Statistically speaking, black people in Germany don’t exist

Thanks to the refugee crisis, race and immigration have played prominently in Germany’s upcoming election.

Immigration is the top issue for Germans voting in the federal race on Sept. 24. Germany’s interior minister has a 10-point proposal for defining national identity, including that “we don’t do burqa.” The far right’s campaign posters boast headlines like: “Burqas? We like bikinis,”; “New Germans? We can make them ourselves,”; and “Islam doesn’t fit with our cuisine.” The ads feature scantily clad women, a pregnant white woman, and piglets, respectively.

#Germanydecides An @AfD poster that’s often ripped up as implicitly racist: « New Germans? We’ll Make Our Own. Germany Trust Yourself! »

But mysteriously absent from this debate is the voice of racial minorities. “Black people in Germany are mostly invisible,” says Daniel Gyamerah of Diversity in Leadership, a German advocacy group for people of color that advocates for equality of data.

Germany doesn’t see race—or at least it pretends not to. Racial categories that are commonplace in the US and UK—such as white, black, and Asian—don’t exist in Germany. The government doesn’t see any need to measure the number of ethnic minorities in certain schools, universities, and jobs, because it doesn’t want to divide its citizens. The prevailing argument, which holds in much of Western Europe, is “if you don’t want to create racism, you have to avoid using categories,” says Simon Patrick, a senior researcher at the National Institute for Demographic Studies. Everyone is German, the thinking goes, and should be treated the same across the board.

To some, these are lofty principles aimed at boosting equality. But many feel they harm racial progress. While the racist sentiments of the far right often spark heated debate, there is little discussion of the deep-seated discrimination plaguing established communities of color on matters like education, policing, and employment. The election’s focus on immigration has overshadowed these issues, leaving black, Asian, and ethnic minority communities in the dark.

In a country that prides itself on the use of data and evidence, the lack of information speaks volumes. The result, says Gyamerah, is that if “you’re not counted, then you don’t count.”

One size fits all

Germany doesn’t collect racial statistics (i.e., black, white, Asian). So while the US knows its black population makes up roughly 13% of its population, and the UK’s black population amounts to roughly 3%, Germany is clueless. A UN team that recently examined racism in Germany estimated there to be many as one million people with “African roots” in Germany, more than 1% of the population. But such estimates are unreliable, partly because it’s unclear how many black people would identify as having “African roots.”

What Germany does document is the country of origin of recent immigrants. According to official statistics, one in five German residents are now first or second-generation immigrants, meaning either they were born in another country or have one parent born in another country. (For a rough sense of comparison, 11% of France’s population has at least one immigrant parent.) Among German voters, one in ten have a migrant background. The country’s largest immigrant block (amounting to just over half of its immigrant voters) is made up of ethnic Germans from largely former Soviet countries (largely known as Spätaussiedler) and Turkish Germans.

Beyond that, the demographic data is extremely hazy. All ethnic minority Germans who aren’t first or second-generation immigrants are just labeled “German.”

Large immigrant groups like Turkish Germans have gained some clout, partly by winning seats in parliament. But without granular data, the tendency is still to view migrant voters as one political force. “There is not that one type of migrant voter. Why should somebody who came to Germany from Ukraine 20 years ago have the same political preferences as somebody who moved here from southern Turkey? Or somebody who came here from Italy in the 1950s?” Dennis Spies, a researcher on migrant voter behavior in Germany, told Deutsche Welle.

By contrast, ethnic minorities in the UK and US are now a formidable political force. In 1965, there were just six black Americans in the House of Representatives. By 2015, that figure jumped to 44. This year, the UK elected its most diverse parliament to date (jumping from three ethnic minority MPs in 1987 to 52).

Black Americans played a crucial role in electing Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. In the 2016 presidential election, low voter turnout among blacks was considered a major reason for why Hillary Clinton lost. In the UK, ethnic minorities helped the Labour Party gain enough ground to deny prime minister Theresa May a governing majority in parliament.

Politicians in these countries outwardly court ethnic minorities. In a nod to black culture, Clinton famously told a radio host she keeps “hot sauce” in her bag, while UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn courted grime artists to mobilize black and ethnic minority voters.

This just doesn’t exist in Germany. “Policy makers don’t even know that black people as a group exist,” says Gyamerah. They are genuinely “surprised when we talk about black people,” he says.

The lack of attention results in racism, and makes solving problems caused by racism harder to fix. “If you want to implement anti-discrimination policies, you need to identify those who are facing discrimination,” says Patrick.

In German schools, for instance, advocates of ethnic minorities say teachers block minority pupils from advancing. Students of color are overrepresented in the worst schools in Germany (and underrepresented in the schools designed to send children to universities) and discriminated against in the labor market. “You have no real proof, although you have a lot of anecdotal evidence,” says Sarah Chander, an advocacy officer for the European Network Against Racism.

Racial profiling is also a problem with police. In 2016, when Germany was rocked by allegations of mass sexual assault by Arab men on New Year’s Eve, police claimed an acronym they used to describe screened suspects, ‘Nafris’ (an abbreviation of “Nordafrikanische Intensivtaeter” or “North African Repeat Offenders”), was not racist. A recent UN report found racist stereotypes prevent authorities from properly investigating and prosecuting racist violence and hate crimes.

By contrast, in the UK, accessible data shows black Brits are four times as likely as their white counterparts to be stopped and searched by the police. Armed with this fact, black and ethnic minority communities and racial justice organization have successfully pressured the government to change tack and reform the police force. They pointed to studies that showed stop and search does little to reduce crime and that racial discrimination was a leading cause (pdf) of black and Asian Brits being stopped and searched more.

A long, hard road

Ethnic minorities have existed in Germany since long before the refugee crisis, even if they don’t feature prominently in history as its told. The country’s sizable minority population is the result of 17th century black servants coming to Germany, the country’s colonial presence in Namibia, Cameroon, Togo, and Tanzania, foreign black soldiers stationed in Germany during World War II, and later migration waves from Turkey and other southern countries.

The few black and ethnic minority politicians who do exist face a lot of abuse. One of Germany’s first black MPs, Senegalese-born Karamba Diaby, is fighting a torrent of online criticism (including being called “a black monkey”, a “traitor”, and “nigger”) in his bid for reelection. Last month, the National Democratic Party (NPD), a far right party, shared an image of Diaby campaign poster with the caption: “German representative of the people, according to the SPD. Who betrayed us? The Social Democrats.” Diaby quickly replied with a post of his own, boldly stating, “I am not your negro.”

AFD leader Alexander Garland cut down (paywall) a German public servant of Turkish origin for denying that there was a “specific German culture” and said he wanted to “dispose of her in Anatolia.” German chancellor Angela Merkel joined a chorus of critics accusing Gauland of racism.

Some suggest the paucity of data is intentional. These are policies that allow dominant groups to “keep the position and domination in the country,” says Patrick. Whatever the reason, it’s clear the problem will persist long after this election season.

By Aamna Mohdin


5 Cultural Phenomena Created By Black People That Other People Get Credit For

Martial Arts

Although the term “martial art” was originally used to describe the combat systems of Europe as early as the 1550s, it became heavily associated with the fighting arts of eastern Asia, and now ultimately encompasses all known codified fighting systems.

However, Korean karate master  Masutatsu Oyama wrote about the origins of codified fighting systems  in his book, Advanced Karate, published by Japan Publications in 1969.  Oyama asserted, “The oldest records we have concerns unarmed combat on hieroglyphics from the Egyptian pyramids.”

Oyama was inaccurate in saying the evidence was found on pyramids, but it was found on other Egyptian tombs dating as far back as 4000 B.C., where military training fights similar to boxing and wrestling were depicted.

In his book The Saga of The Fist, author John Grombach states that Herodotus, the father of Greek history, claims that long before Rameses II, ruled both Egypt and Ethiopia, perhaps as far back as 8000 B.C., boxing and wrestling were introduced to Egypt from Ethiopia.

Olympics, Organized Sports

The ancient Greeks are given credit for conducting the first Olympic Games, traced back to 776 B.C.  Nevertheless, the Olympic Games were not the first athletic events to be organized in the Mediterranean area.

Ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians had a long tradition of organizing athletic activities as shown by reliefs depicting athletic scenes carved on the tombs of their kings and nobles. In 1932 wrestling and stick fighting scenes from the funerary temple of Rameses III in Medinet Habu (a site at Luxor, Egypt) were published by the Epigraphic Survey, The Oriental Institute at University of Chicago.

Monuments to the pharaohs found at Beni Hasan (a site at Minya, Egypt) dated around 2000 B.C., indicate that a number of sports were well-developed and regulated in ancient Egypt, including wrestling, weightlifting, long jumping, javelin-throwing, swimming, rowing, shooting and fishing, as well as various kinds of ball games.


The history of yoga has been tied to ancient India along with Buddhist, Hindu and Jainist practices. But ancient India isn’t the only civilization that incorporated yoga into its society. Ancient Egyptians had a similar practice, according to research by religious scholar Dr. Muata Ashby.

Ashby began researching the history of Sema Tawi, more popularly known as Egyptian yoga, in 1944. He noticed similar characteristics to the practices found in India and believes the philosophy may have been practiced in Egypt for about 10,000 years.

The teaching of yoga that was espoused in Egypt was derived from the meditations and insights by the early sage priests and priestesses.

Yoga is a term of Sanskrit origin, one of the languages of present-day India. When translated into English it means to yoke or to bind.

The Kemetic Sema Tawi means union of the higher and lower natures of human beings. Notice the similarity between the words yoke and union.


Judaism has historically been considered the first monotheistic religion. However even the revered “founding father of psychoanalysis” Sigmund Freud, a Jew himself, argued in his last book, Moses and Monotheism, that Moses was an Egyptian nobleman who adhered to the monotheism of the Pharaoh Akhenaten.

Akhenaten began his monotheistic revolution during the 18th dynasty of Egypt in 14th century B.C., with his wife, Nefertiti. Akhenaten and Nefertiti promoted a monotheistic belief in an Egyptian god known as Aton, and forbade all other forms of worship.

Monotheism in Africa was not unique to ancient Egypt and the concept may have existed earlier in other regions of the continent. Although widely regarded as polytheistic by Western observers, most indigenous African societies believe in a single creator god.

Followers of traditional African religions do acknowledge various secondary deities, as well as their ancestors, but these divinities serve as intermediaries between humans and the primary god, similar to angels in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. 


Chess is one of the oldest games in the world, and even though Western literature scholars admit that the origin of the game is uncertain, it is assumed that chess originated in India or China and then it spread to the Middle Eastern region.

However, its well known among Egyptologists that the most popular game in the ancient kingdom was Senat, in which counters, or markers, were moved around a game board. The winner of the game is the player who removed all of his pieces before his opponent did.  

A wall painting on the tomb of the Egyptian queen Nefertari, wife of Rameses II (1304-1237 B.C.), shows her playing Senat.

The African games known as Mancala or Wari are among the oldest board games on record, dating back at least to 5000 B.C.

In these games, beans, seeds and other small objects were moved around a playing board with hollowed-out cups. A player tried to capture as many objects as possible. Both Senat, Mancala and four other types of games were discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamen, who reigned from 1348-1339 B.C.

Another board game called Nine Men’s Morris, Mill, Morelles, or Morels, which became popular in medieval Europe, has been found carved in the roofing slabs of an Egyptian temple, dating between 1400 and 1300 B.C.

The object of the game, of which there are many versions, is for each player to capture his opponent’s pieces and prevent his opponent from moving pieces. Note how closely this resembles chess as we know it today.

By A Moore


Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis: How to Get to Talks?

After twenty months of clashes, the government and the separatists are both refusing to give ground. Both sides must explore compromise solutions aimed at a level of regional autonomy somewhere between the secession the separatists yearn for and the fake decentralisation proposed by Yaoundé.

What’s new? The conflict in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon is deadlocked. There is no dialogue between Yaoundé and the separatists, who are both refusing to give ground: the government is counting on a military victory and refuses to discuss the form of the state; the separatists demand independence.

Why does it matter? In the last 20 months, the conflict has left 1,850 dead, 530,000 internally displaced and tens of thousands of refugees. The intransigence of the belligerents threatens to generate further violence and prolong the conflict, which neither can win in the short term.

What should be done? Cameroonian and international actors should encourage the two sides to make concessions by threatening to sanction those who stand in the way of dialogue and rewarding the less intransigent. Ending the conflict will eventually require changes in the legal framework for decentralisation to grant greater autonomy to communes and regions.

Executive Summary

Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis is deadlocked. Twenty months of clashes have killed 1,850, displaced 530,000 and led tens of thousands to seek refuge abroad, but the government and the separatists are sticking to their irreconcilable positions. The separatists continue to dream that independence is just around the corner. In Yaoundé, the government still wrongly believes it can win a quick military victory. Meanwhile, moderates and federalists, who enjoy majority support, are unable to organise. To break the deadlock, Cameroonian and international actors should put pressure on the government and the separatists. Both sides must explore compromise solutions aimed at a level of regional autonomy somewhere between the secession desired by the separatists and the fake decentralisation proposed by Yaoundé.

The socio-political crisis that began in October 2016 in the Anglophone Northwest and Southwest regions mutated into armed conflict at the end of 2017. Seven armed militias are currently in positions of strength in most rural areas. The security forces reacted slowly, but since mid-2018 have inflicted casualties on the separatists. They have not been able, however, to regain full control over rural areas nor prevent repeated separatist attacks in the towns.

There is currently no dialogue between Yaoundé and the separatists. The latter are calling for talks to hammer out the practical details of independence in the presence of an international mediator. The government refuses to discuss the form of the state or reform of institutions. It proposes instead a decentralisation model that grants neither adequate funding nor sufficient powers to local authorities (communes and regions) and intends to organise the country’s first regional elections later this year. Far from resolving the conflict, this half-baked proposal risks provoking further violence.

Local initiatives to promote dialogue are emerging. In July 2018, Anglophone religious leaders (Catholic, Protestant and Muslim) announced a plan to hold an Anglophone General Conference as a first step toward an inclusive national dialogue. A majority of Anglophones are in favour of this initiative. Initially reluctant, some separatists now seem to be more open to the idea on condition that it prepares the way for a referendum on self-determination that would give the choice between federalism and independence. Faced with opposition from the government, the conference organisers have already had to postpone it twice: from August to November 2018 and then to March 2019. It still has not taken place.

