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  • Joseph Ola

The One Thing More Evil Than ‘White Supremacy’​

Until we know, accept and celebrate our cultural identities, we will continue to live at the mercy of the ‘superior’ according to our perceptions of ‘better’.



Throughout the month of August, the young adults on the online mentoring platform I run with my wife went on an #ASongADay music challenge. Each day, 1 or 2 people shared a song that had blessed them during some difficult season of their life. If I’m being honest, I had a silent agenda in the background as we engaged on this challenge of spotlighting different songs that had ministered to us in significant ways. I wanted to see the kind of songs — and the kind of voices and styles of music artistry — that these (mostly African) young adults are engaging with and what that may be saying about their SENSE OF IDENTITY and UNDERSTANDING OF GOD. What follows is my reflection on my findings.


37 songs later, I think I got what I was looking for. First, I must note that everyone who participated in choosing and reflecting on a song is African. However, of all the 37 songs spotlighted, ONLY 13 WERE FROM AFRICAN SINGERS; 24 WERE FROM WESTERN SINGERS. Is there a problem with that? No. And Yes. Let me explain beginning with why that is NOT a problem.


We now live in a global village whereby somebody in a corner of an African village can, at the click of a button, be fully informed and aware of what is happening in another corner of the world many seas and mountains away. That’s a good thing. It means we now have the rare privilege of cross-pollinating our ideas, understandings and experiences with the realities available elsewhere in the world. It means we can now superlatively enjoy the diversity in God’s creative ingenuity thus helping us to understand God and ourselves better and be better equipped to model Christlikeness in our various contexts. That’s a beautiful thing.


My suspicion, however, is that some people are engaging in this cross-pollination of cultures and worldviews at the detriment of preserving their cultural identities. To put it more clearly, I fear that there are many African young adults today who have, perhaps unintentionally, learnt that anything coming from the Western world or the global North (Europe, United States of America, Canada etc) is superior to what exists in Africa.


Of course, the recent murder of George Floyd and the protests that ensued afterwards had brought the issue of ‘White Supremacy’ into public discourse again. Many Africans, African-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans used the opportunity of that trending hot topic to voice out about their experiences of racism in the West. (I have my stories in that regard, as well — stories for another day.) Many Africans both on the continent and in the diaspora had to remember and inveigh their colonial heritage for the baggage that the colonising nations left us with — which many African nations are still battling with till date. They have gained independence, but yet to live in the reality of independence.


However, I wonder if the problem is really how the Whites have systemically and strategically propagated “White Supremacy” or how Blacks are unconsciously and unintentionally propagating “Black Inferiority.” (Yes, I speak of Whites and Blacks — and Browns; I am not colour blind.)

I wonder if the problem is really how the Whites have systemically and strategically propagated “White Supremacy” or how Blacks are unconsciously and unintentionally propagating “Black Inferiority.”

This is a provocative thought; I know. But until we know, accept and celebrate our cultural identities, we will continue to live at the mercy of the ‘superior’ according to our perceptions of ‘better’.

Until we know, accept and celebrate our cultural identities, we will continue to live at the mercy of the ‘superior’ according to our perceptions of ‘better’.

Let’s think about it together, really, considering the following aspects of our common lived-experiences. (And, by the way, I’m as guilty as many…)


1. Movies

What kind of movies do you naturally gravitate towards? Hollywood? Bollywood? Nollywood? Ghallywood? Personally, I can — literally — count on my fingertips how many African movies I’d seen this year. But how many Hollywood or British movies I’d seen, I have no idea. #ConfessionsOfAnAfricanMillennial


2. Books

2 or 3 years ago, I did a poll for a research which about 90 of these young adults participated in. Amongst other things, I wanted to know where they were getting their spiritual nourishment from. I was stunned to find out that about 70% of the participants were getting their spiritual nourishments from books, podcasts, sermons and other resources produced by ‘whites’. (I intentionally made the colour distinction in the options given for that question.) Again, personally, I glanced back at my bookshelf as I’m typing this and the revelation is telling. With the exception of 2 or 3 titles, the few books I have of African authors are mostly books from those whom I helped get their work published. Were it not for my involvement in the editing or publishing process, these are books I will never have on my shelf. My Google library is even more telling — and Google Books is my primary reading app. Of all the last 50 books I’d opened on my Google Books, only 1 was written by an African (apart from my own titles). #ConfessionsOfAnAfricanMillennial

70% of the participants were getting their spiritual nourishments from books, podcasts, sermons and other resources produced by ‘whites’.

