America, Oh America!

When Christopher Columbus in 1492 and after him Amerigo Vespucci seven years later, both Italians, sailed westwards sponsored by Spanish/Portuguese monarchs in search for spices and wealth thinking they were heading for the far east, Asia, during the Voyages of Discovery, they accidentally landed in the West Indies and what was later to be called America, adopting an amendment of Amerigo Vespucci’s first name for the two continents. They were followed by the Conquistadores, the conquerors, conquering new territories on behalf of European nations. Then the Christian Pilgrims facing persecution from parent churches in Europe arrived in 1620 and bowed down and praised The Almighty but joined the hordes of other Europeans who arrived in search for a better life in descending on the original inhabitants, the Red Indians, and systematically massacred people whose main wish in life was to be left alone to hunt their bison with their bows and arrows and follow the ways of their ancestors and worship the Great Spirit.

Much earlier in 1526, the Portuguese who played a major role in the slave trade captured twenty black people from Angola and shipped them to Brazil. In 1619 the first black slaves from Africa landed in Virginia. Thereafter the mad rush by Europeans with the Portuguese in the forefront to carry slaves captured by Africans from interstate, inter-tribal wars from Africa ensued but the Portuguese were also bold enough to raid West Africa themselves at a time the other Europeans could not survive from malaria which was endemic. West Africa was then known as the white man’s grave. About twelve million Africans ended up in American plantations to work on cotton, coffee, tobacco farms and in gold and silver mines and to serve as domestic servants. They were bought and sold in markets just like other goods. The number taken from Africa was much higher but many died in the cramped and unsanitary conditions in the ships. In America they had no rights, their African names forgotten. Those who tried to escape were shot or lynched. Even after the slave trade was abolished it went on for years and the American Civil War was partly because of it. Other groups against the survival of the black man sprung up and the major one was the Ku Klux Clan a member of which was arrested in the recent George Floyd demonstrations.

Meanwhile the white invaders pushed inland and westwards. The Red Indians resisted as best as they could but bows and arrows were no match for guns and bullets. In my youth I was an avid reader of novels. I so loved reading about the American adventurers, frontiersmen, whose motto, ‘the only good Injun (Indian) is a dead Injun (Indian)’, stuck in my head. Later I was able to purchase the books, Bury my Heart At Wounded Knee and War Cries On Horse Back that chronicled how the Europeans systematically massacred the ‘savages’. The Indians’ one main victory was at the battle of the Little Bighorn when three thousand of them were led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse and got the better of Lt Colonel Custer and his eight hundred soldiers. The Indians were either driven northwards into Canada where they fared no better or into small reservations where they are still hunting their bison, buffalo, and communing with their ancestors in small areas without water, wracked by diseases and privation having turned their backs on ‘civilisation’.

Even when eventually slavery was abolished black people had no real freedom. They had nothing, including land and have had to feed on the scraps from the white man’s table and struggle for every little thing to get where they are now. There is a similar situation in South Africa where the Dutch and other Europeans took all the land in a country that even when the black majority began ruling the land was already in the hands of Europeans and any attempt to redistribute it became of major concern to the white world.

There was the era of cowboys and the legendary John Wayne made his name from cowboy movies. I remember just before gaining admission into Secondary School climbing on to a tree to watch cowboy movies in the one cinema owned by an Igbo in Sabon Gari, Zaria. Later there were such classic movies as Gunfight In OK Corral’. I read so many cowboy novels and later such other novels by Mickey Spillane that were all about human beings killing fellow human beings. It was all kill or be killed. But the one cast as the good guy hardly ever got killed. Of course I also read other more enduring novels written by Dashiel Hammett and Raymond Chandler who till today remains my favourite author.

Fast forward to today. the United States of America is still haunted by its past. Guns are everywhere and ownership is protected by the constitution. You can own an arsenal including automatic weapons large enough to wipe out a whole town. The police, the good guys, have a licence to wipe out the bad guys. Often they are the judge and the jury especially where black people are concerned. Unfortunately the line separating black people from the bad guys remains very thin. The black people are there and have nowhere else to go and do not want to go anywhere else. The country was built on their sweat and blood and they insist on the whites acknowledging that. But discrimination is part of the American history which it cannot run away from. The blacks are the poorest sets of citizens, live in poor neighbourhoods, do the meanest jobs and are now being killed most by the rampaging corona virus. George Floyd is said to have been a bad person but the whole world witnessed him handcuffed and being killed and made a worldwide matyr on television by a white police man with one hand in the pocket and whose face suggested he enjoyed killing him, an act that speaks volumes of America’s problems. Whatever they say in court or whatever slap on the wrist Mr Chauvin, obviously a French immigrant, gets George Floyd, crook or not, is now a hero and his death paints America in a bad light in the eyes of the rest of the world who believe that all lives matter. Yes they, mainly black Americans, have been marching and demonstrating since George Floyd’s death, and will achieve some cosmetic reforms, have the authorities pull down some confederate flags and statues, rename some institutions, stop choke holds and change some operational rules for the police and so on. But the main problem remains. How do you reform people’s minds? Throughout the whole world there is stratification, whites on top of the pile, the angels who cannot sin, then the Indians (not the red Indians who have been put to the sword) and Asiatics, then the Mexicans and other South Americans, and finally, the blacks at the bottom of the heap. Hitler, thank The Almighty he did not succeed, wanted to use black Africans to fertilise the Sahara desert. What is the offence of blacks? Their colour? The money used to develop Europe came mainly from black Africa. But the blacks, particularly black Americans, have to do better. Some years ago a black American came from New York and camped in the house of a friend just two hundred yards away from my house. He had come to learn how to adapt the Igbo apprenticeship system to suit the African American youth. Of course I knew he was wasting his time. Can those African American youth sleep on mats in the corridors, or on mats in the shops? Can they do what we call applico? Can they subject themselves to the modern day slavery that enabled many Igbo youth to make something of themselves? No African American youth can stand the degradation our youth willingly go through? Some years ago I received an urgent letter from home to find a lawyer to rescue a distant relative who after having served his master for five years, slaved for him, instead of being settled (set up in his own business) was accused of stealing and ended up in a police cell (quite easy if you produce enough money). The lawyer’s intervention got the servant free. But his five year service ended without reward.

Blacks, especially black Africans must reassess their situation. How can a few hustlers be allowed to get into power and swallow the continent’s wealth? How can they be allowed to stay in power some for up to forty years? They must wake up and change the situation. African countries must not remain beggars and dumping grounds.

My message for the ultra whites of America, the racists, the antisemitists, the Ku Klux Clan, is that they should realise that America is changing and they are getting to be more and more in the minority. They themselves are immigrants like others and have no better claim to America than others. The United States of America belongs to all those who can legitimately gain entry. The blacks should invest more in education and should strive more for excellence like newcomer Indians, Asiatics and even Africans who are now excelling in business, the academia and broadcasting. They should feature more prominently and positively in the great human experiment that is the United States of America by indulging in honest human endeavour.

It seems that with the current demonstrations in the United States of America there is evidence of remorse and regret among some of the majority white Americans. Some confederate flags and statues, reminders of the bad old times, are being removed and some other amends will be made here and there. But the Red Indians, the original owners of the land, should not be forgotten. It was sad to hear one of the Reservation Chiefs lament that they did not even have enough water to drink and could not be indulging in the hand washing recommended as one of the ways of combating the Corona virus! This is the time for the government whether federal or state to look into the condition of the original owners of the land, extend infrastructure and medical and other services to their reservations and bring more of the trappings of modern civilisation to them. They should be shown that they belong to the great United States of America.

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *