Religion, Race And Other Drugs

It is often fashionable to blame the colonisation of African countries by Europe for all the strange behaviours which characterise our people today, just as most black South Africans tend to blame their Apartheid past for their peculiar reactions to their present.

Several analysts have advanced various reasons as to why Europe was interested in colonising Africa. My particular preference is that given by one of Africa’s foremost political thinkers, Ali Mazrui, who summarises the most compelling reasons as being three.

Firstly, Mazrui says Europe was interested in Africa because they wanted to know more about what they described as the ‘Dark Continent’. Secondly, he concludes that Europeans were interested in Africa because of their own racist Western Christianity which considered all non-Europeans as inferior to them and that Africans needed redemption and saving from themselves.

Thirdly, Mazrui concludes that Europeans were interested in Africa because of money, money and money. They reasoned that the more possessions they claimed to be their own, the more they would contribute to their national wealth. My particular interest here is the second reason, that of race. I am saying I don’t know whether our people’s attitudes to race can be rightly attributed to this colonial legacy. Race, in my view, very much like religion is always a touchy topic.

I’m a black Zambian. Our people, I mean blacks and I could easily generalise by saying most Zambians treat people with lighter skin better than they do those with darker skins. I mean whether it is light skinned black persons in general or a lighter race altogether. The assumption appears to be that light skins are synonymous with beauty. This is the generally accepted stereotype.

Maybe we feel that lighter skinned people are more evolved than the rest of us, which is much like some religions or traditions and their way of thinking that males are more evolved creatures than females. Racism is everywhere though, and a lot of the time, I feel like we allow ourselves to be oppressed until one day when we get tired of pleasing people and decide that in fact people who hold such views are indeed racists.

The same goes for religious intolerance. Nine times out of ten, people follow the religions they are born into. We have little or no choice over the colour of the skins we are born in. We follow the religions we do because it is what we know.

Racists and people who openly practice religious intolerance are to me, one and the same. They both shun other people for being different from them. What such people do not realise is that it is very much like going into a person’s home for a visit and then treating your hosts terribly because they do not look like you or practice the beliefs that you believe in. Why do such people bother visiting others? I mean, might as well stay in their own cocoons and admire their own images in their mirrors.

Personally, I can’t stand people who shove their religion in my face. Not because I think that there’s no God or because I think that I know all I need to know about the ways of the world but because I think that forcing someone to do something is the easiest way to get them not to do it. I am willing to listen to all forms of religious advice provided I am permitted to give my opinion about what they are telling me too, but the moment somebody makes it their life’s mission to make me exactly the way they are, that’s my limit.

The only way people can live together is if we learn to respect each other’s races and religions. Respect. Not praise, not shunning, just respect. People with lighter skins are not better or prettier. Take off all of our skins, below the surface we are all the same. Believers and non-believers have their reasons. Reasons they can explain if they were given a chance. We are born in different worlds and along the way we develop different takes on the world.

You’d love it so much if somebody came up to you and told you that your religious figure is a stupid myth wouldn’t you? Or would you prefer they mocked your entire appearance just because some opinionated community thinks they are better?

My shikulu, who for many years worked with my dad and I have had privilege to listen to, Kenneth Kaunda, in all his speeches probably best describes what I think should be the golden rule of life: Do unto others as you want others to do unto you.

Should we blame colonialism for these lame mind-sets? I don’t think so. It is time we liberated ourselves from these oppressive narrow opinions.

Yours truly,
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