The trouble with violence is that it begets violence as evinced by the recent shooting of five Dallas policemen by Micah Johnson, an African-American man, following the killing of two African-Americans (Alton Sherling and Philando Castile) by police officers a few days prior. While none of the deaths are justifiable, it can be argued the latter event wouldn’t have occurred if the former hadn’t.
While evidence indicates Johnson’s actions may have been motivated by his visits to anti-police websites and affinity for the New Black Panther Party, Newton’s third law of motion which stipulates that every action generates an equal but opposite reaction was also at play.
Just before Johnson was killed by the police with a robot-delivered bomb, he told negotiators he wanted to kill white people, especially white cops. His racist rant was a reaction—albeit extreme—to the racism that perhaps he or others like him have experienced from time immemorial. And that, more than anything else, fuelled his blind rage against white people.
No one lives in a vacuum. The environment shapes our actions and thought processes, how we view the world and choose to react to every stimulus. A person’s conduct—good or bad—reverberates beyond the initial sphere of contact, and with humans having different personalities and experiences, interpretation and reactions to these actions will vary accordingly. Often, people make clear judgments ascribing a particular action to a particular person, but sometimes it’s assigned to an entire group with often negative consequences.
Case in point, a friend of mine, who’s black, and her white colleague were checking into a four-star hotel in Johannesburg, South Africa when the black woman at the front desk blatantly told her colleague to his face that she didn’t like white people. The man (not South-African) was dumb-founded, turning a bright red at the unapologetic display of racism.
Reverse or retaliatory racism in South-Africa is a product of its torturous and dark Apartheid history, where the white minority oppressed the black majority. It explains why biracial couples to this day are sneered at and why blacks who date whites are tagged ‘traitors’ or ‘sell-outs.’ With the pain of Apartheid in South-Africa still fresh, and the wound of slavery in America still open, retaliatory racism is, unfortunately, one of several straws people grab on to in the vortex of overt and covert discrimination.
But like its prototype, retaliatory racism is unproductive, unjust, and insidious. It’s a disease one has to guard against, especially in an environment where discrimination is pervasive, like in the recruitment firm where I worked with a white, French manager who was sexist and racist. This was a man who flagrantly refused to consider females for a finance manager position, claiming a woman wouldn’t be able to manage her male subordinates, and attempted to exclude our Nigerian staff from a company dinner to which our expat staff (mostly white and French) were invited.
Now, from my three-year interaction with him, I could have concluded that all French men were racist and sexist, but I know not to allow his despicable behaviour to taint my perception of every white French man for the same reason I wouldn’t want the flaws of every woman or black person to be tacked on me. Sadly, this line of reasoning gets lost in our interactions, especially if we face injustice on a daily basis.
The tendency to tar an entire group with deeds of a few renegades or miscreants is futile and a sure-fire way to erode trust in a community. What’s more, returning a slap, matching hate with hate, darkness for darkness, and blow for blow will only lead to more hate, darkness, blows, and anguish.
In essence, racism of any kind is an unwinnable race to the bottom of the abyss.
This post originally appeared in Ayiba Magazine on 13.07.16.
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