Op-ed: I can’t Breathe: a Troubled World for the Poor.
By Oluwasoromidayo George
Some people saw this coming. The injustice piled up for centuries, stifling many lives with investigations that have been buried, without the victims getting justice. We have seen many videos of how black people were killed unjustly, but the image of George Floyd’s brutal murder triggered a reaction that has never been experienced before. The image stuck in many minds, (as the gruesome act was perpetuated) of a man crying for his mother’s help, asking to be released as he couldn’t breathe anymore. The pleas falling on deaf ears as those meant to protect and save lives looked the other way.
Many like George Floyd die daily; many are crying out that they can’t breathe, begging to be helped by those who are in a position to help. These are poor people who remain vulnerable and helpless. They can’t help themselves, and the system appears to have been wired or structured to oppress more than assist. These are people who are stifled in a way that they can’t breathe. It probably leads to the death of many. It is not good to be poor. The poor have a weight of unmet needs and the nagging feeling of a breathless position that can throttle them out of existence. Majority of them cannot afford to feed well, much less talk of taking care of themselves.
While the incidence of poverty was said to have reduced globally (though now reversed by the COVID-19 pandemic), inequality continued to be a challenge, exacerbating issues like insecurity and an increasing gap between the rich and the poor in how they access things like health care and better living conditions. The problems of inequality also find its expression in racism and the stereotypical acts of injustice against people of color.
It is essential to understand the root of racism as we try to fix the issues associated with it. Cannon and Sunseri (2018) stated that the problem faced is one of the institutional and attitudinal expressions in the prejudicial biases, which is inherent in European and Euromerican cultures. Haralambos and Holborn (2008) described the history of racism, most fascinatingly, and intriguingly. They noted that in England, Queen Elizabeth 1 proclaimed that Negroes should be deported from England because they were infidels who contributed to the economic and social problems such as poverty and famine. The authors also pointed to claims in the Encyclopedia Britannica (1884), where the African Negro was said to have occupied the lowest position on the evolutionary scale. While one shudders at such degrading descriptive factors, it makes one pause and wonders if these opinions still exist and are probably the causative factors in the issues of stereotyping and racism.
In trying to address these issues and the trauma associated with racism, we must start to have conversations about the future. These discussions should involve how we, as African leaders, can redefine our current posture of governance. We must aggressively drive economic sustenance and excellent financial performance that leverages our collective individualism to put us in a better leadership position globally. It is imperative that while we may not be able to change all firmly held negative opinions about the black race, we should be able to create a continent that is proud of its development trajectory. Which l believe will also affect not only our economic positioning in global affairs but value propositions to the development of all humanity.
There is a correlation between the state of our nation, the level of poverty, illiteracy, and the perception of our citizens in other countries. If we eliminate poverty to the barest minimum, clean up our cities, have a zero-tolerance to lawlessness by upholding the rule of law, secure our cities, defend human rights, embrace and positively project our culture – we improve the perception that others have about us. And also most probably the impression that people have about black people not only in Nigeria but also in Africa. Therefore we can contribute positively through national affirmative actions to making black lives matter and giving life where there is breathlessness.
Oluwasoromidayo George, Non-executive Director at the Corporate Social Responsibility and Governance Institute,writes from Lagos