Although some separatists will refuse to give ground, others might accept a dialogue with the Cameroonian authorities, in the presence of an international mediator, to discuss federalism or genuine decentralisation that would grant autonomy and adequate funding to the regions and that would guarantee respect for the specific features of the Anglophone judicial and education systems. Similarly, although the Cameroonian government seems to rule out federalism, it might consent to regionalism or genuine decentralisation, which would involve changes to the legislative framework.

To clear the path to talks, the belligerents must each make concessions in order to establish a minimum degree of trust and reverse the spiral of violence. The government should support an Anglophone General Conference in order for Anglophones to appoint representatives to a national dialogue while at the same time providing non-separatist Anglophones with the opportunity to express their point of view. Cameroon’s president should adopt a conciliatory stance and recognise the existence of the Anglophone problem and the legitimacy of the Anglophones’ demands; order investigations into abuses by the security forces; make provision for reparations to victims and the reconstruction of affected areas; and release the hundreds of Anglophone activists currently in detention, including important members of the separatist movement. The separatists should renounce their strategy of Monday “ghost towns” (general strikes) and their school boycott and expel combatants guilty of abuses against civilians.

A combination of internal and international pressures could lead both the government and the separatists to make such concessions. International actors could reward the parties who agree to moderate their positions and sanction those who remain intransigent. The Europeans and Americans, in particular, should consider targeted sanctions against government leaders and senior army officers who continue to obstruct dialogue (travel bans, asset freeze) and separatists who encourage or organise violence (judicial proceedings). The International Criminal Court prosecutor should open preliminary examinations into abuses committed by both sides, to underline that the pursuit of violence will have judicial consequences. International actors are divided, however, on what position to adopt and what measures to take and should first reach a common position, at least among Western countries.

Internally, Cameroonian Francophones and Anglophones who advocate compromise should mobilise to put pressure on the separatists and the government. In particular, federalists should work together to strengthen their position in the talks. They should continue to dialogue with the separatists and encourage them to moderate their positions, and increase the pressure on the authorities to open up to the less intransigent separatists. Finally, they should conduct an international campaign to promote peaceful solutions.

Once trust has been established, preliminary talks between government, federalist and separatist representatives will be necessary. These should take place outside the country. During this process, international actors, especially the U.S., Switzerland, the Vatican, the UN, the EU (especially France, Germany and the UK) and the African Union (AU) should continue to encourage the government to dialogue and offer funding and support for the talks.

In the event of a dialogue taking place, they could also help to fund compensation payments to victims of abuses, the reconstruction of Anglophone regions, the return of refugees and internally displaced persons and the disarmament and demobilisation of former combatants. Given the level of acrimony between the parties, the presence of an international mediator will be necessary during the preparatory discussions and then during the national dialogue. Several countries and international institutions and organisations have offered to mediate since the start of the conflict. The UN, the AU, the Catholic Church and Switzerland seem best placed to play this role, because the parties to the conflict perceive them as relatively neutral.

Substantive talks between the three parties should take place in Cameroon, which would require the government to guarantee safe passage for separatist representatives. During these talks, the government should indicate its readiness to amend the Constitution in order to grant greater autonomy to the regions and develop the legal framework for decentralisation. This could include direct elections for the regional councils and these councils’ presidents; the establishment of regional structures with substantial financial and administrative power; and an increase in the powers and resources allocated to communes. The government could also reform institutions and governance in order to take account of the specific features of the educational and judicial systems in the Anglophone regions.

More broadly, the conflict highlights the shortcomings of Cameroon’s centralised governance model and raises two crucial issues that the government must address: the need to improve the way the state handles minority rights, colonial heritages and cultural specificities; and the need for a fairer and more equitable redistribution of the country’s wealth. A lasting solution to the conflict requires dialogue and consensus, which are indispensable to undertake the institutional and governance reforms that Cameroon needs.

Nairobi/Brussels, 2 May 2019

Erst kaum Ermittlungen – dann Leichenteile von Kenianerin im Wald

Eine Kenianerin verschwindet aus einem Asylheim, ihre Leiche wird erst Monate später im Wald gefunden. Brandenburgs Polizei wirft man Versagen vor.Alexander Fröhlich

Die Leiche der vermissten Rita Ojungé wurde im Wald gefunden.

Das Heim liegt mitten im Wald, an einer Ausfallstraße der Gemeinde Hohenleipisch mit ihren rund 2000 Einwohnern. Auch Rita Ojungé lebte dort mit ihren Kindern, ein zwei- und ein vierjähriger Junge. Sie war aus Kenia geflüchtet und landete abseits im südbrandenburgischen Nirgendwo im Landkreis Elbe-Elster. Jetzt ist Rita Ojungé tot. Mehr als zwei Monate nach ihrem Verschwinden wurden Teile ihrer Leiche in einem Wald gefunden. Der Verein Opferperspektive wirft der Brandenburger Polizei jetzt Versagen vor.

Rita Ojungé lebte seit einigen Jahren in Deutschland, im Heim Hohenleipisch, ihr Aufenthalt war geduldet. Gemeinsam mit einem Kameruner, den sie in Deutschland kennenlernte, hatte sie die beiden Kinder. Er lebt in Berlin, hat eine Aufenthaltserlaubnis, sie führten, so heißt es, eine Fernbeziehung. Doch in den Mittagsstunden des 7. April verschwand Rita Ojungé spurlos. Seither gilt sie als vermisst. Erst zweieinhalb Wochen später, am 25. April, gibt die Polizeidirektion Süd eine Suchmeldung heraus: Die „junge fürsorgliche Mutter“ habe ihre beiden Kinder im Wohnheim zurückgelassen. Ihr Aufenthaltsort sei „trotz umfassender Ermittlungen“ unbekannt.

Schwere Fehler auf Seiten der Polizei

Ende April erfährt der Verein Opferperspektive von dem Fall. Ein Bewohner berichtet, dass die 32-Jährige – völlig untypisch für sie – weder ihre Bankkarte noch warme Kleidung mitgenommen habe. Wie an jedem Sonntag fährt auch an diesem 7. April kein Bus. Und Rita Ojungé habe noch nie ihre Kinder allein gelassen, sagen jene, die sie kennen.

Der vierjährige Sohn berichtet den Helfern später, er habe gesehen, wie ein Heimnachbar, ein Nigerianer, seine Mutter schon bedroht und am Tag des Verschwindens geschlagen und weggeschleppt habe. Dort, wo sie in ihrem Zimmer nach einem Schlag gestürzt sein soll, fehle an einem Fernsehtisch ein Brett. Auch das Handy der Mutter soll der Nachbar gehabt haben. Den Kindern sei gesagt worden, dass ihre Mutter in Berlin sei.

