By Thandiwe Masuku
Over the last week and a half each time you switch on the TV or get onto any social media platforms all you see is either images of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter protests or someone addressing something around Black Lives Matter. Whilst it’s understandable for people in the US to be outraged, I have heard some people say ” It’s sad but what’s it got to do with Africa, we have our own problems” But here is why it has hit such a nerve for the black community in Africa, it has reopened old and in some instances current wounds for most of us.
Black people are a minority in the US whilst we are the majority here in Africa, yet we experience the same struggles. Not just from being viewed with skepticism when it comes to crime and bearing the brunt of it, but in our everyday life.
Its challenging being black – there I said it!
Thinking back to my childhood, I was constantly reminded by my parents that because I’m black I’m always going to have to work twice as hard as a white person( never mind the added dynamic of the tribe I belong to, but that’s a story for another day) to earn my seat at any table be it sport, academics, anything really.
Fast forward to adulthood I began to fully understand what my parents meant when I joined the corporate world. I had attained that Bachelor’s degree that my parents had stressed was a minimum entry point for me as a black person to even be granted an interview for any job that would ensure a more comfortable life. Never mind that there were numerous white people with no degrees in the corporate world, whose careers were advancing brilliantly. But yep, tick – degree obtained.
At some of my initial interviews I still remember being asked questions such as, ” Wow you are so well spoken, did you go to private school?” and ” Are you sure you finished your degree?” never mind the fact that they had a copy of both my degree certificate and transcript in front of them or ” Are all the details on your CV true?, remember if it turns out to be fabricated there are consequences” That was just the first part though. When I had managed to enter the workplace then came statements like ” Thanks for the guidance, but did you check with Lisa if this is correct?” (Lisa* would always be either my white peer or my white supervisor), there were more Lisas to follow as my career progressed!
After many years of being in the Human Resources profession and having earned the badge I still got statements like ” Geez you are actually very smart” or ” I wasn’t too sure about your competencies when you joined but you are great” to name but a few and in my mind I will be like “Excuse me, did you just say that to me? ” but I never had the courage to say that out loud. This is not just a journey I have walked but countless other black people have shared these examples of subtle racism they have had to endure. It’s enough now!
So yes, the Black Lives Matter movement has not just hit a nerve because of the killings in the US but Black Lives’ spirits are killed every day in some shape or form and that is why it has hit a nerve worldwide.
Alex Gorsky the Chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson, a company I am so proud to be part of penned a note to all staff this past week, which was so authentic regarding the killing of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter. What touched me in his note was that he mentioned he spent the weekend calling his black colleagues and friends to understand their perspective on what had happened and how they were feeling. By doing that he was acknowledging that white people cannot assume to know what the black community is feeling, and understanding is a critical step of being a true anti- racist.
I am going to end this by simply reiterating that Black Lives Matter and thank all of you that genuinely acknowledge this. It is a shame that we as black people still need to reiterate this message years after Joshua Nkomo, Malcom X, Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela are long gone having fought for this very matter.
Thandiwe Masuku writes in her personal capacity