bhm: the boogeymen of global black history

February 11, 2019
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Our Blackness and its history transcend borders and it benefits us all when we can take in a larger scope of our history in order to steer towards our future as Black people on this planet. The sheer scale of anti-Blackness on the global level gives Black people a keen understanding of the extent and power of centuries-long character assassination. Ideas are powerful and the calculated proliferation of a simple idea can shake continents for decades and centuries. Us vs. Them. A Wall. Race. Each a sinister manifestation of drawing a line in the sand that goes on to create independent ecosystems of other lines in the sand that end up separating those with a shared history and struggle.

Like salt in a wound that won’t heal, the use of these divides to hoard and abuse power by leaders in (and around) the community is a sober reminder that there are enemies of our progress amongst us and they are well versed in convincing the rest of us that they do what they do for our best interests. The reality is that they end up spreading pain and tyranny in their own best interest – in the interest of securing power.

When people from Morocco (a country on the African continent) don’t consider themselves to be African, it’s clear that Arab identity trumps any allegiance to African identity. To be African is to be Black in the eyes of the world (and Karen from Mean Girls.) Black Americans had the moniker of “African” attached to their American identity — perhaps as a way to distance the community from America, or Africa, or both. The Arab world and Blackness are more connected than the hopes of Arabs who just happen to reside on the African continent. The scale of diversity on the African continent can’t be matched by any place, anywhere else on the planet and as much as anti-Blackness may impose itself on the continent in the form of colorism, there’s a shared Blackness that extends beyond skin color. To be African is to be “Black” in the sense of being the bottom of a predetermined global pecking order and to live on the continent is reckon with that reality.

Former Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi was a tyrannical and equally historical figure on the African continent. The fleeing of Libya’s monarchy in 1968 ushered in a regime change lead by the former dictator that focused on funneling state resources into education, healthcare and housing programs. Under Gaddafi, Libyans could enjoy free healthcare, schooling and the promise of free housing – that eventually could not be met. According to Global Research website, Gaddafi’s reign has transformed Libya into the richest country in Africa with the highest per capita income and age expectancy on the continent. It had gotten to the point where this African country had fewer people living under the poverty line than in the Netherlands.

Gaddafi had opened his people up to prosperity and had plans to extend that energy to the rest of the African continent and the Arab world. Before the fall of Gaddafi, Libya was the biggest oil producer on the African continent and the strength and value of the dollar is largely backed by the fact that oil is sold in US dollars. This means capital, giving America oil-induced capital, even in oil transactions they are not directly involved in. Gaddafi wanted to change that by selling Libya’s oil under the local currency, the Dinar, which would be backed by 120-odd tonnes of gold as Libya’s disposal. The move would give Gaddafi power only seen in the West. It would empower African and Arab countries to drop the dollar, throwing the world economic system – with its mechanisms to empower the West – into complete disarray. Africa would stand at its full height, throwing the world economic system off of it’s back and into an abyss of chaos. It would necessitate a new world order.

The fact that Gaddafi’s assassination was backed by NATO (Western powers essentially) surprises no-one considering no one in the West wants to see a new world order. The complication comes from the fact that Gaddafi had used his prosperity to conceal human rights violations that would force Libyans to rise up against their government in the wave of anti-government protests started in Tunisia, that would come to be known as the Arab Spring. The Spring recontextualized the role of social media in political organizing and protesting shown by the ways that Arab and Black millennials across the world have used it to facilitate movements and conversations that couldn’t exist and survive before the creation of social networks.

Libyans rose up against the Gaddafi who would jail Libyans he feared opposed or would oppose his rule according to Reuters. They rose up against the Gaddafi who stamped out student protests and televised the execution and mutilation of political opponents according to rights groups. “I could at any moment send them to the People’s Court … and the People’s Court will issue a sentence of death based on this law because execution is the fate of anyone who forms a political party,” Gaddafi said in a speech in 1974. The declaration was wild coming from the man who supported both the anti-apartheid movements in South Africa and Palestine.

Gaddafi was a tyrant with vision – an apparent fave of the Black community, Hollywood and politics in general. Gaddafi wanted to pave the way forward for Africa with the blood and bones of his own people and as much as he was the leader of an African country, he always saw himself (meaning Libya) as “the wall” between Europe and the growing African migrants traveling through Libya to get there – a preface to one of the biggest migrant crises the world has ever seen. The man understood that empowering African states prevents mass migration but his key to freedom locked away the human rights of his own people, all so his power wouldn’t be questioned. The same can be said for another ousted dictator on the African continent.

For all the pain and tyranny Robert Mugabe inflicted on Zimbabweans, he managed to vacate his 30-year reign alive, which he should be thankful for. A young, educated and focused Robert Mugabe lead Zanu-PF to free what was then a white-lead Rhodesia from British Colonial rule, in order to create the Zimbabwe we know today. In a story that was supposed to be on par with the African Robin Hood, Mugabe infamously chased white farmers out of the country, seizing land that was supposed to go back to Black people. Health and education improved, displayed by Zimbabwe that enjoyed one of the highest literacy rates in the world. Like Gaddafi, Mugabe was a hero that came in and enacted the change people fought and died for before going back on his word in the name of power.

Amnesty International reports that Mugabe’s reign was punctuated with violence around general elections, where opposition was often intimidated, harassed or in the worst cases, killed. I have Zimbabwean friends who would speak about family members that were sent tomb-stones with their names on them as a warning against defying Mugabe’s rule. The script is different but the story still runs the same, even down to the fact that Mugabe was ousted using the organizing power of social media. Mugabe wielded government forces to enforce his tyranny much like Gaddafi, begging the question of whether it is possible for African leaders to privilege lasting change over the limits of their power.

This is the story of many of those who rise to remove the boot of tyrannical force from the necks of their people, only to replace it with their own. These are the supposed heroes whose legacies will be defined by the way they (mis)treated their own people. These are the villains of the African narrative and of global Black history. The West may shroud its own agenda in the justified removal of these men but their actions cast a light on the severity of being sold out by your own – Africa already has a legacy it needs to address regarding that. The price of progress is often the lives of the people and its disturbing to find how far and wide that attitude spreads.

It is responsible to take note of how deep the seeds of anti-Blackness have reached within the Black community. Have we unwittingly adopted the notion that our people are not worthy of the sacrificing personal gain – that Africa and its people are lost causes only worthy of sparse aid and condescension. Both Gaddafi and Mugabe abandoned their grand ideas to instead focus their energy on suppressing their own people – now both their people still suffer suppression caused by the vacuums of power caused by their forced removals.

Sometimes, the call is coming from inside the house. Our plight made us so focused on the evils that surround us, we forgot that we locked ourselves in with some of the danger. Even then, if we’ve struggled as a community to keep our abusers accountable, how do we do the same for our leaders, who deal with public opinion through stamping it out completely. Our voices often feel ignored by the world so what does it mean when they are suppressed by our own? We can save ourselves but who will lead us?