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Virus of racism given new life

31st Dec 2021
Virus of racism given new life

Mahomed Faizal Cape Town, South Africa

The root of European racism towards Africa lies in its reimagining of the continent as a repository of pestilence, filth, degradation and untold human misery. A continent in desperate need of the white man’s civilising mission! This noble vision of emancipation was so breathtaking, so expansive and majestic, that it evolved from the 16-century trade in human lives to the contemporaneous assault on human dignity. The nature of racism as it existed in the minds of the colonial fathers might have changed, but today it has newer shades of black prejudice, bigotry, discrimination and xenophobia.

It is not surprising that televangelist US President Donald Trump referred to brown and black countries as “sh*tholes”. While social media went apoplectic in duplicitous rage, European leaders and leading western media houses retreated into silence out of deference to a Twitter lashing by Trump. Beaten into an acquiescing stupor, the ancient seeds of a virulent strain of racism germinated.

In Culture and Imperialism, Palestinian scholar Edward Said says: “No identity can ever exist by itself and without an array of opposites, negatives, oppositions: Greeks always require barbarians, and Europeans Africans, Orientals, etc”. Said hones in on ancient Greek’s arrogant rejection of anything or person that is non-Greek – the unrefined other who is uncivilised, brutish, while similarly, colonial Europeans regard brown and black peoples as inherently uncivilised and incapable of being masters of their domain.

For Said, European expressions of racial supremacy are rooted in ‘othering’ and ‘inferior-izing’ peoples of a darker shade – whether it is the exotic Arab in Victorian times, the ‘Moor’ in Spain, latter-day migrants entering Europe by boat, or politicians with ethnic or religious identities. These must be feared, shunned, ridiculed, erased, marginalized or dismissed through fair or foul means.

Over the past two years, since the beginning of the Covid pandemic, there has been a carefully staged public relations campaign to vilify African countries, diminishing their contributions in the fight against the deadly virus. Inevitably, European governments and some African and Middle Eastern countries have made policies on the hoof, while the media have dutifully fulfilled their role as complicit enablers in these character assassinations.

As early as May 2020, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that “the pandemic continues to unleash a tsunami of hate and xenophobia, scapegoating and scare-mongering.”

From day zero, Trump’s reference to the Covid virus as ‘China Virus’ was latched on by Italian, Spanish Greek and German political leaders and senior officials and right-wing politicians, to encourage and promote their own anti-immigrant, white supremacist and xenophobic agendas that demonise refugees and foreigners.

The media engaged in what academic and journalist Howard French termed ‘ooga booga’ journalism, which writes about Africa and Africans in a dehumanising way that replicates and reinforces the descriptions of writers from the colonial era. This ‘othering’ has openly fanned the flames of hate speech against mainly African migrants, leading to an increase in hate crimes, racism and xenophobia.

The outbreak of the latest strain, Omicron, has unleashed a healthy stream of bigotry and racist attitudes towards southern African countries – hastily imposed travel bans, pejorative nomenclatures (South African strain), casting aspersions on African scientific scholarship or latterly, patronising backhanded compliments.

By withholding vaccines from African and low-income countries, western countries deliberately engaged in vaccine apartheid, leading to thousands of preventable deaths.

By August 2021, while 32 per cent of the world population had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 24 per cent fully vaccinated, only about 1.3 per cent of people in low-income countries have received only one jab. Some African countries paid more than twice per dose than what their European counterparts had paid.

Vaccine apartheid has had a devastating impact on the lives of people in low-income countries. Children especially have been the hardest hit, with prolonged school closures widening the educational disparities between the rich and the poor. It has also led to food insecurity arising from massive job losses due to businesses shutting down. Once again, children from fragile social backgrounds have suffered disproportionally and disruptions or shortages of vaccines will have a long-term impact on their lives.

While leading scientists in southern Africa were the first to identify Omicron, the new variant was already prevalent in some European countries.

The absence of any travel bans to-and-from these countries provides a timely reminder that while governments have an obsessive desire to protect their citizens, the virus seems to have no qualms about entering European countries sans visa. Western media’s single narrative of Africa and Africans advances the perception of a continent steeped in misery, squalor, endless wars, sickness, and unending poverty, whose only salvation lies in the religious burden that the white man has to bear.

[Southern Africa Map Credit: burmesedays, Shaund, Nick Roux Creative Commons]

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Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

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