By David T Hofisi
January 16 2017 – THIS is a response to the article by Sisonke Msimang (the writer) titled Trump rage ignores the truth. That article portrays outrage at Trump’s remarks regarding predominantly black countries as ‘the folly of victimhood’ and ‘a disappointing reminder that outrage can be addictive even when it is wholly ineffectual.’
My considered view is that this article, and others who agree with this view, provide a safe haven for racism and white supremacy by deflecting attention from the reality of bigotry and its dangers to our multi-cultural and intercultural society.
By legitimating racist remarks in the context of a genuine discussion on migration, bigotry is not only justified but actively encouraged as a way to shine a light on issues affecting society – thereby ignoring its capacity to reduce human worth and set the scene for violent conflict.
In the article Trump rage ignores the truth, the writer concedes that Trump is a racist, but proceeds to wonder, ‘why anyone would be offended by the racism of a known racist.’ This is a shift in the burden of responsibility; that is to say, the writer presents the view that it is not the historically dominant people who must refrain from racist attitudes and remarks, but the historically oppressed who are not to take offence.
They must accept the fate of racist remarks without any outrage; thereby normalizing the abnormal and encouraging passivity in the face of denigration. Making a case for higher tolerance of and thus capitulation to bigotry is truly remarkable, more so in light of the reality that social norms are not self-enforcing and need to be constantly engaged if they are to be effective. It reinforces the historically dominant people’s views and the oppression of those that have been historically marginalized and abused.
There can be no reason why bigotry must be tolerated at all, or whether society should similarly refrain from outrage when hearing reports of rape by a known/convicted rapist or further evidence of harassment of women by a male dominated society.
It is a truly repulsive suggestion.
The writer also wonders why people are concerned with Trump’s racism and not ‘the merits or demerits of the large debate about the role and place of migrants in wealthy countries like the US.’ Thus imputing an obligation on the historically marginalized and oppressed to work through the vile foliage of racist remarks to locate legitimate discussion points. This is oblivious to the power of words. The (mis)charaterizaion of people has led to repression, domination, extermination and genocide. The history of the world is replete with the all too nasty outcomes of allowing people to be viewed as lesser beings, as cockroaches or their countries as ‘s***y.’ The overwhelming focus on racism is meant to shine a light on the value of human life, more so those lives which history has not treated with as much worth as those that are currently denigrating them. It is wholly insufficient to point to a debate on migration to sanitize and disinfect patently toxic language which has the effect of dehumanizing people and thus expose them to racism, xenophobia and the attendant dangers to human life (genocide, lynching, e.t.c). It is not, as the writer claims about ‘hurting some feelings’ but preservation of human life.
The writer of the article wonders why ‘so few people want to address the truth that lies at the heart of Trump’s statements…Poor people do not leave their countries because of wanderlust: They leave because life feels pretty “s***ty”.’ This is not a new argument and was actually at the heart of the imperial and colonial projects. Material and economic superiority was used as the basis to ‘save’ indigenous peoples from their ‘s***ty’ ‘backward’ existence by invading, dominating and at times, exterminating them to establish more advanced systems of governance. The same superiority is now the basis to defend bigotry. This would place such remarks as those by Cecil Rhodes in gratitude for being born to the British Empire and not in the presumably ‘s***ty’ African ones as the basis for a discussion on technologically disparity and not its racist views and the resulting pain and suffering endured in perpetuation of that belief. This is truly abhorrent.
This is where the fundamental fallacy of the writer of the article truly lies, the false notion that one cannot reject bigoted statements whilst at the same time working for their people and continent. These are presented as mutually exclusive: “This – it seems – is a more important reality to address than whether a discredited man who is a known provocateur has hurt some feelings.” However, one need not accept the bigotry of a known racist to address the real problems in various parts of Africa.
The article is a legitimation of extrinsic views of Africa as a uniform jungle of misery. Africa is a vast and diverse continent with its own heterogeneity. It is not a uniform, seamless morass of tragedy as some in the global north have sought to portray with latent agreement of the writer of the article in question. These ancient notions are to be challenged and rejected rather than embraced and propagated. It is disingenuous to point to ‘poor people who have been left out of the “Africa rising” narrative’ as though this is not, in varying degrees, a shared phenomenon with other regions of the world as shown through the Brexit vote and Trump’s election.
Further, and most importantly, the suggestion that Trump, made these remarks informed by the nuances of the difference between Cape Town and Crossroads is patently ludicrous. He is perpetuating an imperial racist view of Africa and is not aware of the minutiae of life in Nairobi or Port-au-Prince. The writer is expressing frustrations of mis-governance whilst Trump is expressing a racist imperial view. By attempting to conflate the two, the writer gives white supremacist views safe haven under the guise of a genuine discussion on migration.
When a woman is the victim of domestic violence, we do not ask what she had done or said. Similarly, we do not ask what the victim of rape was wearing. We know the right thing to do is to condemn and convict. Bigoted statements do not begin genuine discussions… they are the end of them. Racism is not and should not be what brings us to the table, it is the signal that we should stand and walk away.
David T Hofisi is a Zimbabwean, US based human rights lawyer.
The views expressed in this article are the writers’ opinion and donot in anyway reflect, this website’s editorial policy or that of its staff.