Trump supporters sieged Capitol Hill earlier this month.
And as much as it was horrific to witness the so-called “assault toward democracy,” I was absolutely loving it! Seated on my bed with my laptop on my lap, all I could think of at that moment was, “it’s about time Americans realized they were not so perfect after all”. Heck, the whole Trump administration to me was about the US taking its mask off on issues that were often hidden or even swept under the rug.
But then Martin Luther King Day was just 2 weeks later. And then all I could think of was, “what’s there to celebrate?”
Journalists and analysts everywhere were making comparisons between the ruthless handling of the Black Lives Matter supporters and the cradling and cuddling of the pro-Trump supporters. That Capitol Hill would’ve been a bloodbath if the supporters were black.
My initial hostility then turned into sympathy.
The whole event brought about the question of inequality. Not only in the US but in other nations as well. In own my continent. And as an African, knowing that most African countries are even less equal than they were a decade ago, I sympathized with myself.
Better The Devil You Know…
It’s common for natives in non-western countries to view western culture and ideologies as superior to one’s local heritage. A very recent example is my country’s appointment of Naomi Campbell as our international tourism ambassador. On the other hand, one quickly gains some introspection in seeing how the color of your skin has the potential to influence your daily life in countries like the United States.
It is when you hear about a black man being shot at 41 times for standing outside his apartment in the case of Guinean immigrant, Amadou Diallo, that you see the significance of the “better the devil you know” phenomenon.
One might argue that the incident happened more than 20 years ago. One might also argue that it was a case of misjudgment like Malcolm Gladwell did on Blink. And yes, the rate of police killings has decreased by a slight amount from 1990 to the present. But no matter your argument, police brutality is still relevant today with majority of the victims still comprising of African Americans. This was summarized by the recent George Floyd incident.
It is during times like these that I, and many Africans like myself, count ourselves lucky to be born and raised here. But then again, we all know we don’t live in no paradise either.
What Would You Do With $29.9 Billion?
Similar conditions of police brutality and injustice are more than common back home.
A recent major spectacle was the #EndSARS protests in Nigeria where among the 69 deaths that unfortunately occurred, 51 were civilians. It was a sad month for Nigerians. A sad month for Africans.
And as much as the movement managed to garner international support and forced the government to disband the said unit, we all know that there are way more incidences of corruption and police brutality unheard of all over the continent.
This brings about the discussion of the wealth gap between the rich and the poor. Because if you think some rich guys in suits pull up in their Range Rovers to throw rocks at authorities for shooting a young innocent man, then you haven’t been paying attention.
A clear picture of this is how in 2017, the combined wealth of Nigeria’s 5 wealthiest people ($29.9b) surpassed the country’s entire budget for that year. The entire budget for goodness sake! How much money do you possibly need?
In Is Inequality In Africa Really Different?, Branko Milanovic proposes the hypothesis that political variables are a huge factor when looking at inequality in Africa. In colonial and even pre-colonial times, it was the norm for African rulers to sell subjects and criminals as slaves for riches and political power.
One can make the case that even today, political leaders and other influencers in a country’s political system (i.e., the ultra-rich guys) carry the majority of the blame when it comes to inequality.
Plus, ethnic heterogeneity in African countries doesn’t make the situation any better. It might even be the driving force behind political polarization at times as seen during the Rwandan genocide and the 2007-08 post-election violence in Kenya.
Now, you might be compelled to ask which situation is worse. Racial discrimination or outright bullying from your own people. But is that really the right question to ask?
What It Means To Be Black
Let’s go back to the States for a minute here. Or even more specifically, let’s go back to the States half a century back.
There’s a very weird trend. After the passing of the Civil Rights Act, political polarization has been on an upward trend ever since, following a modest decade of fluctuations between 1960 and 1969.
With the rise of political polarization from 1969 onwards, a steady rise in inequality followed ten years later, shedding some light on the relationship between the two. It also shed some light on how race plays a major part in American politics as observed by Douglas S. Massey in his paper, Globalization and Inequality: Explaining American Exceptionalism.
“Sure, the lines have been going up ever since but the graph only leads up to 2001. How sure are you that things haven’t changed?” Sigh. Sorry to burst your bubble but…
It seems as if the effort to implement racial justice led to the emergence of a rift between the two major parties and their respective ideologies, which then led to more hostility when it came to the implementation of programs that favored the poor (mostly black people back then), leading to more inequality which then led to even more polarization and even more inequality.
All of this is happening while the rich are getting richer. Which sucks, explaining why my head hurts right now. I need some air.
It also explains why I roll my eyes when Bill Gates talks about inequality. Seriously dude? I mean, I like your booklist and appreciate your concern on health and the environment but it’s way too ironic. Now, should you be venting your anger toward the rich guys like I do? I don’t know. I’m the last guy you should be taking advice from.
Quoting Massey’s paper, “Living so close to the edge of financial solvency on a daily basis, Americans are increasingly vulnerable to negative income shocks caused by illness or injury, the loss of a job, a reduction in work hours, or some other family emergency.”
And with America possessing, arguably, the worst healthcare system among developed countries, it’s no wonder the leading cause of bankruptcy in the country is monstrous medical bills.
Just as ethnic heterogeneity has a role in African politics, the heterogeneity of the American people is a huge driver in their political operations, contributing to the debate on why America is more unequal than Europe. Europeans are way more homogenous than their American counterparts.
The State of the World
So now that I’ve taken you to the States, came back home, then took you to the States once again, what does this all mean?
Well, on a lighter note, you can view this whole post as a 1500-word rendition of the saying, “life is unfair.” Because it is.
You can also see how inequality in Africa is somewhat different from inequality in the States. As Milanovic put it, Africa should actually be a low inequality region given that it’s poor, agriculture-based, and land is widely shared. At the same time though, it can be said that inequality between the two regions is a bit similar seeing how politics plays a major part on both sides.
Sure, the world is much better today than it was 50 or 100 years ago. Let’s not even touch on the 1300s for the sake of the kids. But as much as things are improving, they’re still bad.
And no, this is not one of those articles where I now drop some bullet points on how we can solve this crisis. You can read a book on that. Think of it as a bird’s eye view of the state of the world today. It’s a sad reality. One you’ll live in for a lifetime. Sure, the intensity might reduce in areas that implement effective policies, but deep down, we all know that this is not an ideal world. And since we’re the ones who make up this selfish world, we are all to blame in one way or another.