Am 30. April informiert die Opferperspektive die örtlich zuständige Polizei in Elbe-Elster, dass der Sohn gesehen haben will, wie seine Mutter geschlagen wurde. Ein nicht dafür geschulter Beamter hat laut Opferperspektive dann das Kind vernommen und soll gesagt haben: „Ich habe selber ein Kind und kann mich kindgerecht ausdrücken.“ Auch einige Tage danach bekam die Opferperspektive die Auskunft, es gebe keine Anhaltspunkte für ein Verbrechen, es laufe alles weiter als Vermisstenfall. Wegen der beiden Kinder werden auch das Jugendamt und die Ausländerbehörde eingeschaltet. Eine Gefahr für die beiden Kinder sehen sie nicht. Am 10. Mai stellt der Verein dann Strafanzeige wegen Verdachts auf ein Tötungsdelikt – und zwar im Namen des Partners und Vaters.

Erst Monate später beginnt die Suchaktion

Erst mehr als zwei Monate nach dem Verschwinden der Frau startet die Polizei eine große Suchaktion. Am 11. Juni rückt eine Hundertschaft der Polizei an und sucht über mehrere Tage eine Fläche von etwa 32 Hektar rund um das Flüchtlingsheim ab, dicht bewachsener Wald und unwegsames Gelände, auch Bunkeranlagen befinden sich dort. Weil in den Wäldern alte Munition herumliegt, muss auch der Kampfmittelbergungsdienst helfen. Am 20. Juni teilt die Polizei mit: „Es wurden skelettierte menschliche Überreste gefunden.“ Fünf Tage später heißt es dann: Die Knochenreste der nicht vollständigen Leichen stammen von Rita Ojungé, das habe die DNA-Analyse ergeben.

Die Opferperspektive wirft den Behörden vor, nur zögerlich vorgegangen zu sein und Fehler gemacht haben. Der Sohn des Opfers sei nicht von Experten befragt worden, das Heim und das Umfeld nicht systematisch durchsucht worden. Der Nachbar ist inzwischen nach Protesten anderer Bewohner in ein anderes Heim verlegt worden sein, wie ein Sprecher des Landratsamtes Elbe-Elster bestätigt. Es habe wegen des Nigerianers Unruhe gegeben unter den anderen Bewohnern gegeben.

Polizei widerspricht der Kritik

Die in Cottbus ansässige Polizeidirektion Süd will sich nicht zu den Vorwürfen der Opferperspektive äußern und verweist auf die Staatsanwaltschaft. Die teilt auf Anfrage mit, es gebe Indizien, die auf nicht nur einen Tatverdächtigen hinweisen könnten, und widersprüchliche Hinweise. Die Polizei habe sich an die formalen Vorgaben gehalten, sei allen Hinweisen nachgegangen, es gebe nichts auszusetzen. Die Leiterin des Heims sei befragt worden, ebenso der Nigerianer, auch der vierjährige Sohn, doch dessen Darstellung sei nicht so eindeutig gewesen wie behauptet. Die Durchsuchung des Zimmers von Rita Ojungé etwa auf Blutspuren sei nicht ergiebig gewesen.


The Hausa Spirituality

The Hausa people are one of the most numerous peoples of Africa. They are found mainly in Nigeria and Niger. If they are seen today as a group rooted in Islam, this has not always been the case. In this article we study the authentic religion of the Hausa and especially its profound links with the other ones in Africa.The famous Hausa cavalry


According to the Hausa tradition, their founding ancestor was a man who came from Baghdad in ancient times. We must say that we are here – obviously – facing a historicity that has been reviewed for the needs of a Muslim identity. The Hausa, like many other African people, that have been islamized, have unfortunately invented their origins from the East. In fact everything suggests that the Hausa are strictly Africans.

The Hausa language is an African language and even particularly close to that of the ancient Egyptians according to the Unesco. We will study their religion which leaves no doubt about their intracontinental origin. Moreover, as we shall see, matriarchy – a cultural characteristic peculiar to the black world – was exceptionally strong among the Hausa.

Ra, solar energy

Ra or Rana means the sun, or the day, or the heat of the sun for the Hausa. Rana was worshiped as a female deity. This is identical with ancient Egypt where Râ was not only the sunrays at its zenith at Midday but the main name of God Himself – Herself. Among the Bassa people of Cameroon, it is through the sun that this people gives to God its most famous name: Djob.

Pharaoh Akhenaten, who defined himself as Sa Râ

For Africans, God is the energetic power that dispenses life, the creative force that encompasses all existing energies. Now, the most powerful energy entity seen by the man is the sun at its zenith. Thus the sunrays and the heat they produce are considered as a miniature God. That is why they bear the same name as the Creator.

It is noticed that Rana, the tutelary deity of the Hausa, was feminine. Everywhere in Africa, the female part of God interacts with the male part. Mawu/Lysa in the Vodun, Imana/Aminata in ancient Egypt. In the same way, it is argued that Roog, the name of God for the Sereres of Senegal, is in fact the equivalent of Râ. Roog for the Sereres is mostly feminine. The fact that the Hausa considered Rana as a female entity is probably related to the nourishing role of the sun, which makes plants grow.

Bori, the cult of energies

For the Hausa there is only one current of energy in the nature and this energy is distributed in each element of the creation. The cult of these energies is called Bori. This is still what the peoples of Kodorfan in Sudan call Desatir. We are here in the fundamental idea of the African Religion. For Black people, everything was created by an Initial Energy and each existing creature carries a part of this Energy. God is therefore a unique Energy (initial and totalizing) that becomes multiple when He-She is divided into every creature. This is why the BaKongo say that God experiences uniqueness in multiplicity.

These sub-gods or multiple energies are called Allejenu by the Hausa, Orisha by the Yoruba, Vodun by the Fon, Ntjeru by the ancient Egyptians, Ayaanle by the Somali etc … Thus, there is one Allejenu of the waters, one for the earth, one for the trees, etc. This is what we can call a Spirit or a form of God. This idea is general in the black and Malagasy world.

Hausa architecture

Note the spiral patterns found also in the Ashanti architecture in Ghana. In the African spirituality, Râ the Initial and Creative Energy, took a spiral form to engender creation. The spiral is the sacred form in Africa.

During the Bori cult, an energy takes possession of a man (jakama-ta) or a woman (jakama-shi) and converses with him. The same scene is described in Madagascar where the Mpimasi (the priest) is possessed by an entity that makes him speak an unknown language. Traditional Hausa doctors, as in the whole Africa, invoke energies to find out cure for the patients. The method is practiced by the N’angas among the Shona of Zimbabwe or the Sangomas among the Zulu in South Africa.

Women’s status in Bori

The Bori is headed by a woman (Magaja) and a man (Ajingi). It is therefore a couple that directs the spirituality. This recalls ancient Egypt. The woman as in the black republic of Carthage had much influence among the Hausas in the priesthood, and even more than the man. Here we see the African matriarchy in all its splendor. That is why there were queen regents (Magajiya) among the Hausas. One can quote Queen Bakwa Turunku and her daughter the legendary warrior Amina. The inheritance among the Hausas was even matrilineal like the predominant tradition in Africa.

Illustration of Amina

Unknown author

When the Magajiya leads the cult, she is called Bori-Magadjiya or queen-priestess. Female Pharaoh Hatshepsut was bearing the same title. The African Religion has the peculiarity of allowing women, unlike the revealed religions, to be able to occupy all levels of the hierarchy. Thus, the Hausa matriarchy has faded away before the Islamic patriarchy. Nowadays, mostly women still practice the Bori.

The Bori ceremony

The German historian Leo Frobenius left us a very beautiful description of the Bori ceremony at the turn of the 20th century while visiting Nigeria. This passage recalls Africa in its entirety or the Vodun ceremony of Bois-Caimain in Haiti during the revolution. The Vodun priestess Cécile Fatiman possessed then performed ritual dances. Frobenius says:

“The Bori folk gather for the dance in the afternoon about two hours before sundown. Soon the sounds of fiddles (Goye) and guitars (Molo) strike the ear, accompanied by the calabashes (Koko) either beaten with sticks or, if furnished with grooves, held before the player’s chest, who scratches them with his nails in turning them round and so produces a humming sort of sound. Then the Magadja rises to her feet. She wears two girdles of cloth (called Damara), in which the amulets are sewn, knotted together over her breasts and hips and in her hand she holds a slender rod of bronze.

Bori priestesses

Scarcely lifting her feet from the ground, she steps slowly forwards ; her movements soon get more lively and she follows the accelerando music by beating its time on the ground with the soles of her feet. Suddenly she makes a leap and falls on the earth with her legs spread apart, only to get up and repeat this performance. A large mortar is brought along. The Magadja gets on to this and ventures the jump as aforesaid also from this, shaking the firm earth as she falls on it. She does this three or four times, until she falls exhausted into the arms of her attendants, who comfortingly cover her with a cloth while the hitherto breathlessly gazing crowd thanks the dancer and musicians with an ample largesse of cowrie (equivalent to money in Ancient Africa) and kola.

Then the novices, young girls anxious to penetrate the mysteries of the Bori dance, appear. With lightly balancing steps and waving a cloth in their hands, they dance to the music and then kneel down before the Magadja who, as it were, blessing them, lays her hands on their backs. Another Bori woman is already dancing, a bronze staff resting on her hip, her frenzied eye on the heavens. While all this is going on the Adjingi stands aside unmoved. But now his body is suddenly convulsed, he snatches at the air with cramped-up fingers and stammers words without meaning. The crowd now makes way for him and some women cover him with cloths. The attack (the possession) is soon over and the Adjingi begins to put on his garments. [1]

In conclusion, the Hausa religion takes up the great pillars of the African Religion, namely a unique God who is the creative energy distributed in each element of creation, the Sun which is the main visible entity and therefore assimilated to a miniature form of God, the preponderant place of the woman in the practice of Religion.

PS : Alledjenu is actually a word of Arabic origin. The real name of the forms of God among the Hausa is Iskoki.

Hotep !

Notes :

  • The Voice of Africa, Leo Frobenius ; quoted and commented by Max Dashu
  • The Hausa of Nigeria, Franck A. Salomone
  • Encyclopedia of Demons in World Religions and Cultures, Theresa Bane
  • [1] The Voice of Africa, Leo Frobenius ; quoted and commented by Max Dashu
  • University of Missouri

5 horrifying ways enslaved African men were sexually exploited and abused by their white masters

Time and time again, the horrifying experiences of enslaved Africans working on plantations in the Americas and other parts of the world are told over and over.

During the slave trade, which lasted for well over 400 years, Africans were captured and chained down, forced onto ships and taken into new lands against their will. Through their harrowing experiences on the ships, many of the enslaved Africans died before reaching their new homes. For the many who survived, it was the beginning of sleepless nights, several hours of work on plantations on empty stomachs and the constant reminder that in their new lives they were nothing but a commodity to their owners.

To inform people about the black experience during the slavery years, much research has been done to help bring to light the accounts. Revelations on how women were used as sex toys, forced to breastfeed white babies as well as experiences of slaves both on ships and in the fields just to mention a few have all been brought to light.

However, it seems that much emphasis is either on the general enslavement or the experiences of women during slavery. Much focus has been drifted away from the experiences of the enslaved men who aside the harsh working hours had horrifying experiences if their own.

To start with, enslaved African men were sexually exploited by their owners as well as slave merchants. After some research, Face2Face Africa found these sexually abusive experiences faced by enslaved African men.


Shockingly, the raping of enslaved men was as prevalent as the raping of enslaved women, however, the issue of enslaved men as rape victims has been mainly undiscovered due to the fact that men were generally shy to voice out that they had been raped by male merchants or their owners. Aside from being shy, the issue of enslaved men being raped was not believable because many of the men that raped them were married or had several girlfriends.

There was also no physical evidence to show that they were actually being raped as they did not get pregnant or show physical hurt. The raping of enslaved men was very common in the southern U.S. and Cuba where it was a huge part of the slave system by the Spanish. Many enslaved men were raped on ships and at secret sex farms and season plantations for homosexual slave owners which were very popular in the Carribean. They were also killed if they rebelled.

The rape of enslaved men was an open secret for several years during the slave trade days. Enslaved men were also forced to have sex with their master’s wives when masters were away. Many of these white mistresses used their African male slaves who exhibited great physique and strength. In general, the rape of enslaved men was overlooked because the issue of rape became very gender biased.

Buck Breaking 

This form of sexual abuse was very popular in the Carribean and it involved white supremacist and slave owners as well as merchants raping a male slave in front of the public to embarrass him and make him feel less of a man. Buck Breaking became very popular when slave rebellions had increased. Enslaved men were first stripped naked and flogged in front of a crowd after which they were raped by a white man to serve as a warning to other slaves.

On several occasions, enslaved men with families were forced to have sex with each other in front of their family or were raped in front of their sons. Many enslaved men who had gone through the process of buck breaking killed themselves afterwards or run away and never returned. For the white supremacists, buck breaking either on ships or on plantations was a way of utterly embarrassing the men and showing dominance.

Breeding Farms 

During the rise of the abolitionists who were fighting for the end of slavery, the slave trade drastically reduced. Slave ships weres stopped, slaves were helped to escape and many slaves gained a new form of confidence to rebel, resist or escape. This placed a huge toll on the slave trade and plantation owners did not have enough labour to meet the market demands for their produce. They then came out with breeding farms that exploited the sexuality of men.

At breeding farms, healthy and strong enslaved men were forced to have sex with women to get them pregnant. The white slave masters did not care if these women were the mothers, daughter or relatives of the men and the men were made to have sex with at least 6 women a day to increase the possibility of the number of women who got pregnant.

Breeding farms became a lucrative business especially in South America and created the term ‘mother fucker’ which literally explained a male having sex with his mother. Many enslaved men who were the heads of breeding farms died of sexual exhaustion.

Castration and genital mutilation

Enslaved men were castrated or sexually mutilated as a form of punishment. Such punishments were meted out to an enslaved man when he was caught in bed with his master’s wife or daughter or said to be married or having an affair with an enslaved woman who is the sexual interest of a merchant or slave master. These acts were also done to take away any form of pride of an enslaved man. Enslaved men who were often the leaders of a group of slaves on a plantation or a rebel group were castrated and called women to show the white man’s dominance.

Entertaining sex 

Many white supremacists, wealthy merchants and aristocrats often used enslaved men as a form of sexual entertainment. Enslaved men were often made to line up naked for their sexual organs to be scrutinised, laughed at and discussed. They were also made to dance naked. In extreme cases, an enslaved man was made to forcefully have sex with an enslaved virgin to entertain the white viewers.

By Elizabeth Ofosuah Johnson


Congo’s miners dying in hell tunnels to power your mobile

Patrick, a 26-year-old Congolese miner, uses hand tools to dig for cobalt, which is used in smartphones and electric car batteries. Much of the cobalt is sold to China, which refines 80 per cent of the world supply

Solange Kanena sits on her broken orange sofa, heavily pregnant, resting. Looking around her three-room shack, she wonders how she will feed her eight children. Her husband died in a mining accident 10 days ago.

She has never held an iPhone and has no idea what an electric car is. But when the deep, muddy tunnel collapsed on her husband, he was digging for a commodity that is critical to the batteries of both: cobalt.

Last year about 70% of the world’s supply came from the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the poorest, most violent and corrupt places on Earth. Much of its cobalt comes from around this town.

“Without DR Congo there is no electric car industry and no green revolution,” said Anneke…

By Christina Lamb


Ten Things to Remember: Anti-Racist Strategies for White Student Radicals

After many years as a white student radical (in high school and then college), I’m reconsidering my experience. I made a lot of mistakes and was blind in many ways, particularly as a white person. What follows are some lessons that I am learning, some strategies for reflecting on, interrogating, and disrupting racism in our lives.

  1. Transforming the world means challenging and changing institutions and ourselves. Systems of oppression are ingrained in both and, accordingly, must be confronted in both. More than once an activist of color or an actively anti-racist white person has confronted me: “Why are you always rushing off to do solidarity actions with people in other parts of the world when you don’t even make time to deal with your own shit?” They’re right. As white student activists, we are in fact notorious for protesting injustices across the globe, yet neglecting to confront systems of oppression on our campuses, in our communities, and in ourselves. Being an effective student activist means making priorities, and at times we must prioritize slower-paced, not-so-flashy work over dramatic actions that offer immediate gratification. Being an effective white student activist means prioritizing daily dismantlement of white privilege–creating and participating in forums for whites to grapple with racism, allying with struggles that people of color are engaged in, constantly remaining open to our own mistakes and feedback from others.
  2. Predominantly white activist organizations are built within society as it is and, as a result, are plagued by racism and other forms of oppression. We can minimize or deny this reality (“we’re all radicals here, not racists”) or we can work to confront it head-on. Confronting it requires not only openly challenging the dynamics of privilege in our groups, but also creating structures and forums for addressing oppression. For instance, two experienced activists I know often point out that, sadly, Kinko’s has a better sexual harassment policy than most activist groups. Workers are accountable for their actions and victims have some means of redress. With all of our imaginative alternatives to capitalist and hierarchical social arrangements, I have no doubt that we can construct even more egalitarian and comprehensive ways of dealing with sexism, racism, and other oppressive forces in our organizations. And we must start now.
  3. We absolutely should not be “getting” people of color to join “our” organizations. This is not just superficial; it’s tokenistic, insulting, and counterproductive. Yet this is the band-aid that white activists are often quick to apply when accused of racist organizing. Mobilizing for the WTO protests, for example, I had one white organizer reassure me that we didn’t need to concern ourselves with racism, but with “better outreach.” In his view, the dynamics, priorities, leadership, and organizing style, among other important features of our group, were obviously beyond critical scrutiny. But they shouldn’t be. We must always look at our organizations and ourselves first. Whose voices are heard? Whose priorities are adopted? Whose knowledge is valued? The answers to these questions define a group more than how comprehensive its outreach is. Consequently, instead of looking to “recruit” in order to simply increase diversity, we, as white activists, need to turn inward, working to make truly anti-racist, anti-oppressive organizations.
  4. We have much to learn from the leadership of activists of color. As student organizers Amanda Klonsky and Daraka Larimore-Hall write, “Only through accepting the leadership of those who experience racism in their daily lives, can white students identify their role in building an anti-racist movement.” Following the lead of people of color is also one active step toward toppling conventional racial hierarchies; and it challenges us, as white folks (particularly men), to step back from aggressively directing everything with an overwhelming sense of entitlement. Too often white students covet and grasp leadership positions in large campus activist groups and coalitions. As in every other sector of our society, myths of “merit” cloak these racial dynamics, but in reality existing student leaders aren’t necessarily the “best” leaders; rather, they’re frequently people who have enjoyed lifelong access to leadership skills and positions–largely white, middle-class men. We need to strengthen the practice of following the lead of activists of color. We’ll be rewarded with, among other things, good training working as authentic allies rather than patronizing “friends”; for being an ally means giving assistance when and as asked.
  5. As white activists, we need to shut up and listen to people of color, especially when they offer criticism. We have to override initial defensive impulses and keep our mouths tightly shut, except perhaps to ask clarifying questions. No matter how well-intentioned and conscientious we are, notice how much space we (specifically white men) occupy with our daily, self-important jabber. Notice how we assume that we’re entitled to it. When people of color intervene in that space to offer something, particularly something about how we can be better activists and better people, that is a very special gift. Indeed, we need to recognize such moments for what they are: precious opportunities for us to become more effective anti-racists. Remember to graciously listen and apply lessons learned.
  6. White guilt always gets in the way. Anarcha-feminist Carol Ehrlich explains, “Guilt leads to inaction. Only action, to re-invent the everyday and make it something else, will change social relations.” In other words, guilt doesn’t help anyone, and it frequently just inspires navel-gazing. The people who experience the brunt of white supremacy could care less whether we, as white activists, feel guilty. Guilt doesn’t change police brutality and occupation, nor does it alter a history of colonialism, genocide, and slavery. No, what we really have to offer is our daily commitment and actions to resist racism. And action isn’t just protesting. It includes any number of ways that we challenge the world and ourselves. Pushing each other to seriously consider racism is action, as are grappling with privilege and acting as allies. Only through action, and the mistakes we make and the lessons we learn, can we find ways to work in true solidarity.
  7. “Radical” doesn’t necessarily mean getting arrested, engaging in police confrontations, or taking to the streets. These kinds of actions are important, but they’re not the be-all and end-all of effective activism. Indeed, exclusively focusing on them ignores crucial questions of privilege and overlooks the diverse, radical ways that people resist oppression every day. In the wake of the WTO protests, for instance, many white activists are heavily focused on direct action. Yet in the words of anti-capitalist organizer Helen Luu, “the emphasis on this method alone often works to exclude people of colour because what is not being taken into account is the relationship between the racist (in)justice system and people of colour.” Moreover, this emphasis can exclude the very radical demands, tactics, and kinds of organizing used by communities of color–struggling for police accountability, occupying ancestral lands, and challenging multinational polluters, among many others. All too frequently “radicalism” is defined almost solely by white, middle-class men. We can do better, though; and I mean we in the sense of all of us who struggle in diverse ways to go to the root–to dismantle power and privilege, and fundamentally transform our society.
  8. Radical rhetoric, whether it’s Marxist, anarchist, Situationist, or some dialect of activistspeak, can be profoundly alienating and can uphold white privilege. More than once, I’ve seen white radicals (myself included) take refuge in our own ostensibly libratory rhetorical and analytical tools: Marxists ignoring “divisive” issues of cultural identity and autonomy; anarchists assuming that, since their groups have “no hierarchy,” they don’t need to worry about insuring space for the voices of folks who are traditionally marginalized; Situationist-inspired militants collapsing diverse systems of privilege and oppression into obscure generalizations; radical animal rights activists claiming that they obviously know better than communities of color. And this is unfortunately nothing new. While all of these analytical tools have value, like most tools, they can be used to uphold oppression even as they profess to resist it. Stay wary.
  9. We simply cannot limit our anti-oppression work to the struggle against white supremacy. Systems of oppression and privilege intertwine and operate in extremely complex ways throughout our society. Racism, patriarchy, classism, heterosexism, able-ism, ageism, and others compound and extend into all spheres of our lives. Our activism often takes the form of focusing on one outgrowth at a time–combating prison construction, opposing corporate exploitation of low-wage workers, challenging devastating US foreign policies. Yet we have to continually integrate a holistic understanding of oppression and how it operates–in these instances, how state repression, capitalism, and imperialism rest on oppression and privilege. Otherwise, despite all of our so-called radicalism, we risk becoming dangerously myopic single-issue activists. “Watch these mono-issue people,” warns veteran activist Bernice Johnson Reagon. “They ain’t gonna do you no good.” Whatever our chosen focuses as activists, we must work both to recognize diverse forms of oppression and to challenge them–in our society, our organizations, and ourselves.
  10. We need to do all of this anti-racist, anti-oppressive work out of respect for ourselves as well as others. White supremacy is ourproblem as white people. We benefit from it and are therefore obligated to challenge it. This is no simplistic politics of guilt, though. People of color undeniably suffer the most from racism, but we are desensitized and scarred in the process. Struggling to become authentically anti-racist radicals and to fundamentally change our racist society, then, means reclaiming our essential humanity while forging transformative bonds of solidarity. In the end, we’ll be freer for it.
  11. By Chris Dixon

