such basics as bread, mealie meal, sugar and petrol, is exactly what disgusts me so much about the likes of Mugabe. Always whining about the past, while failing to correct it to the benefit of people they are supposed to serve; never owning up to one’s own shortcomings but finding scapegoats for failures, and when challenged, simply bringing out the old “we are the original liberators” jargon, which is yet another manifestation of the ‘blacker, more African than thou’ attempt to silence criticism.
No, Joseph Neusu, there is no “dignity, humanity and manhood” in talking strongly about the evil coloniser-neocolonialst-imperialist white man and then having to go back to him three days later for handouts to stave off mass starvation. The best way Africans can stand up for themselves is by moving out of the kind of social and economic indignity that we have been reduced to by failed rhetoreticians like the fierce and tough Mr. Mugabe.
If ‘Neusu’ was moved to vent such steam in response to that particular article, I shudder to think what he must have thought of the following week’s one in The Standard, in which I continued with my misguided efforts to examine the present pitiful state of Africa, and look inwards and forwards for solutions, rather than outward and backward, as many of our loser politicians urge us to do.
Looking forward to your next response in the The Herald, Joseph! I grudgingly admit that you throw some good insults, I wonder who your coach is.
Finally, I thank my fellow scribes and comrades at the The Herald for not only allowing ‘Joseph’ to vent his spleen, but in the process, helping to spread my message about the failures of the Mugabe regime further and wider, including to those parts of Zimbabwe where The Standard may be banned. Thanks for your support!
*first published in The Zimbabwe Standard, October 2002