Tuesday, June 02, 2020

#BlackOutTuesday - Heal The World

The past few days have been challenging and emotionally draining on many levels that form part of my identity as a person.

As a Nigerian man, I have been confronted with news of senseless violence and rape perpetuated by a group of Nigerian men. Vera Uwaila Omozuwa, 22, was attacked while studying in a church, raped, and left for dead.

As someone who calls Lagos home and looks forward to moving back there, I have had to process yet another untimely death at the hands of police officers sworn to protect the people. Tina Ezekwe, 16, died from a gunshot wound that sounds like it was treatable if emergency care had been more effective. She was shot in the left leg and survived two days in the hospital before dying.

As a black person living in a majority-white country, I have seen yet another black person die an undignified death. George Floyd, 59, died under the knee of Derek Chauvin, a policeman. He died begging for his life, pleading for a breath, and calling for his mother.

It is tiring.

Through it all, the world expects us to get on with it, keep our heads up, and show up to work and life as though things were normal.

This is not normal. Not on any level.

I grew up in a society that often put the responsibility for rape on the victim. Stupid, entitled questions, like “What was she wearing?” and “Did she lead him on?” would pop up after news of a rape. Many parents focused on the girls instead of their boys, akin to trying to prevent a crime by restricting the victim’s freedoms rather than tackling the criminal. A classmate’s mum in Ibadan once said “boys will be boys” when her son was reported for groping a girl in 2005.

That is complete nonsense. Touching people without their permission, hurting them, invading their personal space, taking away their agency, raping them – none of that is part of boyhood, manhood, or personhood in any form. It is never appropriate to satisfy lust or greed without concern for the impact on other people. Boys in general, and Nigerian boys in particular, must be taught that other people, most especially women, don’t exist for their pleasure.

The Nigerian police and justice system must also step up. In addition to taking steps to verify the mental health of officers armed with guns that can end life, the country must do better to bring rapists and other criminals to justice. This provides some form of closure for the victims and provides a significant deterrent effect to would-be rapists. Criminals should not be able to get away with rape! The legislature, courts, and the police all need to tackle this menace as an urgent matter.

And as for America, my heart breaks. One of my first cassette tapes had Wyclef Jean’s Diallo and I learnt that sad song by heart. Diallo was shot (41 times!!!) in 1999 and that song was released in 2000. It is twenty years after and black men are still meeting untimely ends at the hands of the police. Why?

Despite knowing in my head that the world has gotten better over the past few decades (global hunger and poverty are trending downwards, more girls are getting more education than at any time in the past, life expectancy has increased steadily, fewer people are dying in wars and so on), my heart is overwhelmed right now. From the coronavirus pandemic to this spate of bad news, it’s all just a little too much to take in.

It is really hard to end on a positive note, but I must look to the future. Our world needs healing, and it is up to us. We have built this world we now have over many centuries, and it is up to us to remake it into a fairer and kinder place. Evil prevails when many good men do nothing. We must go out of our way to support the vulnerable, influence government policy in the direction of better funding and training for the police, educate people around us, call out our acquaintances when they say ‘rapey nonsense’ (I’m looking at you, Nigerian men), and donate to organizations that are supporting the families of those left behind and the survivors of these dastardly crimes.

I’m tired. We are tired. Really.

Is love and kindness too much to ask for?

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