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Liberia: Was Vice President Joseph Boakai’s statement racist?

12 September 2017 at 18:03 | 1935 views

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By Dagbayonoh Kiah Nyanfore II, Monrovia, Liberia.

To answer the above question, let me ask: Was Senator George Weah correct to refer to VP Joseph Boakai’s statement that a footballer should not be voted president racist or was it a form of racism?

Publicly,, some television viewers think that it is a form of ethnocentrism as and not racism while others view it neither or simply call it a prejudice.

Scholarly views on either classification differ. Some say that racism is specific denoting physical features, including race, hair texture, skin color or pigmentation. (Bhopal, 2003). Ethnocentrism relates to cultural identity, tribal solidarity, affiliation and behaviors. Both classifications have no or little similarity. (Blackburn, 2000; Bamshad and Olson, 2011). Marger, (2006, and 2012); sees no difference between the two while Blackburn, (Ibid) sees a difference.

The view that race is only color-based seems to be outdated. As cited also by Wilibrodus Endro, recent scholarly works by sociologists, anthropologists and other social scientists have broadened racism to include other elements not specific to race. They see the relationship between race and ethnicity; social class stratification, elitism and the notion that some people are superior by birth and others are not, and the latter lacks the pedigrees to lead. (Markus, 2008; Loury, 2003; and Oni and Winant, 1994).

Sociologist Eduards Bonilla-Silva looks at race not from skin-color but from cultural perspective, abstract liberalism and minimization of racism. He discusses and sees racism from a color-blind phenomenon, the practice of “Race without Racists”. It also discusses that affirmative action program for Blacks and minorities in America is equally racist and discriminatory. Other scholars in the United States have criticized this view.

In Lentin’s 2011, “Racism and Ethnic Discrimination”, Lentin writes:
“Racism becomes a catch-all phase that can be used to describe almost any situation. It is used to refer any situation of discrimination or unfairness”.
Lentin argues that despites human advances in many areas and fields, racism is alive and well and operates in many forms.

In the US, when one speaks of the dexterity of football and basketball players, he/she is talking about Blacks. They are in the majority in these sports and play them well. At the same time, a Chinese player who is discriminated against may cry foul of ethnic discrimination. While the Black player may claim racial discrimination, both players may view that they have been unfairly treated. That treatment, according to scholars, is discriminatory and that practice is racism.

Accordingly, Vice President Boakai singled out footballer from consideration or from been voted president. Here though he did not call Weah by name, Weah is the known former footballer in the presidential race, and therefore the VP was referring to Weah.

The VP was been discriminatory just as if he were discriminating against a physically challenged Liberian or a musician from consideration for leadership or important position.

Scholarly experts say that such discrimination is racism. Moreover, this discrimination is based on a perception that a footballer does not have the ability or intelligence to become president or is not a presidential material. Many Liberians, including some of the other presidential candidates, share this notion. Moreover, Whites too in the US had maintained that Black athletes did not have the mental ability to become politicians or president.

In short, accordingly, Weah was correct to say that the vice president’s statement was racial, a racist expression from a racial perception meant to discriminate; to deny a fellow Liberian citizen the constitutional right to want to become president, simply because that citizen was an athlete. The VP was not talking to Weah, but to the electorate to share and consider his racially oriented perception.
In an earlier article, “Native Sons: Ethnicity in Liberian Electoral Politics”, I attempted to show the role of ethnic politics. Although I did not discuss race, I stated that politicians, particularly in the past, used ethnicity to achieve political objectives, while at the same time, criticized and denounced ethnicity publicly.

Photo: Vice President Jospeh Boakai of Liberia.

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