As the knee of police officer Derek Chauvin pressed down on the neck and head of the prone George Floyd, George repeatedly said to him, ‘I can’t breathe’ but the officer didn’t listen to his pleas or those from onlookers for eight minutes and forty-seven seconds. The officer, a white man was arresting George, a black man for allegedly using a counterfeit bill on 25th May, 2020 at a grocery shop in Minneapolis, USA. During the final minutes of the incident, George was noticeably silent and unresponsive. He was pronounced dead later after an ambulance took him to Hennepin County Medical Center. In the aftermath, there have been protests and demonstrations all over USA, riots and looting, destruction of private and public property, and calls for the arrest and prosecution of Derek Chauvin and the other officers present during the incident. These also happened in one form or the other all over the world.
Apart from the protests and destructions going on around the world, a lot of us have put up posts on social media to show our disapproval for what happened, there have been numerous discourses on TV and radio about the issue and I find it impressive how we care so much about others and how willing we are to fight injustice. This incident is the recent in a series of black deaths caused by the police in USA, from 2014, and the similarity present in all of them is the colour of victims’ skin. That is so not cool; to treat someone unfairly because of his or her skin colour. RACISM! For a lot of us, we are quick to pass judgement on this because it is so far away from us. Cast your mind back and think of the number of times you have not been fair to the people around you because of some features they have that is not something they chose for themselves.
When you deny people opportunities, you are choking them, and for some people, the pressure on their neck is so much that they are unable to vocalise but indeed, they can’t breathe. Not only are they struggling to be heard, the voices of all the people who are depending on them are shouting, ‘we can’t breathe’. We are quick to refuse people what they deserve because of where they come from, religious beliefs, gender, age, physical appearance among others. Inasmuch as we sympathise and empathise with people we identify with, it is wrong to refuse someone an opportunity based on these things. Nobody chooses their skin colour or their ethnic group, we don’t have control over where we are born and who gives birth to us. If we did, I’m sure all of us would have chosen to come from the ‘best’ continent, country, region, town, ethnic group, family and parents.
It is wrong and wicked to judge or deny anyone because of something they don’t have control over. Even in instances where people voluntarily choose their partners or to be part of religious group, they still do not deserve any form of injustice. Like Lucky Dube rightly sang, ‘Different colours, one people’. So don’t let someone’s skin colour be a basis for discrimination and injustice. For many of us, we are only familiar with racism because it seems to be talked about globally but there are other forms of discrimination that we engage in that are taking other people’s breath.
Do you remember when you looked down on someone and made them feel you were superior to them because of their gender-being a man or woman? Well, that is another form of discrimination known as sexism. When we have the belief that people of one sex or gender are inherently superior to people of the other sex or gender, we are practicing this form of discrimination and sometimes we do it with prejudice, stereotyping, and express it in a language that has negative gender-oriented implications. An example relegating women to the domestic chores and seeing them as not good enough to be leaders in academia, business, politics and so on.
There are those of us who also look down people because of their tribal backgrounds. That is, we exalt our tribes above other tribal groups. Tribalism can lead to bigotry and racism and, when taken to extremes, even war. In Ghana, you will find different tribal groups such as Akan, Ga, Frafra, Dagomba, Gonja, Dagaaba, Sisaala, Ewe, Fante, and so many others looking down on each other. Tribalism is a ‘local form’ of Racism and this is very common in Ghana. People have strong loyalty to their ethnic groups that they sometimes forget that there is a bigger picture (their country).
We also have this common practice of giving job opportunities to our relatives who do not qualify for the available positions. Thus, favouring of relatives or friends because of the relationship we have with them instead of their abilities at the expense of the most qualified is a form of discrimination, and some people cannot breathe because of this. Previously, it was who you know, but now it’s more of who knows you, and it’s often family! I remember how someone ever referred to this as putting square pegs in a round hole. Next time you try being a nepotist, ask yourself if the act will choke someone or prevent them from breathing. And bear in mind that some employees may put up bad attitudes when they realise you are condoning inequality.
There is also this extreme devotion to one’s own particular group, cause, or idea. This is known as chauvinism, another term for it is jingoism. A lot of us are guilty of this! We hold strongly to some ideas, groups, and we are ready to die at any point just to defend them. Many young people are die-hard fans of political parties in their countries, so much that even when the party is doing the wrong thing, they still rally behind and defend the wrong. Sadly, young people who are said to be the future of their nations are choking one other because of partisan politics. These days, if you want a scholarship or a job, they will ask you for your political party affiliation card, without a card, you do not qualify for any of them. Sad, isn’t it? It is okay to be patriotic, but do not take it to the extreme, to the point where we have to discriminate.
Even if you don’t find yourself in any of these categories (there are still a lot more I have not mentioned here), cast your mind back and think about that poor neighbour whom you have done things against because of their status. Or that employee of yours whom you maltreat because of their low social status? And that market woman you buy tomatoes from, how do you treat her when you go to the market? As if she were not human, isn’t it? The boy at the washing bay who washes your car, or that security man at your gate? Are you treating them the way you do because they are ‘less human’ than you? No, we are all humans and if you happen to be in a privileged position or group, don’t be complacent and discriminate against people. Tomorrow is not promised, tables can turn easily and you will be shocked.
Humanity has lost its meaning to these prejudices. The perplexity of it all is, we claim to uphold these ‘banners’ of our beliefs in the name of love. But a wise man once said, ‘THE GREATEST SINS IN HUMAN HISTORY WERE DONE IN THE NAME OF LOVE’. The world in its nature has enough troubles already! Fear of extinction of certain creatures, depletion of the ozone layer, melting of glaciers and so many others is sickening the world and it needs healing. The kind of healing that can only be provided by us humans, but here we are fighting and hating ourselves over…well, you know what yours is. We’re all culprits to one or two of these malicious and unimportant acts. Some people are already burdened and they are struggling to breathe. The Dalai Lama once said, ‘Our prime purpose in this life is to help others’. If you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them’. If you cannot support other people to breathe, please don’t press your knee down on their neck. Always remember that people are human first because skin colour, gender, tribe, social status, and whatever reasons for which we discriminate against people are. CHEER!!!
Nana Kofi Nyame is a Ghanaian and a self-motivated graduate. A passionate advocate for equality for any and all standards. He has participated in many debates and forums that highlights on women empowerment in our contemporary world. He’s ambiguous, vivacious, intelligent and exclusive. Nana is a team player and he doesn’t mind playing with people of different gender, ethnic background, skin colour, height, and so on. He is always talking about Feminism, Misogyny, Chauvinism and other forms of discrimination.