As I was driving to work on Monday, August 24th, I tuned into the radio at 8am UK time to listen to the news and was startled to hear the following announcement: “Protests have erupted after police shoot a black man in the US state of Wisconsin.”
My spontaneous reaction on hearing the news was—“Surely not! Yet another shooting of a person of African descent in the US—despite the global marches and protests that followed from the death of George Floyd!”
In the course of the day I had the opportunity of watching the video footage of the incident—which left me speechless.
I thought one would not hear of any similar incidents for some time. I was disappointed, for I woke up on Wednesday, August 26th, only to be confronted by yet another shooting incident on the CNN TV news! This time it involved a 17-year-old teenager who had shot and killed two individuals and injured a few others who were out protesting the shooting incident that had occurred three days before!
“My goodness, what the hell is going on in Uncle Sam country!” I cried out in disbelief.
As I struggled to come to terms with the situation, I began to wonder if there was anything I could do to help end the cycle of violence. As I occupied myself with thoughts of how best I could contribute towards solving the racial conflict in Uncle Sam’s world, all of a sudden I heard a voice within me in my Twi vernacular, saying the words: Osekuni di wo fie asem! (Twi is spoken by a section of Ghana’s population.) The sentence can be translated into English as follows: You chatterbox, first sort out the mess in your own backyard before attempting to poke your nose into the affairs of others.
Just as my own intuition was urging me to help solve the myriads of problems facing my native Ghana in particular and Africa in general before getting involved in matters of the US, the Bible verse, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9 – NIV), flashed through my mind! Being the Christian soldier that I call myself, though not by any means the perfect Christian around, I decided to brush aside my reservations about getting involved in the affairs of others and instead assume the role of peacemaker. Thus, I decided to make my humble contribution as peacemaker to help bring peace among the various population groups in the US.
I watched the video clip of a speech by Coco Gauff, the young tennis superstar at the beginning of June at a Black Lives Matter event in her hometown of Delray Beach, Florida, following the tragic death of George Floyd. Among other things, she had this to say: “I think I am sad that I am here protesting the same thing my grandmother did ‘50-plus years ago’.”
Much as I share the frustration of the young tennis superstar, who happens to be my idol, from what I read and hear about the US society it comes as little surprise to me that racial tensions between Americans of African and European descents continue to persist to this day.
There is without doubt several factors accounting for the present situation.
All the experts agree that one of the main factors accounting for the unfortunate state of affairs is the self-segregation of the two population groups. Indeed, whereas institutionalised segregation ended in the US over half a century ago, the fact remains that in most parts of Uncle Sam country, residents of different skin colours hardly live in the same community.
As a result of this self-segregation, people of the various population groups attend different schools, different churches and shop in separate shops. In other words, whilst living in the same country, bearing allegiance to the same country and saluting the same flag, the various population groups do not know each other! Bluntly formulated, I am inclined to think that the average Americans of European descent know as little of their African-American folk as they do of the big-headed, big-mouthed author of these lines who grew up in a little village with the big name of Mpintimpi in Ghana! How can anyone expect harmony and understanding between the two US population groups under such self-imposed apartheid-like living situations?
Someone may interject with words like: “I don’t agree with your assessment. Though the two population groups live apart, many of them are working colleagues. Apart from that they usually visit big events together, like the Superbowl, NBA finals, Presidential inaugurations, etc. Their paths thus cross on a regular basis!”
Accepted, such crossings of paths do occur on a daily basis. That however is not the way of getting to know each other that I am talking about. Those meetings indeed can be described as superficial at best. What, in my opinion, is required to bridge the social divide brought about by self-segregation goes beyond just casual meetings.
Before I present my proposals, allow me to narrate an experience I made when undergoing my post-graduate medical training in Germany.
As part of the training, I needed to work as a junior doctor under the supervision of a senior colleague in a family doctor’s practice in the community. After initial difficulty, I was finally offered the said position in a practice in a small town in the countryside. Initially, some members of the team expressed concern regarding the prospect of a dark-skinned person working in the practice since most of the residents had had little contact with a person of my background.
Contrary to the initial fears, I got on very well, not only with the staff, but also with my patients. It was indeed with a heavy heart that I eventually bade goodbye not only of the lovely team members but also of my loving patients. It was without doubt one of the most rewarding parts of my medical training.
As the above example demonstrates, much of the distrust among humans stems from the fact that we just don’t know each other!
Interacting with each other, sharing our common life experiences of joy, pain, sorrow, would lead us to appreciate how much we have in common.
