RACISM, ETHNICITY AND TRIBALISM .... What's the difference?

In the last week, if you watched the CNN channels in the United States of America, you will be 'assaulted' with the story of one old man named Donald Sterling who seemingly committed 'harakiri' by making what Americans called racist comments to his girl friend. Donald Sterling a Jewish American who is a very successful sports entrepreneur who owns the LA Clippers, a professional Basket Ball team that is part of the NBA got into big time trouble by making racist comments recently. He castigated his girl friend Stiviano for going out with black boys and bringing them to his games. He did not like the idea of sharing the girl with blackmen.The girl friend recorded this conversation and released it to the media and things have not been the same for Donald Sterling since then. Infact his world seems to have crashed.

First, the NBA commissioner has banned him for life, he will not attend or participate in any NBA game again for life. Second he has been asked to sell his stake in the team and to get out. Third, Shelley his wife for 58 years has filled for a divorce, essentially on the basis of adultery. In the effort to defend himself, Donald Sterling said he made those remarks in the heat of passion trying to have sex with the girl Stiviano. Fourth, Donald has lost most of the esteem and respect of other NBA owners, his team players and most ordinary Americans. Indeed he has become the butt of jokes as he has said many more terrible things and offended more people in his effort to wriggle himself out of the quagmire. Indeed for every new recording or Television interview, Donald Sterling has gone from bad to worse. His unjustified attack on Magic Johnson for example has incensed many Americans- black, white and brown who see Magic Johnson as a national Icon.

Watching Donald Sterling face humiliation and seeing the pains he seemed to be going through, I began to wonder what would make such a very accomplished man fall suddenly from grace to grass. First,would this have happened elsewhere in the Wold outside the USA. Certainly not in most of Africa, Nigeria inclusive. Even in South Africa, where racial issues may be as 'hot' as in the USA, I doubt if this would happen . Second I began to wonder if there was any difference between racism, ethnicity and Tribalism, the latter two being rife and very common in Africa, especially in Nigeria.

What actually is Racism? My understanding is that it is the act of discrimination based on Skin color - white, black, brown or yellow. When one is discriminated against because of his skin color, he is said to have suffered racism and the one who discriminated against him is said to be a racist . The racist may have superior or inferior feelings, but usually superior complex and may feel that people of other color have inferior attributes like Intelligence Quotient(IQ), skills or capabilities based essentially on their skin color. Racial Prejudices many times are stereotyped and can be used to limit opportunities for other races. The United States of America has a very long history of racial discrimination. For a long time, it was official policy to discriminate against the black. The white rode in different buses and ate in different restaurants and went to different schools until the civil rights movement which climaxed with Dr Martin Luther Jnr.led to the abrogation of the official Racist discrimination in America. Since then , America has been struggling with dealing with the vestiges of this obnoxious practice.So many blacks still feel discriminated against because of their color and many of them have responded by discriminating against the white, which is racism too. But the society seems to stand squarely against racism in the public space.

South Africa also practiced official Racial discrimination called Apartheid . The same segregation of the blacks from the white. A show of white supremacy and dominance. Here, the white controlled the Politics and governance and ruled the economy. Indeed there was career ceiling beyond which no Blackman could ascend and there were some political and economic pursuits which no Blackman could attempt until the revolution that was led by Nelson Mandela. There is some slight variance between the US racist regime and SA's apartheid genre. Where as the whites first lived in the US before the black came, essentially through slave trading; and were in majority, the whites in SA came later than the blacks who were the original settlers in the place and who remained in majority. This genealogical difference notwithstanding, the practice was similar until officially abrogated.

