By ECHEZONAM SMITH
I listened to Wyclef’s song Diallo as a teenager and thought it was a cool song. I loved the way Wyclef screamed “Diallo Diallo!” and the gunshots sounded so real. However, in all my sing-along moments and until I became cognizant of Black Lives Matter, I never thought Diallo was a real person.
How could anyone be shot 41 times? It was not until a few years ago that I discovered Diallo was indeed a real person and not a figment of a Haitian musician’s imagination. My inability to comprehend how a person could be shot several times led me to search for the astrological significance of the number 41. While my internet search brought no results, I am quite certain the number 41 will always be significant to the Diallo family. Forty-one is the number of times their son a skin shade slightly lighter than mine got shot. A 23-year old Guinean immigrant, Amadou Diallo was shot by police officers after he failed to stop at their command and pointed a dark object at them. Believing the object was a gun, they began firing their rapid-fire weapons in self-defense at him. Sadly, the dark object was a wallet. Diallo’s mother says his dream was to become a computer programmer. In similar circumstances, Ugandan immigrant Alfred Olango was shot dead in a San Diego suburb after pointing a vape smoking device at an officer. Alfred’s dream was to open a restaurant. Matthew Ajibade, a 21-year old Nigerian, died in restraints, inside an isolation cell while in police custody. He wanted the American dream.
African Immigrants In the US
The search for greener pastures across the Atlantic is more often than not the reason most Africans relocate to Europe, America and other places. According to the Pew Research Center, African immigrants make up a small share of the U.S. immigrant population. That said, their numbers have been growing –roughly doubling every decade since 1970. As at 2013, there were 1.8 million African immigrants living in the U.S.; up from 881,000 in 2000 and a substantial increase from 1970, when the U.S. was home to only 80,000 foreign-born Africans. Africans accounted for 4.4% of America’s immigrant population in 2013, up from 0.8% in 1970. That same year, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Ghana and Kenya accounted for nearly half of the foreign-born African population in the U.S, accounting to Pew Research estimates.
The growing number of African immigrants in America has made it imperative that we listen to the voice of the Black Lives Matter movement. Black Lives Matter is an international activist movement campaign against violence and systemic racism towards black people. The slogan Black Lives Matter started out as #BlackLivesMatter on twitter. This hashtag promoted by three women Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometiin in 2013, was created as a response to the anti-Black racism that permeates the American society following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Said to be one of the most potent slogans since black power, #BlackLivesMatter quickly moved from social media to the streets and attracted global recognition.
African Responses To Black Lives Matter
Despite the global recognition of #BlackLivesMatter, Africans continue to have varying opinions on the relevance of the Black Lives Matter movement to them. This division can be grouped into three broad categories. Those indifferent to the movement, those against it and those supporting it. The lack of support displayed by some Africans can be traced to various reasons. These reasons include the argument that Africans have their own problems to deal with and the perception that African-Americans do not see Africans as their brothers . On the other hand, some Africans support the struggle based on the recognition that black Americans like Martin Luther King and Pamela Davies supported African countries like South Africa in their struggle for freedom. To the group siting on the fence, Americans just have too much wahala. The #BlackLivesMatter does not matter to them.
Agreeably, we do have our own problems of bad governance, poverty, and corruption. Certainly, some African-Americans may not call us ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ based on feelings of betrayal by our ancestors. There are probably valid reasons for not caring if we sit down and count. However, #BlackLivesMatter concerns us as Africans and especially as Nigerians. Why? Among the various reasons is the fact that a number of people depend on brothers and sisters overseas for funds. A report from Global Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development states that about 21 billion dollars was sent home by Nigerians in the Diaspora in 2015.
I know many people who wait each month for Western Union money transfers from the US. I see mothers with their babies queuing up to cash in checks. We say Black Lives Matter does not concern us, but what happens to dependents when their breadwinners in the U.S. get shot? Should black lives still not matter?
Why Black Lives Should Matter To Africans
Before you come to your conclusion about the relevance of the black lives matter movement, let’s ponder on this. How dark are the skins of our uncles? Any different from blacks being shot in Florida and Louisiana? Do cops ask whether one is African-American or African before shooting? The answer to both those questions would be no. Therefore, we need to be conscious of the struggle in America for if the lives of African-Americans don’t matter to us, the lives of our brother and sisters should and do.
Black activist Sister Souljah says “The world turns on a vibration, if there is no vibration there is no movement”. While we cannot be present in America and other countries were violence against blacks is on the increase, we can use social media to lend a voice to a cause that matters. So, that God forbid a call comes in and says “We are sorry to inform you about the death of Chibike.He was shot basically because he had dark skin”
With the election of Donald Trump as the President of the US the #BlackLivesMatter Movement needs to be more active than it was under the administration of former US President Obama. While the latter was an ally of the movement, the former seems to be the enemy. The Trump administration brings with it promises to end the anti-police atmosphere and the introduction of a immigration ban that puts blacks in America whether a African American or African immigrants at risk of being deported or experiencing police violence. Commenting on the Trump’s immigration order, Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Oakland-based Center for Media Justice, part of the United Front in an article published on Mother Jones, says barring refugees and immigrants in particular “changed the rules of engagement and represents an escalation of the war on black bodies and lives.
In this regard, more than ever it is important for blacks all over the world to brace up, unite and fight against injustice against black people not only in America but also around the world.
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Echezonam Smith is a bi-cultural writer and photographer. Connect with her on Twitter.
The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way reflect that of Circumspecte.