The Sugarcoated Language Of White Fragility

The language we use to talk about racism is obviously distorted, a big clue that something is being hidden. It’s pretty easy to pinpoint the source: most White people can’t handle talking about racism. We flail. We don’t understand the subject, we get really uncomfortable, and we either clam up because we don’t want to say the wrong thing, or we bust out the whitesplaining (FYI, this is a best-case scenario. It can be much worse).

To mitigate our shortcomings, we surround ourselves with comforting words. Words that feel neutral. Words that don’t point fingers (at us). Words that center Whiteness, while erasing the harshness of discrimination and segregation. We reject words that we feel are too direct, that might reveal complicity on our part.

Let’s be clear that these linguistic gymnastics are only fooling White people. People of color have been aware that corporate pushes for « diversity » are often flimsy CYA efforts to mask sustained homogeneity, and « inclusion » is often code for tokenism. Scholars of color have been writing about the nuances of privilege and oppression for a longlongtime while watching White people invent different ways to either wriggle out of, dominate, or shut down the conversation. These same scholars have also been watching White writers and educators whisper the same exact thing they’ve been shouting, and magically draw a crowd.

I am writing this piece with the understanding that some White people will be more likely to listen to me because I am White. This is part of the underlying problem of White Fragility. White Fragility is the thing that restricts our knowledge, shuts down conversations before they start, and invites us to lie to ourselves. I’ll get into it more in the next section.

Finally, while I do want to nerd out a little dissecting some of the words we use, this piece is not about proposing new language. Our language is just a symptom. The underlying White Fragility is the problem we need to fix.

Dr. Robin DiAngelo, a White critical racial and social justice educator who created the term « White Fragility, » breaks it down like this:

Here is a list of things that cause White people racial stress, and why:

As an illustration of the above, let’s look at Donald Trump. Trump is known for speaking in vague generalities and declaring simplistic solutions for complex problems. He avoids policy and fact-based conversations, and gets angry and disgusted at the drop of a hat. Now imagine that when it comes to conversations on race, White people in America act a lot like Donald Trump. We generally lack knowledge, but we always have an opinion. We lack the skill set for nuanced conversations, so we pretend they aren’t necessary. When we can’t avoid, we deflect, or we get upset. We’re thin-skinned.

There are a lot of reasons White people have such a low threshold for discomfort. For one, we tend to lead segregated lives, and we think of ourselves as individuals as opposed to members of a group. We receive constant messages that Whiteness is valuable, and we’re used to feeling a sense of belonging in most spaces. All of this leads to a huge sense of entitlement to being not only comfortable, but correct, at all times. And even once we get exposed to the existence of these dynamics, we are often at a loss as to how to talk about it. We do everything to avoid talking about race in any real way, including saying nonsense like « Mohammad Ali transcended race » when we really mean « was retroactively deemed safe by fragile white people. »

Terms like « inclusion » and « white privilege » are designed to sneak past the racial stress triggers of White Fragility. They center Whiteness in a way that makes White people comfortable, while deflecting from the stressful realities of the racist harm that Whiteness causes. Imagine how many racial stress trigger alarm bells would go off if we were using words like « discrimination awareness » and « white undeserved advantages » instead.

Our overly-pleasant terms are the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down. When you’re sick, do you still need a spoonful of sugar? Probably not, because you understand how medicine works. You’ll expect some bitterness, and be fine with it, because you want to get better.

The person who needs a spoonful of sugar doesn’t even know they need it. They have not developed an understanding of why they feel bad or what will fix it. If the medicine doesn’t taste good, they’ll spit it out. They’ll wonder, « why are you punishing me with this terrible tasting thing? » And then the next time, you better be really slick with the sugar, because if they suspect you’re trying to hide bitterness, even if they really, really want to feel better, they’ll clamp their teeth shut. Once they’re on to you, oops, it’s time to be more creative.

I’m going to run through a few terms and briefly outline some thoughts on the relative « sweetness » of the terminology, and the degree to which White audiences have caught on to the sleight of hand. While I might throw out some examples of alternate terms for the purpose of contrast, I’m not seriously trying to propose new terms here. White Fragility has to shift before the language can shift. To start effecting that shift, we can think more critically about what words we’re using now, and why.


The word « diversity » is really common when people are talking about hiring. It started out as a neutral word meaning « variety » that’s supposed to describe a group, but somewhere along the way people started referring to individual people as « diverse », like « we’re looking for a diverse candidate for this role. » So « diverse » is now code for « person of color » or « woman. » It’s been really distorted and linked to a destructive binary related to ability: « diversity » is associated with « lowering the bar. » So « diverse = person of color/woman = low ability » and « not diverse = White man = high ability. »

This word is really a mess. Ava Duvernay was just talking about how much she hates it because it’s a « medicinal word with no emotional resonance. » It’s interesting that she uses the word « medicinal » because this word has been around long enough that there’s not enough sweetness to fool anybody anymore.

White supremacy

Things we call « supreme »: The most delicious desserts. The most well-known and glamorous Motown singers. The highest court in the land. Um… God.

It has bothered me for years that linguistically, white supremacy sounds kind of great. Almost holy. It would sound more appropriately scary if it were called something actively negative, like « White domination » or « White oppressorship. » Once again, imagine the White stress level skyrocketing.