My understanding of Tribalism and ethnicity is that of discriminating against people just based on their ethnic origin or Tribal affiliation. Here, one is denied allocation of land because of his tribe or his child is denied admission into a school because of his ethnic background. Tribalistic People look after people from their tribes and give them preferences in allocation of rights and privileges. When a tribalistic man is the head of an organisation, virtually everybody in that institution will be from his tribe or ethnic region. When there is an opportunity for career advancement he thinks of his people first. Intact in the extreme display of tribalism, people fail to see anything wrong in what people from their tribes are doing but will readily criticise people from other tribes for doing the same things. Some will only vote for people from their tribes or ethnic regions each time there is a contest.

Now if you ask me if there is any difference between Racism, ethnicity or tribalism, I will say that there is not much. It is like saying that there is a difference between Six and half a dozen. For me they are all reprehensible acts that cause unnecessary divisions and disruptions of society's cohesiveness. But why do they still exist, even in Societies where they have been outlawed? Though to the best of my knowledge, there is no law banning Tribalism in Nigeria, for example, yet it is a negative emotion and orientation which only very few people will identify with publicly.

To my mind, Racism, ethnicity and Tribalism are more related than different. And the reason is that they arise from the same root. Yes God created us differently and we come from different cultures and traditions. Yes we have different skin and hair colorations. But we are all created in the image of God. When you go below the skin, we are the same. Irrespective of our skin colors, we all have red blood cells. Our skeletal system is the same and our human parts are the same and perform the same functions. We have the same five senses of feel,touch, see hear and taste,though a few have the 'sixth sense'. Then why do we still harbour these negative social traits of racism and tribalism?

Anthropologists and sociologists can explain it in terms of human experience and historical adaptations over the ages. Yes,like aggregates with like and like protects like. It is true that due to the finite nature of resources available to a group of people within a geographical location at a given time, there is bound to be competition and struggle to appropriate the most for one'self or for one's kith and kin. Such competitions will always lead to categorization of people using different criteria to determine scale of distribution or allocation or sharing. Nigeria' revenue sharing formula between the federal, state and local governments on one hand and that between States on the other hand illustrates the point, that it is in the nature of man and human institutions to always find a way to discriminate in order to find a'rational or logical' basis for resource allocation. ' We got here before you','We have made more investments than you',' We cleared the obstacles' or ' fought the enemies before you came' are such justifications that enable man and his institutions to seek advantage over other peoples or groups that share common space. The battle for the derivation principle in Nigeria further illustrates the point. The Niger Delta People feel that they are the ones contributing more to National Income or that they are the ones who bear the greatest brunt of the devastation or environmental degradation caused by oil exploration. And so they are entitled to get more of the income than other regions.

But there must be a difference between 'natural' Struggle for advantage and the offensive social traits of racism and tribalism. These take their roots from the debased nature of the fallen man whose god is his belly. Racism,ethnicity and tribalism spring from the root of hatred. They are antithesis of Gods injunction to man to love his Neighbor as himself. Love is the glue that can hold humanity together and remove the negative social traits that manifest as racism or tribalism. When you truly love your neighbor, you become 'blind' to his color, his race, his ethnicity or to his tribe. You just see him as a fellow creature of the Almighty God who Has made the World beautiful with different colors, shapes and styles. Deep down, despite our physical differences, we are just same, with similar emotions and craving for a successful life.

But is this kind of universal love possible? Yes indeed. What motivated the missionaries to leave the comfort of their homes to come to Africa, many dying from Malaria? What motivated James Wilberforce,David Livingstone, Mary Slessor and the many men and women who fought against slave trade and the killing of twins at personal cost and peril? Men and woman who worked hard to pass the legislations that brought slave trade, racial discrimination in the USA and Apartheid in South Africa to an end. We need such men and women in Africa to bring Tribalism and ethnic bias to an end. And we fully recommend this to the likes of Donald Sterling. The Spirit of love which only comes from Living a life surrendered to The Lord. Which if he had, his world would not have come crashing on his head In a twinkle of an eye because he would have abhorred the sin of adultery that elicited the racial bitterness that brought his fall. And the truth is that all men, who live and sow to the flesh must reap corruption, no matter their wealth or political power, sooner or later.

Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR


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