THE UK is a place I have chosen to call home, embracing it like an adopted child for all it is; the good, the bad, the ugly.
Yet like many others, I have spent much time feeling disillusioned by the reality of living here as an African in the diaspora. Maybe the values that I had been told about while working in Zambia about the ideals of democracy, about values of inclusion, were wrong? Maybe the truth I had learnt that every human being is equal and should be able to enjoy the exercise of the human rights, was one big lie?
Though these questions plagued me, I wonder, perhaps, whether it was not so much a lie but a dream and aspiration that even the Western societies are still grappling with. I believe my pieces were solid and real. Instead, what was shaken were my views of what this Western society stood for. Or at least who their institutions were, and what they meant to do to me. Others like me, in this my new home, also looked at me as less than whole.
As I try to navigate different spaces professionally and personally, I come across behaviours that should not make sense, but I have learnt to take as the norm. We speak of unconscious biases and prejudices. When we look at others and judge them on the basis of the colour of their skin. We see this all over the world. Who cares if the lives of the people in the Amazon forests are threatened because of the fires — they are simply indigenous people of black origin and thus their lives are graded less than important?
Instead, we rush to rebuild Notre-Dame, deeming it more important than the lives of these people and the world’s largest biodiverse rainforests. The lives of the black community in the US are easily expendable, and black children in the UK can wallow in the deprivations that dog their lives, or remain in care because they are not desired enough to be adopted.
As a black African woman leading a British charity whose mission is to reach out to those suffering from extreme poverty and experiencing immeasurable injustice, I cannot disconnect myself from the pain of what is happening. This is not just about the US; it is about racial injustice everywhere — beyond the injustices that are the immediate focus of the organisation I work for. I must use my voice to call out institutional failures to address racial oppression.
THE realities of racial discrimination are deeper than ever before, except that we have become better at creating a façade that reflects what we think it should really look like.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in South Africa was applauded as a great initiative that heralded the birth of a rainbow nation. The reality tells a different story. While it provided a platform and space for the nation and its individuals to begin the process of healing, to talk about the wrongs of the apartheid regime and find forgiveness and reconciliation, the process fell short of being the catalyst and springboard for dismantling systemic and institutionalised marginalisation of black South Africans.
daniel mukwashiAmanda Mukwashi
Several decades down the line and the systemic and structural divisions remain unresolved. The social and economic realities tell stories of a broken people living with open wounds and struggling to find a way through, their frustrations expressed in violence against each other, against women, against children, and against anybody who might be seen as different, weaker, and therefore an easy target. The search for justice, equality, and dignity remains elusive for many black South Africans.
There are so many examples picked up from all over the world, but when another black woman looks at me and believes that, because they are an African American, or because they are black British from the Caribbean, they are therefore of more value than me, a black African woman, then it makes me pause.
When an Asian woman looks at me and breathes a sigh of relief that she is not as black as me, or that she is not African, otherwise it would be hell to pay, it makes me stop. And when another African black woman looks at me and sees me as of less worth because they are slightly lighter in complexion than I am, I just want to cry — crying for the depth of unconscious brokenness of a people. Hundreds of years of messaging, hurt, and soul erosion have left us with a mammoth mountain to climb to remove the rubbish, the untruths, and to rebuild, replacing them with wholesome values and truths.
Global economic systems and models have evolved. From slavery to colonialism to capitalism. Or have they? Is it just another manifestation of the same concept? The continued exploitation of millions by a few — with the human being at the centre as a product to be graded, sold, and purchased?
Your grading determines what your life is worth, what rights you can enjoy, what services you must receive, what rules must be respected, and how much your dignity is worth. Not all products are equal — that is the fundamental, and perhaps the biggest lie that has been told to enable slavery, colonialism, and capitalism to flourish.
For me, as a woman of faith, it goes against everything that I believe in: that every human being is created equal and with innate worth. When more than 80 per cent of people in the world identify themselves with one faith or another, on what premise have we allowed a dominant narrative by a few, a narrative that places these few above the law of life, to be our modus operandi?
We have allowed this system that created the brokenness in the first place to continue to deepen the wounds, pretend to bring solutions, while all the time profiting from the collective trauma that comes from this unconscious brokenness.
IT IS unconscious because, for many of us, this is all we have ever known. This is what we have learnt in our homes, in schools, and on the streets of life.
It is reinforced by institutions. When the BBC, a once-world-respected media house, can think it right to victimise an Asian broadcaster for expressing her view on a statement made by a politician. When a BBC presenter can openly treat a black politician “differently”, and, despite a level of public outrage, refuse to apologise and get away with it. It speaks volumes. It is, perhaps, time we call it what it is — causing hurt, damage, destroying people — and it is not unconscious: it is systemic.
On all fronts, heritage, values, economy, politics, social tolerance, it’s all on a path going nowhere. With our total disregard for the planet, we have pressed the self-destruct button. And those who are dying first are those who contributed the least to this crisis. Greed and arrogance are the true cause — a deadly combination that cannot fathom the idea that there are other better, and more humane ways of existing on this earth that we all call home. Ways and knowledge to be learned from those who are downtrodden, and those with apparently little knowledge, because they have not been able to write it in the parameters that have been set out by a few.
Many of us, including those who are as indigenous as can be to this new home, can see now that, where their ancestors once appeared to be bold and brave as they searched for more knowledge of the world around them, it is now clear that this search was driven by greed and an obsession to conquer and exploit everything that came within their reach, including people and land.
Their braveness was, in fact, greed and arrogance, based on a belief that they had all the good knowledge, and that their way was the only way — assumptions that humility and not aspiring to have more and more was a weakness; describing nations of people as primitive and backward because they lived a life of temperance and chose to live in harmony with nature; because they did not walk around clothed in regalia that costs lots of money, and did not eat food that was processed.
This arrogance and greed has led to the deaths of millions of people, the loss of balance between people and planet, and one that continues to this day to find new ways of robbing people of their dignity, and the planet of its ability to sustain life. Where we once thought of them as wealthy, we now know that all they had was money, and no real wealth of humanity. Yet like every human group across the world, you always find a light shining on a hill to help find a humane pathway for people to walk on.
YES, there are stories of hope and defiance. There are those who remember and those who have read of values and ideals, and together they dream of how to overcome these untruths that seek to still a heritage of good things.
In my travels, I have met such people: women who are defying the odds by staying alive and finding ways of living; young people who have dreams about a future. And I, too, want to be part of a future — one that speaks of healing, community, sustainability, mutual respect, and diversity.
We must change. It will take a long time, but each one of us knows what is right. We are created equal and with innate worth. We also have innate goodness and knowledge of what is right. We must dig deep and bring out that which is right and wholesome and true. That is what will develop solutions that are sustainable. It will heal the planet and it will heal the people. It is idealistic, but nothing short of that will save the world from a path that it has currently set itself.
Amanda Khozi Mukwashi is the chief executive of Christian Aid. This is an edited extract from her new book, But Where Are You Really From? On identity, humanhood and hope, published by SPCK at £6.99 (Church Times Bookshop £6.30).