3. Sports (For example, Football)

I’m yet to have an African friend who is primarily a fan of an African football club. I’m an LFC fan. And you? #ConfessionsOfAnAfricanMillennial


4. Fashion

Sometimes, I’m afraid to scroll through my Instagram feed. Really. I see all these naturally beautiful African girls doing all they can to tone up their complexion with 50 shades of what-not and expensive hair attachments. I ask myself, “To what end?” I’m a church minister in a denomination where our pastors in Nigeria still have to wear a suit and collar to minister every Sunday — no matter how hot the temperature gets. Where did that come from? It came from the British missionaries that came in the 1930s to consolidate the existing church network that has now become known as “The Apostolic Church” and “Christ Apostolic Church” in Nigeria.

I’m a church minister in a denomination where our pastors in Nigeria still have to wear a suit and collar to minister every Sunday — no matter how hot the temperature gets. Where did that come from?

5. Language and Accent

I spoke with an old friend in Nigeria the other day and he was baffled that my accent had not significantly changed. I asked him, “Why should it?” It is only in Nigeria that I will see newscasters and radio hosts trying the very best to sound like some British or American media personality — and many African young adults celebrate this. You will find Africans who had never stepped their foot out of their respective countries aiming to sound like they’ve lived in the UK or US all their life. It is now fashionable in many parts of Africa to raise your kids with English Language or French being their default without them being able to fluently speak — let alone read — in their mother tongue. I think we can do better.

It is now fashionable in many parts of Africa to raise your kids with English Language or French being their default without them being able to fluently speak — let alone read — in their mother tongue.

I could go on and on to talk about religion, parenting, food and very many other aspects of culture in which Africans — especially young Africans — are unintentionally contributing to the erosion of our African identity. You can be African and Christian at the same time. You can be African and academic. You can be African and fashionable. You can be African in your engagements with other cultures and worldviews. Indeed, you should engage other cultures from the place of a rooted self-understanding in your Africanness.

You can be African and Christian at the same time. You can be African and academic. You can be African and fashionable.

To conclude, let me return to where we began. I’m not saying that liking and listening to Western songs, or preferring Hollywood to Nollywood is essentially problematic for an African. No. What I am after is that we acknowledge that there are valid African expressions of our preferences. I’m after a generation of African Ambassadors who do not engage with the gift of multiculturality in our world today from the basis that their culture is inferior. There is no inferior culture and no superior ones; only valid ones. Every culture is valid and can be made better by cross-pollinating with cultures from elsewhere. The product will be richer when we are entering into this cross-cultural engagement from the position of the validity of both cultures involved. Whites are not superior; Blacks are not inferior. We are equally valid expressions of humanity.

I’m after a generation of African Ambassadors who do not engage with the gift of multiculturality in our world today from the basis that their culture is inferior. There is no inferior culture and no superior ones; only valid ones.

I can only pray that my heart behind this message is not mistaken. And I hope some of you will find it helpful.

God bless you.

POSTSCRIPT

Watch out for my book on this subject — momentarily titled “Proudly African: Confessions of an African Millennial”. Pray that God helps me to get the work underway and communicate the burden here shared in a way that will help many African young adults find the freedom to be their true selves.


PS: Alive Mentorship Group is an online mentorship platform for young adults across the world that provides an avenue to learn practical life lessons across geographical barriers. If you will like to be a part or to access any of our free resources, click here.

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Joseph Ola © 2020