This photo represents much more than just three people having a good laugh as they walk through the streets of Lorca, Spain. When I look at it, I see enlightenment. I see freedom from false knowledge. I see rational thinking. My encounter with these two young Lithuanian folks- Haroldas and Gabrielė- at the GLOBALAB Youth Exchange Programme in April 2019 inspired me to write this piece.
I still remember how after interactions with black people like me (from Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda), they were more than ready to jettison every erroneous idea they had about us. I remember them sitting at one end of the almost empty dining room having a conversation the Lithuanian language one evening. Gabrielė, not wanting to come across as a disrespectful person turned to me and the others in the room and told us not to worry about their low toned chat.
She said, “It is not about you.” We also responded with something like “Oh there’s no problem.”
I was the last to leave the room aside Gabrielė and Haroldas. As I walked towards the door they called me to come. They had a question. As it appeared that they were unsure of how they could ask without offending me, they wrapped their question up with a careful apology. They sincerely wanted to know why the N-word was offensive to black people. In my bid to explain, I struck up the beginning of a conversation which lasted well into the night. They came to the realization that black people are as human as they are, and that black people are not endowed with less intelligence.
At this point they felt guilty for their previous stereotypical mind-set about people like me. I think they did not have to burden themselves with such guilt. They were simply products of the socialisation they experienced since birth. Don’t get me wrong. These people are as friendly as puppies. But they grew up without much knowledge about black people. The information they had from their TV sets and newspapers handed them enough information to form a twisted opinion about black people. We cannot blame those who wrote the news items and TV scripts. They were also socialised to be people who, at least, disregarded the black man or, at most, were racist.
Haroldas had never spoken to a black person until this exchange program. Whenever he saw them, he avoided them. But in that moment, Haroldas was sitting across the table having an emotional but intellectual conversation with me, and Gabrielė sitting beside me. Gabrielė’s case was a bit different. Her previous travels outside her home country had helped her appreciate black people; the experience in Lorca was a source of further illumination. Towards the end of the 6 day exchange program, Haroldas was bold enough to tell all the 30 participants that his previous perspective had changed during the program. Brave Guy!
But do you know some black people are equally guilty of racism? I once had to ask a taxi driver in Kumasi (Ghana) why he exhibited so much hatred for whites. He breathed out grave hatred to the extent that he was not ready to allow a group of white people to sit in his car. He forgot about money at that point. He was filled with hatred, so much of it! But I am of the view that just as Gabrielė and Haroldas did not have adequate knowledge in the past, the local taxi driver did not know enough.
Racism is not only about white people and coloured people. It exists even among people of colour. We must deal with it. In my next write-up I hope to write on what we all can do to address this problem. For now let me just say that maybe the racist just needs to know more about the next race.