Some disambiguation is necessary with this term. « White supremacy » is a system that prioritizes whiteness regardless of the presence or absence of racial hatred, but a « white supremacist » is a person who embraces overt racial hatred. It’s like a spectrum. By default, all White people are on the spectrum of complicity in upholding a system of White supremacy, but we only give the negative label of « White supremacists » to the really hateful people at the far end. This allows the rest of us to say « we’re not them. »

White privilege

White privilege is a term popularized by Peggy McIntosh, a White women’s studies professor at Wellesley in the late 1980s. While « white privilege » is the term that stuck, many scholars and feminists of color – bell hooks, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Patricia Hill Collins – had been discussing the same ideas, particularly in the context of intersectionality. The discussion also goes back to Sojourner Truth and Anna Julia Cooper, who were discussing racism and sexism as two separate kinds of oppression in the late 1800s. When we ask ourselves why « white privilege » was so catchy among White people, it’s pretty obvious. As Ta-Nehisi Coates said in a recent interview, it’s « a word that we have created to make white people comfortable. »

Hua Hsu, Vassar College professor of English, has a great way of describing this: « Like the robot in a movie slowly discovering that it is, indeed, a robot, it feels as though we are living in the moment when white people, on a generational scale, have become self-aware. » The term « white privilege » is an extremely gentle way of easing White people into awareness. The use of the word « privilege » conjures up images of wealth, something Americans typically associate with merit. As I mentioned earlier, the term easily could have been something like « White undeserved advantages » but that would only serve to shut down conversation if the listener is a fragile White person.


As attorney, educator, and nationally recognized expert Vernā Meyers says, « diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance. » So « diversity » is the hiring part, and « inclusion » is the « making sure your employees don’t find themselves in a hostile environment and leave » part (companies are now pairing « inclusion » with « diversity » and calling it « D&I »). The thing that bugs me about « inclusion » is that it sounds like a neutral word but it’s not. It begs the question: « Who is including who? Who does this space belong to? » It sounds like an act of welcoming instead of everyone being on equal footing. And I guess that is what’s happening: predominantly White spaces are trying to be more welcoming, without having to relinquish White ownership of the space. « Inclusion » sounds a lot like a cousin of « All Lives Matter. »

Unconscious or implicit bias

« Unconscious bias » and « implicit bias » trainings are very popular now, and it’s easy to see why. When we frame the problem as one where White people are participating in a system of oppression unconsciously, without malice, it absolves all blame and affirms a state of racial innocence: « We’re not bad people, we’re just powerfully-socialized good people. » Articles and podcasts around the invisible psychological forces that shape our behavior are all the rage, so it makes sense that this term speaks to us in a really sweetened-up way. « Unconscious bias » says « you are good. It is not the conscious part of you that is to blame. »

White Fragility

« White Fragility » is the newest of these terms, and I chose to frame this piece around it because while it’s new and flashy, it’s not so sweet. It positions whiteness as weak and lacking instead of « privileged » or « supreme » while acknowledging the damage and violence this « fragility » has the power to cause.

To explain why she came up with this new term, Dr. DiAngelo said:

This so perfectly describes the « we see the medicine coming, so the sweetness loses its power » phenomenon. But while I think the term « White Fragility » is less sweet than some of the former terms, I’m not letting it off the hook. It is still a term invented by a White person for other White people, and it has quite a hefty dose of innocence built into it. What things are fragile? Newborn babies, fine china, snowflakes. Fragile things are usually valuable, and they need protection. Here we go again.

The good thing about the word « fragility » is that it pisses people off to be called « fragile » instead of « strong » or « resilient. » It pokes at insecurity, revealing something that has real destructive power to be built on a house of cards. As we’ve seen with the concept of « fragile masculinity, » the act of calling out something as weak can put some serious cracks in the foundation and lead to productive conversations.

Imagine that people of color start learning about race and racism from childhood, and go on to earn the equivalent of advanced degrees in the subject just to get through everyday life. But most White people are given a pat on the head in 2nd grade, a fake diploma, and told we can skip all the other classes, because this subject doesn’t really apply to us. What’s written on our diploma? « Racists are bad people. But you are good. »

The « diploma » language is important because our brains just love a nice crisp binary. There’s something so satisfying and certain about good/bad, right/wrong, up/down.

When I was talking about White supremacy earlier, I mentioned that we can think about our participation as part of a spectrum. This can be very uncomfortable. When you’re on a spectrum, there’s always some ambiguity. A spectrum forces you to deal with the ways in which you are participating in a racist system. It doesn’t let you just opt out. But a binary lets you! A binary says, « Don’t worry about it, you are a Good Person. Nothing bad is associated with you, definitely not racism. End of conversation! » No wonder we love binaries so much.

When we learn that « racists are bad people », we automatically put ourselves into the opposite category: non-racists who are well-meaning, good people. Here’s how it organizes our world view:


This good/bad binary is designed to prevent conversations. It keeps us focused on racism as an individual problem that « bad » people have, as opposed to a system of social control that implicates us. And it sets in place a hair trigger by which we experience any challenge to our racial worldview as a challenge to very our identities as good, moral people. Our lizard brains cannot handle contradictions to our goodness as people.

The truth is that « good » White people do and say racist things all the time. They appropriate black hairstyles like cornrows, baby hair, and bantu knots and rebrand them as « boxer braids », « slicked-down tendrils », and « mini-buns. » They dress up as stereotyped members of other cultures for Halloween, and argue the Redskins name is tradition. They say things like « I don’t even see color » and « All Lives Matter. »

Because these racist things don’t rise to the level of overt malice, they don’t trigger the good/bad binary. We can fall back on « good intentions » or « well-meaning » and presto: we’ve killed all potential for productive conversations about racism, and we’ve given ourselves permission to keep doing and saying a wide range of racist things without feeling bad about it.

Dr. DiAngelo asserts that « the most effective adaptation of racism over time is the idea that racism is conscious bias held by mean people. » Key word here is « adaptation. » Racism today doesn’t look the way it did in 1865, 1965, or 2000. It stays alive by shape-shifting over time, and the good/bad binary is just part of its insidious current form. The only way forward is to step outside of it.

If the occasional college workshop or workplace diversity training were enough to address all the insidious ways racism persists, white supremacy would already be over. And it’s not. As Assata Shakur said, « No one is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them. »

To that, I would like to add « the education White people need will make us uncomfortable. » Our choices are to stick with the binary, or to leave it behind and pursue knowledge that will challenge our worldview and bring discomfort. We have to build up our ability to feel uncomfortable without allowing the Chicken Little of our self-identity to squawk that the sky is falling.

We’re a long way away from that right now. The words we use to talk about race are very revealing of our investment in our own comfort, even when we’re trying to learn and to do better.

We’ve had all the basic ideas we’ve needed to understand racism for a long time. The only reason to pay attention to the packaging is to observe that it’s pointing to the real problem: the idea that we as White people are entitled to be lazy. We expect to be served knowledge about race and racism in palatable doses. We expect to rest in our fragility.

The solution: Put in work. We are not newborn babies or fancy teacups. We have the ability to actively seek knowledge and understanding.

As Vernā Meyers says, « not enough White people have done their work »:

She leaves us with this: « Stop trying to be good people. And start trying to be real people. »

By Anna Kegler