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The shame of leaders' aggression on Kenyans

By Julie Masiga | Published Tue, August 7th 2018 at 00:00, Updated August 6th 2018 at 18:59 GMT +3

Since the inauspicious elevation of Donald Trump to top office, the systematic subjugation of black people in America has become clear to the world. Racism - particularly towards African Americans - is, and has been a way of life in the US for hundreds of years.

But the ‘blacklash’ following eight years of Obama, coupled with the popular usage of camera phones, has seen this deep-rooted bigotry rise to the surface. America’s shameful and seedy underbelly is being exposed, and it is as ugly as hell.

Before Trump it was easy to tire of black Americans talking of oppression. What oppression, one might have asked? Wasn’t slavery abolished? Didn’t the civil rights movement bring a decisive end to racial discrimination? Didn’t black people in America have it better than black people anywhere else in the world?

Well, it turns out that you cannot legislate racism. The letter of the law is clear, but the spirit of a good chunk of white America is still shackled by an outdated and oppressive racial bias. Worse still, despite a variety of legal instruments that uphold the right to equal treatment for every American, racism in the US is institutional.

For instance, there are severe racial disparities in its criminal justice system, with more blacks being incarcerated than whites. Despite making up just 13 per cent of the American population, black Americans make up 35 per cent of its prison population.

Racial prejudice

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And this is not because blacks are more likely to commit crime, it is because they are more likely to be charged and convicted. The mass incarceration of black people in the US, very often for minor, non-violent offences, points quite obviously to the institutional framework that upholds racial prejudice. But there are many other weapons deployed against blacks and other people of colour in America. Some of these have come to be known as ‘micro-aggressions’.

Micro-aggressions are ‘statements, actions, or incidents regarded as instances of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalised group’. They are the everyday verbal and nonverbal slights, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to a group of persons, based solely on their membership in that group. These messages ‘demean them on a personal or group level, communicate they are lesser human beings … threaten and intimidate, or relegate them to inferior status and treatment’.

So for black Americans, a micro-aggression might be something like being surveilled by shop assistants on suspicion of crimes not yet committed, chastised for wearing their natural hair, or even being complimented for speaking ‘proper English’.

The message

For Kenyans, these micro-aggressions are part of the governance playbook. The voting public can accurately be described as marginalised. Not a day goes by without a representative of the ruling class saying or doing something that demeans voters on a personal level, and the electorate at a group level. It is a continuous barrage of injury, and insult upon injury, whether it is Amina Mohamed promising to hold child offenders liable for life, William Ruto claiming he is not a rich man, Mohammed Ali transforming from a people’s advocate into a hardened MPig, Najib Balala telling Kenyans to go to hell, or Raila Odinga saying that he is not in Government.

At the end of the day, these verbal shards have caused unspeakable damage to the Kenyan collective, leaving it with a huge mental and psycho-spiritual wound. The message is clear: there are more important things in a country than its people.

Something seen across the continent where leaders put their personal interests ahead of everything else, like in Cameroon, where a civil war is raging as the first daughter throws her cash around in Beverly Hills; in the DRC where Joseph Kabila has little to show for his time in office other than violence and plunder, and in Zimbabwe, where the ruling Zanu-PF is showing that it had never had any intention to heed the will of the people.

In Kenya, while we occasionally turn our outrage into nuanced political outreach, for the most part, we sit back and watch, believing if we disengage, we will remain unaffected. This is untrue. We are affected. In fact, I would go so far as to say that we are experiencing a collective trauma from the constant mistreatment and disregard at the hands of our leaders. I mean, hey, you just have to look at your electricity bill to feel the sting of a broadly inept, inefficient, predatory, and extractive State.

Ms Masiga is Peace and Security Editor, The Conversation Africa

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