In Summary
  • I no longer believe that race and colour do not matter. I now know and believe that there are people who hate others and would even hurt them just because they are not of their race or colour.

  • This has been happening to Black people for centuries, it is still happening, and it may continue happening.

  • We need not hate or hurt anyone, but we must be prepared and determined to fight for our rightful place in humanity.

Two apparently unrelated events hit my mind as I prepared to start celebrating Black History Month. One was the tragic helicopter accident death of legendary basketballer Kobe Bryant last Sunday. In the days when he delighted us on courts, I called the player “Mzee Kobe” (tortoise) after the invincible, plodding hero of African folktales, although he had nicknamed himself “Black Mamba”. My epitaph for Kobe: “He gave us joy, departed to glory and left us in sorrow.”

The other event involved Vanessa Nakate, an African, indeed a Ugandan, young woman, who is an environmental activist. In an apparently racist “editorial” act, a major press and media service “cropped” her out of a photo taken with her fellow climate change activists, including the feisty Greta Thunberg, at the Davos Economic Summit in Switzerland. But the press service was caught red-handed, and it was reduced to offering grovelling apologies to an unamused Nakate for the “unintended” omission.

The story went viral and resulted in turning Nakate into an instant online sensation. It curiously reminded me of “Ushindi wa Nakate” (Nakate’s Triumph), a young-readers story about a Ugandan girl, by my friend and former colleague Prof Clara Momanyi. But real-life Nakate’s story launched me into my ruminations about Black History.

Black History Month 2020 starts today, February 1, and runs through 29. Incidentally, I had forgotten to tell you that one of the bonuses of this year, a leap year, is that we have an extra full day to fix all those little things we had not been able to do in the previous four years. Back to the moment, how are you going to celebrate this momentous month?

That may sound like a far-fetched question to us in East Africa, struggling with such grave matters as Al-Shabaab, locust invasions, building bridges initiatives and even that delicate Chinese connection. Still, I will celebrate Black History Month by learning as much as I can about the centuries of accumulated experiences of Black people all over the world and reflecting on their significance for me and other Black people today.

We Africans at home often make two mistakes about the universal Black experience. The first is to assume that we “know” a lot about it, when in fact we know next to nothing. We do not even realise that even the little we have heard about it is mostly from those who were responsible for our people’s predicament in the first place.

Our second mistake is to regard the Black people’s struggle as the business of “those people out there” (the diaspora), to which we of the “Homeland” can be only sympathetic observers, at best. This attitude is wrong on many counts, as historians, like my Dar Mwalimu, Walter Rodney, author of How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, tell us.

First, the events that forced our relatives into the hostile diaspora had and still have a direct impact on our continent. The capture and exportation of the strongest and healthiest of our people depleted and weakened our societies, rendering them defenceless against the ravages of colonialism, from which we are still struggling to fully liberate ourselves. The Black diaspora’s struggle against racism, exclusion and supremacist violence is thus directly related to the homeland Africans’ struggle for full emancipation from colonial and neocolonial structures and strictures, bad governance and the curtailing of their basic human rights.

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