Yet again, the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, has uttered another outlandish, racially charged statement. On Thursday, Trump, during an Oval Office meeting with lawmakers, reportedly asked, “Why do we want all these people from ‘s%!#hole countries’ coming here?” He perplexedly expressed a strong desire for more people from countries like Norway to migrate to the United States.
As to be expected, the entire world temporarily stood at a standstill, decrying the statements, demanding an apology and some even calling for the man who has a “much bigger” Nuclear Button to step down. U.S. lawmakers criticized the comments as “divisive” and “unacceptable,” with Haiti’s government summarily summoning the U.S. Ambassador to address the remarks. Many African leaders, visibly insulted by the comments, similarly jumped on the bandwagon, denying that their respective countries are, in fact, “s&%#hole countries.”
The White House’s spokesperson, Raj Shah, did not immediately deny the statements, contending instead that Trump “is fighting for permanent solutions that make our country stronger by welcoming those who can contribute to our society, grow our economy and assimilate into our great nation.” Trump subsequently did what he does best, i.e., bask in the glory of all the attention his comments were generating and then yesterday, deny in 280 characters or less, that the words ascribed to him were ever used. Instead, he lauded his comments as “tough” but warranted.
As arguably vile as Trump’s ‘s%#*hole’ comments were, this article is not about Trump. Nor is it about the fact that there are many ‘non-s%#*hole’ living Americans who agree with Trump’s sentiments, including lawmakers who voted him into office but have now garnered the selective outrage to publicly denounce them. America is built on hypocrisy and this current, trending story conveniently anchors that reality.
I am an English born, Nigerian and naturalized American woman; a human rights attorney who has devoted her life to ensuring that every Nigerian woman and girl maintain the power seat at the table of her life. I am unapologetically committed to creating that space for my sisters, knowing full well that it will require ejecting some men whose voices are laced with patriarchy and whose hands are bloodied by indifference. My commitment is reflected in the non-government organization I resigned from a partnership at my law firm in 2013 to found, Pathfinders Justice Initiative. Our mission is to eradicate sex trafficking and the sexual exploitation of women and girls from Nigeria through empowerment, advocacy, judicial reform and community transformation. I spend my days reflecting on what justice for women and girls in my beloved country could look like and then generating interventions to actualize that vision.
As such, I am often forced to look at my beloved country in the mirror and call her what she is: beautiful, yet fraught with corruption that has crippled the overwhelming majority of her citizens. I am often forced to face the solemn reality that this “Giant of Africa” has repeatedly chosen to prioritize profits (that lace the pockets of its elite) over its people. The reality is that on the same day that Trump made the aforementioned comments, Benue State, a state in central Nigeria, was in mourning, as thousands showed up for a mass burial for 72 farmers butchered in a New Year’s Day attack by Fulani herdsmen. The conflict between the herdsmen, which counter-terrorism experts deem Nigeria’s second terrorist group, and the farmers dates back to 2013 after the herdsmen began to forcefully evict farmers from their own villages via deadly attacks. For the most part, they have continued to act with impunity, a fact that many contend stems from our President’s ethnic allegiance to the Fulani herdsmen. As I write, President Buhari has yet to make a public appearance denouncing the massacre that continues to breed resentment, anger and possibly another civil war in the hearts of our people.
Yet, too many Nigerians in Nigeria and in the diaspora were more upset over Trump’s statements than the graveyard silence that hovered over Nigeria on what has been referred to as “Black Thursday.” Many remain silent over 112 girls from Chibok, Nigeria who on April 14, 2018 would have remained in the hands of one of the world’s deadliest terrorist groups for four years. The deafening cries of innocence lost falls flatly on the eroded conscience of many of my people who continue to tolerate mediocrity from our election time benevolent dictators. We continue to live in one of the most privatized countries in the world where if one desires constant electricity, she has to create and then pay for it by consistently fueling a generator (assuming there isn’t a fuel shortage in the country). The same goes for good schools. And good roads. And security. Those that cannot afford to pay for such privatization suffer, painfully suffer, on the margins.
We do ourselves a disservice when we, as Nigerians, as Africans, as Haitians, solely direct our anger and frustration at Donald Trump. Yes, some of it is warranted because we are not from and do not live in ‘s&%#hole countries.’ There is much wonder and beauty in our land and those of us who seek safe and legal refuge or opportunities elsewhere are certainly deserving of it simply because we are human. However, when Trump told us it was going to be “America First,” I was one of those that chose to believe him and began to prepare for what I called a ‘Trumped Awakening.’ I anticipated the attrition of the notion of shared humanity and Trump has not disappointed. So yes, perhaps he is a bigot; perhaps even a racist, but he calls it as he narrowly and often ignorantly sees it. And maybe, just maybe, this is an opportunity to put aside the rhetoric and be genuinely introspective about what many of us have tolerated, if not for ourselves, for the overwhelming majority of our brothers and sisters in our respective developing countries.
Case in point: in November 2017, CNN’s report on the sale of human beings in Libya forced a deeper dive into the conversation on the Mediterranean slave trade which has been consuming the bodies of black Africans for decades. There was certainly enough blame to go around, with many pointing the finger at the Libyans, the sub-Saharan Africans who were the primary salesmen of their fellow brothers and sisters, the migrants themselves and others, like myself, also highlighting the complicity of the European Union. However, as Africans, most of our outrage was misplaced, with little to none of it being directed towards the primary culprits: the conditions in the sub-Saharan countries that are generating the mass exodus. Arguably, the lowest common denominator that ties most of the migrants together is a fundamental fight for survival. It is this fight that justifies, in their minds, the decision to leave everything they know to desperately embark on a perilous journey across the cemetery that is the Sahara and the graveyard that is the Mediterranean, knowing full well that they may not survive. As part of my work with repatriating survivors of sex trafficking, I hear these stories day in and day out and have come to understand that a choice between homelessness and hunger, human rights abuses and unrelenting climate change, is really not a viable choice at all.
I would be naive to deny the fact that many of the economic and foreign policies of the West generated the conditions for modern slavery around the world. However, admitting that there is some food for thought in Trump’s statements, owning what can be constructively digested from that truth and then utilizing it as a launchpad for the change we want to see in our respective countries should be our focus. As Africans, our shared humanity dictates that we abandon the elementary narrative that strenuously endeavors to justify our contributions to the West, i.e., “we are educated, law abiding and tax-paying immigrants too!”, and erect a posture that introspectively demands more from our sleeping consciences as well as our own governments and leadership.
2019 is an election year in Nigeria. Other elections will follow in other parts of the African continent. Perhaps it is time that our votes reflect some righteous indignation; if not for the sake of privileged Africans and Haitians, then for the sake of those who are not graced with an invitation to the tables of their own lives.