Before I make my proposal now, I want to stress that this is only a humble contribution of a concerned citizen of planet earth. I am not an expert. Others may consider it naïve, not practicable, not serious. Also, the proposal will only work if there is a willingness for an exchange of cultural and social experiences. If, on the other hand, the various parties remain hardened in their positions and show no willingness to undertake steps towards bridging the existing social divide, then my proposals will fall on deaf ears.
I am also aware that owing to the corona virus pandemic, my proposals may not be implementable in the short term. I am nevertheless optimistic that humanity will get over the disruptions caused by the pandemic in the near future, leading to a return to a normal way of life which will allow for the implementation of my proposals.
So here we go with my proposition which I have christened: “A National Befriending and Twinning Initiative for Uncle Sam!”
As the title suggests, there are two aspects to my scheme—befriending and twinning of the various population groups in the US.
Since the perennial racial conflicts of the US have revolved mainly around African-Americans and those of European heritage, I would suggest the initiative should focus on both groups to start with; at a later date it could be expanded to embrace other population groups.
The befriending aspect of the programme will involve a nation-wide initiative encouraging families and individuals of the “Black” and “White” communities to actively take steps to befriend each other.
Although the befriending initiate could have a virtual component—social media exchanges, phone conversations, exchange of letters, etc.—ultimately, the goal will be for the befriended persons to meet for face-to-face interpersonal interaction. To facilitate such face-to-face interaction, the authorities would be required to set up “befriending centres or facilities” where friends could meet to interact and get to know each other.
Since the police have been at the centre of a good deal of the recent conflicts that have made international headlines, I suggest that an aspect of the training of all future servicemen should involve a ‘befriending’ component. This will involve the would-be servicemen being made to spend part of their training sessions working with families and social clubs of organisations of the other population group. Police officers already in service should also be involved in the befriending exercise.
Whereas the befriending will involve mainly individuals and families, the twinning component of my plan will involve social and community groups such as schools, churches, clubs, etc. It will call for the twinning of such social entities from the two population groups with each other—African American churches twinning with those attended predominantly by those of European descent, for example.
It would require the twinned social entities organizing events on a regular basis—joint lessons, joint church services, sporting events, undertaking bus tours, etc. I would suggest such events take place at least once every quarter.
To keep the befriending and twinning initiative constantly in the national consciousness, I propose a legislation-backed National Befriending and Twinning Day, during which various events and activities involving national figures, celebrities, superstars and what-have-you, will be organized nationally, aimed at facilitating the spirit of healing and reconciliation among the various population groups.
Ach, allow me to dare to dream! How about the previous and the current first ladies setting an example by befriending each other to kick-start my proposed National Befriending and Twinning Initiative! Indeed, imagine the two prominent ladies of American society, who incidentally share the first name beginning with “M”, meeting for a woman-to-woman small-talk exchange and eventually inviting their “guys” to a golf tournament—the four human beings sharing common time together away from the glare of the world press.
What a pleasant surprise such an extraordinary meeting could turn out to be—the four human beings involved sitting around the dinner table and enjoying a good dinner and chatting freely about their common human experiences! Suddenly it will dawn on them how much they share in common—the love for the same type of burger perhaps, or perhaps the same wine?
Concerning the problems plaguing common humanity—occasional bouts of depression, recurrent migraines, terrible toothaches, concern for the well-being of their children, etc.— each of them may have their common contribution to bring to a dinner-table discourse.
I have no illusion that a befriending and twinning initiative will solve all the racial conflicts plaguing the US society. I am confident, though, that it will help bridge the divide and break down some if not all the dividing walls.
I also have no illusion as to the ability of humanity to create a heaven on earth.
With goodwill towards each other backed by respect, tolerance and understanding for each other, we could help to make the world a more peaceful place to live in.
On that optimist note, the village boy from rural Ghana who has dared to poke his nose into the matters of mighty Uncle Sam, begs to put down his pen—apart from the short paragraph below.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: On Saturday, August 29, at the time when I was done with this article, a white individual was shot and killed in downtown Portland in the US state of Oregon. My thoughts and sympathies go to the family and loved ones of the deceased. However, this incident goes to underline how important it is for the various population groups of the great United States to work towards establishing harmony and understanding among themselves.
*One of the aims of the author in investing his time writing articles like this is to raise funds for his charitable activities in his native Ghana. If you have enjoyed reading this piece you may consider making a donation to his charity Poverty Crusaders. You may send your PayPal donation to this email account: email@example.com
Copyright Robert Peprah-Gyamfi, 2020. All rights reserved