Assertiveness in a racist world

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Assertiveness in a racist world

By Bereket Gebru 1-26-15

Despite the ongoing rhetoric and narrative on the equality of all human kind and the stress on the need to tackle racism internationally, there are clear unequal divisions of people around the world based on race and color. The international system runs a de facto designation of status for individuals based on their racial and color origins. People are either treated respectfully or suspiciously based just on their appearances throughout the world.

The prominent American scholar and writer, Noam Chomsky, identified a hierarchy of races within the global system. This hierarchy ranks the perceived power attached to major racial groups in relations to others in the international system. Accordingly, the following make up the top and bottom tiered racial groups in the world.

As opposed to earlier consideration of Jews as usurers who depend on high interest borrowing and not an honest hard day’s work, as argued by the Nazis, they have managed to become one of the most influential people sitting at the top of the hierarchy of races. After facing a harsh discrimination in various societies around the world, they have managed to propel themselves up in the ladder of racial taxonomy. With their firm grip of the international monetary and financial system and the political clout derived from it, Jews have become the nobility of the twenty-first century. The fact that the race has been spread around the world also means that they have some of the most influential people in numerous countries identifying themselves to the group. This has resulted in the formation of the state of Israel and its surge in economic, military and political might over the years backed unconditionally by the strongest countries in the world. It would not be that far from the reality if I say that it is one of a handful of countries in the world to whom international laws do not apply.

The Anglo-Saxons, largely referring to the white people of Britain, US, Australia and Canada, make up the group at the top of this racial hierarchy. This group is largely identified by its lineage to Britain besides the fact that their mother language is English. The Anglo-Saxons have assumed supremacy over their other European counter-parts as they make a large section of the victors of WW I and II. The result has been an immense influence and control of international politics by this group. This group obviously makes the largest group in charge of enforcing international law as they see fit.

The other end of the hierarchy features sub-saharan Africans in general as the least respected and marginalized group in the world. The history of this group of people also backs them up as the recipients of aggression from the Anglo-Saxons and other European people during the colonial scramble for Africa. They were also abducted from their villages in huge numbers to be used as slaves in other continents. Regardless of their location, whether in Africa or in Diaspora, members of this group generally make up the poorest sections of international and national societies.

The distinction can also be considered from the viewpoint of color. Accordingly, whites who conveniently assigned the name to themselves despite their pink complexion are superior to people of other colors globally. The major institutions and systemic relations between nations in the international system were predominantly crafted by white people in such a way that their interests would be promoted much more than the interests of other groups. Accordingly, whites generally make up the most economically, politically and militarily powerful group in the world.

An article by Anthony Mustacich entitled ‘White Supremacy: Exploring the contours of race and power in America’ states:

“There were absolutely zero Blacks, Latinos or Native Americans involved in forming the government of the U.S. To this day only one non-white has ever attained the presidency of the U.S. government, while Blacks make up only 7% of the U.S. Congress, with Latinos making up only 4%. Although subordinate races have now been assimilated into American society, the social structure still functions in such a way that maintains the supremacy of whites, excepting certain token reforms such as Affirmative Action.

Aside from the political structure, the social indicator unequivocally confirms that whites are levels above non-whites in the most essential domains of social life. The supremacy of whites on the economic terrain is indisputable and highly instructive. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, for example, in 2005 the median family income for whites was $62,300, compared to just $36,075, $38,558 and $37,387 for Blacks, Natives and Latinos respectively (U.S. Census Bureau [USCBJ. 2009. p.38).”

Therefore, the narratives of modernity as a factor ensuring equality between people and molding a less violent character of humans does not hold water considering the great influence greed and war as a means of promoting supremacy have around the world. All the advancement in technology apparent in the twenty-first century has created a much pronounced Darwinian society characterized by survival of the fittest.

That translates to an imperialist sort of international system where the powerful go around dictating what states should and should not do. To maintain the perpetuation of international political, economic and social conditions that favor the powerful, those groups go out of their way to topple governments that prioritize the interests of their people than that of the international financial oligarchs.

Charlie Hebdo vs Boko Haram

I have ventured into the inequality in the international system based on racial and color divides as a result of the large media coverage the recent attacks on Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris received in international media outlets despite the very small number of people killed when compared to Boko Haram’s Baga attacks.

Charlie Hebdo is a French satirical magazine that depicts issues through cartoons that prove to be very controversial at times. The magazine is known for its condescending cartoons on many religions especially Islam. It has in numerous occasions depicted an image of Prophet Mohammad.

