On a calm Sunday evening at the AUB dorms kitchen, three young, jovial, and inquisitive youths approached me, smartly said ‘hello’ and then quickly moved to the next urgent question: “What is it that you have in your dish? Is that cocaine?” Stunned, I responded, “This is a vegetable soup.” They carried on as to pretend I had not said a word, “I hear you [African] people sell and smoke cocaine. Oh, by the way, how much is the kilo?”
I was to learn later in the conversation that these youngsters had been silently exposed to the bombshells of racial prejudice or stereotypes. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva calls it “color-blind racism” of which its components include different “frames, style, and racial stories…beyond the race character.” The definitive ‘African’ as directed at me is equalized to being ‘Black’ since ‘North Africans’ in Lebanon, as in all Arab countries, are treated as ‘Arabs’.
According to Africa.com; many academicians or people who have never had any contact with Africa generally make 10 Common Misconceptions And Stereotypes About Africa. Among them: Africa is a big country, not a continent, Africa has one language which is African, and people who are ‘African’ are ‘Black’. Africans live in trees with monkeys and of late, the “African” people are known of two things: poverty and smoking weed.
Maimed and constructed by the colonial masters, the way the ‘White man’ fashioned the ‘orient’ in need of civilizing as put by Edward Said in “Orientalism” is that the ‘orient’ did not have an innate sense of direction, not even to walk straight like them, the superior gene; colonial white kids of the “occident”.
Just like Arabs in today’s Western imperial lens are stereotyped to be ‘terrorists’ or ‘violent’ Muslims (as if all Arabs are Muslims), this leaves little room for a debate of exoneration. One is condemned before proven guilty.
The contention of drug deals, most adversely witnessed in Mexico, Brazil, Afghanistan, and African American communities has been a power trigger which has helped in the systematic fashioning of these communities.
One can ask questions, ‘Were the Chinese exposed to cocaine as much as they were prior to the the Opium wars led by the British Empire?’, ‘Did Iraq know more sectarianism, drugs, and gun violence before the US hired John Steele to cover for black operations in the country?’, ‘And why is that gun and drug violence with mass incarceration is so common among African American families and what has it to do with race?’ Why is that when Stephen Paddock shoots dead 55 people and injures 500+ in Las Vegas, his actions are easily reported as an act of pure evil rather than a terror attack?
The normalization of racial stereotypes are used to redefine systems of discrimination and harassment and support structures of social hierarchy. Racial stereotypes have a power relations element which, in a taming manner, condescends, if not dehumanizes, the victim or intended target.
This is not to say that all racial stereotypes are colonially ingrained per se but the colonial framework is the perfect example that has translated into the way we see and judge matters. Unless someone is willing to accept their ignorance and kindly start asking proper questions that can generate proper answers, the construct of racial prejudice will remain.
African societies are diverse: They come in different shapes and sizes with different cultures, tastes, preferences, and social fabric afar from dealing or smoking cocaine, which by the way is far from becoming a social concern because of its marginality.
My experience reminds me again of what Edward Said says in his article The Clash of Ignorance, “Labels like “Islam” and “the West” serve only to confuse us about a disorderly reality”. I would add, so are labels such as black and African.