Romanian diplomat voices racist view of Blacks

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Symbol against racism and other forms of oppression (image: courtesy of John Hain)

In some of my previous pieces, I mentioned the extermination of Blacks in Brazil by the Portuguese and light-skinned Brazilians. My commentary on the various wars fought by France also touches upon that issue. The question, therefore, is what explains the cruel treatment meted out only to Blacks? One of the main beliefs and convictions that Western modernity reposes on is the inferiority of the Black race. Many so-called scientific studies, purportedly, arrived at that conclusion. Examples of such illogical, biased and non-scientistic activities are the following. The French monarch who is also called the father of racism, Joseph Arthur Comte de Gobineau, wrote Essay on the Inequality of Human Races (1853), a book in which he classifies the human race in three categories, with Whites or Caucasians at the top and Blacks at the bottom. He saw the Caucasian race as the best, based on their intelligence, although they were not too strong physically. The second category was the brown, who lived in Asia, South America, or was the product of miscegenation between a Caucasian and any other race. So that middle group, to him, contained all those who were neither White nor Black. Their main characteristic according to de Gobineau is that they have the tendency to get obese. The French aristocrat shot himself in the foot when he added that last characteristic because it is common knowledge that Asians are not obese, in general. The race at the bottom of the ladder in this travesty of a study is the Blacks to whom de Gobineau assigns the following traits: mentally or intellectually totally poor (nothing in their head as the saying goes), full of brutal strength and extremely high sexual potency.

This study was followed by American craniologist Samuel Morton’s project (1830-1840), the measurement of human skulls to determine the size and efficiency of the brain.  His conclusion consists of a pitiful assemblage of statements that rather confirm the quasi debility of the researcher himself. He states that Caucasians have the largest skull size and therefore, the highest intelligence and Africans have the smallest skull size and lowest intelligence. Morton’s statements were used to defend racial hierarchy, division and slavery in the US.

Simianization, the representation of a person as a monkey, can be traced to a specific period in European modernity, when the “Fathers of the Church”, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus and Saint Isidore of Seville compared pagans to monkeys. The aggregated commendation and denigration of the Black race transpires when lustfulness, which is the dominant trait of Blacks in the eyes of White racists, is associated with apes.

Women were also subjected to defamation (that certainly advanced the masochist agenda of the church) when in 1633, John Donne in his Metempsychosis writes that one of Adam’s daughters was seduced by an ape in a sexual affair. In the eleventh century, an account circulated about a monkey that was the lover of a countess whose husband was subsequently killed by the jealous simian. So, monkeys and Blacks were presented as identical: lustful and brutal. Accounts abound when it comes to the reduction of Blacks to apes, in western modernity. Such ideas were inculcated in people’s brain from childhood, so White children grew up to see Blacks as inferior dangerous beings to be feared. A more recent example is Tarzan, the boy who lives in trees with monkeys. Children are taught in schools that are influenced by European tradition that Tarzan is African. Therefore, the African is a monkey, in the eyes of Europeans and Whites in general.

Several studies have emerged as rebuttals to this fallacious and negative representation of the Black race. Haitian scholar Antenor Firmin wrote a direct refutation of de Gobineau’s “thesis” in De l’égalite des races humaines: Anthropologie positive (1885) (Essay on the Equality of Human Races). Historical events also worked towards the dismantling of such stereotypes, with anti-racist theories, movements and struggles and as a result, the inferiorization of Blacks is less overt. Those who express it openly are most of the time attacked by Afro-centrists/Afri-centrists, or antiracists. Violent physical attacks, verbal abuse, racial profiling is part of today’s society. Many were shocked when South African Sarah Baartman, also known as the Hottentot Venus, was lured to Europe and exhibited in zoos like an animal in the nineteenth century. After her death, her body was dissected and exhibited as the exact prototype of the black woman’s body. George Floyd was choked to death by a white police officer months ago in the US. Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi referred to Barack Obama in November 2008 as a “tanned man”.

It, therefore, came as no surprise when the Romanian envoy to Kenya, Dragos Tigau, referred to Africans as monkeys during an international meeting in Nairobi on 26 April this year. The diplomatic incident was captured in these lines by the media: “The African Group has joined us, Ambassador Dragos Tigau said when a monkey appeared at a window in the conference room”. He allegedly compared a monkey to African [diplomats] during the meeting he was chairing. African diplomats were outraged, the Romanian envoy apologized to the Africans present after some hesitation and justified his statement as an attempt to relax the atmosphere after a long and heated meeting.  Another disheartening dimension of the incident is that only the Russian diplomat present reprimanded the Romanian. Some White diplomats actually tried to bail the Romanian out by saying that he had no racial intention. This incident, once more, exposes the racist underbelly of the West.

The behaviour of African representatives or leaders is often a conduit for such defamation. A case in point is the docile attitude adopted by the Ghanaian president during the visit of the US Vice President to Ghana few months ago. Many citizens in that country are still unhappy with the posture of their president who stood with his hands behind his back “like a good school boy” (as many Ghanaians said) during Kamala Harris’s visit. African leaders who stand against such an inferiority complex and self-debasing attitude are taken out with the complicity of the West. Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso and Laurent Désiré Kabila (the father) of the Democratic Republic of Congo are just few examples.

The striking thing is that Blacks have no derogatory representation or appellation for Whites. The only derogatory word that Blacks attach to whites is extremely minute, and it is present in movies most of the time, when some African Americans occasionally refer to Whites as “pigs”. This does not come close in any way to the Western doctrine that equates Blacks with all negative traits. It is high time robust conjoined efforts were deployed towards the total eradication of this injustice and ignorance which is now extending its nefarious effect to international relations, a sensitive delicate area of vital importance.

Moussa Traoré is Associate Professor at the Department of English of the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.

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  1. It ‘s a very instructif papier. Racism against Black is a true matter, eventhough all national and international laws are against it. We understand from this papier where some perceptions of Black racism comes from, so it’s important to know. I think knowing the problem, like false arguments suporting racism against Black, some mindsets will change.

  2. This is a great rendition to one of the global issues confronting the world. The countless issues of racial abuse against Brazilian, Vinicius Junior in Spain underscore how racism has come to stay among unrepentant whites. You have articulated your views well and traced the genesis of racial discrimination. I think you could have added how our dependency on the whites societies for survival has also been a cause of such racial prejudice. Most black countries are bereft of good leadership. High rate of corruption, nepotism, cronyism, and embezzlement. How can we detached ourselves from the racist whites when we continue to depend on them for basic needs.

  3. I don’t see why in 21st century someone still goes about to look down on others and classify them as inferior. I think it is abou my time “they” saw how unnecessary that treatments are.
    The world should be a peaceful place devoid of any racism.
    Anything that doesn’t bring peace should not be entertained in this century. We’ve come a long way.
    That was a nice piece.
    Thanks very much

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