For a complete disregard and condescension of people’s faith can be considered a provocation, the repeated depiction of Prophet Mohammad or other religions on its pages has angered numerous religious groups. The recent portrayal was, however, too much for three Muslims as they barged on to the magazine’s office and killed twelve people working there including an editor. The gunmen killed another five people outside making the total number of people killed by the attack seventeen.

The attack received uninterrupted coverage in most ‘international broadcast media’ prompting a huge discussion on how terrorism has become the single most threat to European and American lifestyle. Such acts are always used indirectly to imply that Islam is a violent religion rapidly becoming a threat to secularism in Europe because of immigrants.

It is really convenient that European countries like France and Belgium which have not been at the receiving end of high profile terrorist attacks have been targeted at a time when the argument that terrorist groups in the Middle East target people of the region rather than their supposed European enemies.  

It has become a well known fact that the most infamous terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS were established through the support of the same European and American forced that claim to be their enemies. For instance, ISIS has been funded by America’s satellite states in the Middle East along with Israel. Not surprisingly, it targets Iraqis and Syrians as opposed to the coalition led by the US that conducts air raids against it. Although not clearly stated to whom, the group sales oil to finance its activities.

Considering European countries like France and Belgium have embarked on a military action in another region of the world to promote whatever interests they have, in addition to the obvious potential for retaliation from fighters in that region, it would also be in the best interest of the state of France to design an attack on its own people as it would help gather citizens around the issue. This system has been used repeatedly in various powerful countries as a move of legitimization of illegal acts abroad.

The three days long saga of the Charlie Hebdo attack was not the usual random killing of civilians witnessed in terror attacks but a calculated execution of individuals whom the gunmen identified as provocateurs prior to their acts. Upon controlling the magazine’s office, the gunmen called out the people they want to execute by name and went on with their acts. The random act of killing people including women and children characterizing terrorism is not portrayed in the Charlie Hebdo office attack. However, the section of the attack targeting a Jewish supermarket only had race as a filter otherwise being random.  

Following the attack, France mourned the victims as forty global leaders joined an estimated 3.7 million people on its streets to march in a show of unity. US President Barack Obama was highly criticized by his European colleagues for not joining the forty world leaders who attended the march in France. Considering the States’ leadership in inciting and fighting terror around the world, the public stunt should have been his priority.

When the seventeen people who died in France received all the attention and media coverage in the world, a much more pronounced attack by Boko Haram was taking place in Baga, Nigeria. In what has been describes by many as the ‘deadliest massacre’ to date by the terrorist group, Boko Haram militants attacked the town of Baga in the North-Eastern state of Borno killing more than two thousand people. Reports have local defence groups say that they had given up counting the bodies left lying on the streets. 

Despite the vast incomparability of the scope of the two attacks, the international media that in reality are just European and American media focused on the seventeen dead in Paris. The amount of coverage given, the resources mobilized and the world leaders involved in the mourning process which spanned days effectively ignored the two thousand dead in Nigeria.

Unlike the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, the residents of Baga were not directly involved in provoking their attackers. The attacks in Nigeria were also not selective executions but random killings including children and women. The Nigerian attacks, unlike the French, were carried out by a local terrorist group on its fellow citizens. It was not meant to punish condescending and inflammatory depictions of one’s faith.

With all these facts protruding, the largest media in the world somehow did not find a good enough reason in their conscience to depict the Nigerian attacks as moderately newsworthy. By extensively reporting on the seventeen dead in the Charlie Hebdo attack and its aftermath while barely touching the issue of the two thousand killed in Nigeria by Boko Haram, these media outlets clearly showed their parameters for newsworthiness.

Keeping in mind that news is something ‘new’ in a given society, the unexpectedness of an event dictates its newsworthiness. As has been discussed earlier though, the presence of an act of provocation on the part of the French magazine by depicting cartoons disrespecting Islam makes the attack relatively more expected. An attack ranging a whole town killing two thousand people is, on the other hand, very much unexpected and hence more newsworthy.

The other criterion for newsworthiness that can be raised in positive relation with the ‘international’ media is proximity. The idea of proximity as a parameter for newsworthiness has imbedded in it the fact that people are more drawn to stories they have closeness to. Whether it be geographical or social, proximity proves to be a strong factor in gauging the relative worth of stories.


Accordingly, being based in Europe and America, the so-called ‘international’ media have more proximity to the killings in France than that of Nigeria. It would not, therefore, be too awkward if those media outlets focused more on the Charlie Hebdo attacks.  

Just weeks earlier though, there was a similar terrorist incident in Australia that involved a Muslim taking hostages at a newspaper. The situation was resolved after hours with it claiming no lives. The event was much more widely reported than the recent Boko Haram attacks that killed more than two thousand people. We can trace social proximity of the British to the event in Australia; however, the rest of the ‘international’ media were not close to the issue both geographically and socially. Therefore, the massacre in Nigeria should have received more coverage in mainland European media than the hostage situation in Australia as Nigeria is much closer.

So, why would mainland European media consider a hostage situation in Australia more newsworthy than the killing of two thousand people in Nigeria considering proximity is not an issue here? The answer to this question can only lead to the fact that the Australian state is one of whites as is the case with mainland Europe. The proximity can be explained in terms of color.

The ugly truth behind the parameters used to deny newsworthiness to the killing of over two thousand Nigerians has to do with the underlying belief on the part of these media outlets that a threat on the lives of whites is more newsworthy than the actual killing of thousands of blacks. As has been clearly demonstration through their actions, the so called ‘international’ media find the death of seventeen French citizens as more newsworthy an issue than the killing of two thousand Nigerians. In the process, they have vividly exhibited their disrespect for African lives. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words and this time all non-white people should listen carefully to the message being transmitted - that all humans are not equal.

This is a racist world. Blood indeed is thicker than everything else. So, it is time for Africans to recognize that and act accordingly. Strengthening the unity and solidarity of Africans in the face of attempts by outsiders to have us fight each other availing our resources as a mechanism of keeping our conflicts going is only building on our humiliation at an international level. Instead of bowing to the venomous ventures of outsiders aimed at our resources, Africans should stand together to assert their interests at least in their own continent.

As has been clearly demonstrated through the Charlie Hebdo attack, white people rally to the aid of their own kind despite the possibility of wrong doing in the first place by those they extend their support to. Instead of focusing on the wrong act by Charlie Hebdo though, they help come up with philosophical explanations of its act. Accordingly, the magazine’s mockery of Islam is just another case of freedom of expression. It is saddening to think that freedom of expression would encompass insulting a particular social group again and again.

I wonder why Charlie Hebdo does not pick on the Jews. May be it is somehow related to the social group or it is conscious of the strong legal and financial ramifications an act like that would be followed with. The anti-Semitic laws are afterall so strict that any gestures, let alone, depictions and words would be tolerated. Moreover, if the Europeans believe that much in freedom of expression in the sense that anyone can say whatever they like, why have they prohibited doubting the holocaust by law. Wouldn’t doubting the holocaust ever took place fall within freedom of expression?

While defending the French satirical magazine’s mockery of religion after the attack, the editor of Charlie Hebdo, Gerard Biard, said it targets faith only when it becomes "entangled" in politics. In an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press”, the editor said:

"We have a problem when faith and religion become political, then we become worried and we attack. If God becomes entangled in politics, then democracy is in danger. Every time that we draw a cartoon of Mohammed, every time that we draw a cartoon of a prophet, every time that we draw a cartoon of God, we defend the freedom of [conscience]. We declare that God must not be a political or public figure. He must be a private one."

Despite the editor’s feelings, other social groups would probably not care at all about democracy when compared to their thoughts on the role of God in society. Contrary to his argument that God ‘must’ be private and not a political or public figure, numerous social groups around the world consider God an integral part of their social lives. Can we even say that political and social life of a certain social group can be devoid of religious beliefs of the group? I personally do not think so.

In addition, declaring that God ‘must’ be private in itself is so undemocratic as it imposes one’s opinions on others. In any case insulting and ridiculing a social group because it holds a different opinion on the involvement of God in social life is barbaric. So, I would say that the purpose of Charlie Hebdo has nothing to do with democracy or freedom of speech but the dismantling of religious views, Islam in particular, and social cohesion in general.

In dealing with this issue, I have identified racism as one of the major factors dividing social conditions nationally and internationally. Therefore, not using racial ties as points of unity would be a point of weakness for non-whites. Accordingly, the injection of racism on the grounds of color could see Africans stand for each other’s interests more.

The marginalization of non-whites in the coverages of what are traditionally called ‘international’ media indicates that those media outlets are not really international. They are just national and racial media outlets with large reaches. Therefore, other racial groups need to come up with such big reach media outlets reflecting their view of the world. Accordingly, Africa needs to come up with an African media countering the single story by other large reach media outlets depicting it as poor and violent.



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