Can you breathe here in Ghana?

George Floyd Artwork George Floyd being remembered with an artwork

Sat, 6 Jun 2020 Source: Isaac Ato Mensah

The recent tragic events in the US concerning George Floyd should lead us to understand correctly the underpinnings of race.

Otherwise, we run the risk of claiming to work for its rejection while still utilizing its bogus framework.

Such a flawed understanding will lead to Elizabeth Ohene’s article “George Floyd: I can breathe here” published Wednesday 3 June on graphic.com.gh, Facebook, and many other places.

There are no races only human beings. Kwame Anthony Appiah, the philosopher and many other scholars have succinctly explained this; scientists have proven this.

Therefore in 21st century journalism it is imprudent to accept that categorization.

Let me share two personal experiences, for as my mentor will say, “We all need more education, not less”.

Once when I was playing with a six-year-old girl in England in 2007, I brought up the song “Brown girl in the ring” by Boney M.

Immediately she warned me that a boy called her “brown girl” in school, and the teachers immediately punished him by warning the whole class about colour and “They made him skip his lunch”, a very sumptuous free meal as she described it.

Then in 2011, when I was conducting a biographical interview of Professor Yaw Asirifi, Ghana’s first pediatrician, in his home in the Airport Residential Area, he spoke of his pediatric training in Great Ormond Street, London back in the early sixties, and how young African doctors worked as resident doctors on night duty on their own with access to their British mentors by telephone only when necessary.

I constructed the whole thing into black and white human beings.

Then Professor Asirifi said, “Please read to me what you have written”.

And here I was……

So the gentle octogenarian had to deconstruct my whole mind set about black and white, especially when he never used those words, and I knew it.

The universal and unshakeable principles at play in the police murder of George Floyd which has unnerved the whole of humanity are: Justice, Equality before the Law and Innocence until proven guilty, even for the four men who have been charged with that heinous crime.

Can we honestly say that these principles are upheld in our country?

Do we need to be reminded of the deaths of the Kume Preko four; the shootings of seven Zongo youth in the Ashanti region; the disappearance of Emmanuel Essien, a government appointed monitor on a Chinese fishing vessel?

It is therefore difficult to understand why spurious and inane examples of ghanaian exceptionalism are cited by Ms. Ohene in her article.

They are far off topic relative to the tragic instances of police brutality and racism in the USA that have been highlighted in relation to Floyd’s gruesome murder.

One may even be forgiven for supposing the writer was gloating when she insisted that she “can breathe here” in ghana because there is no racial injustice here.

It teaches the wrong lessons and strikes an insensitive posture.

But really, in ghana you can breathe?

– When your region has 90% of the 500k people who die from malaria every year – a preventable disease?

– when 85% of your compatriots are illiterate?

– when you have erratic water and electricity supply?

– when a significant number of your people practice open defecation?

-when your educational system is in shambles?

– when your bankers are rogues?

– when the country has fewer ventilators than MPs?

– when your officially certified chartered accountants body, the ICAG, issues sham penalties for their corporate members involved in the banking scandal, while saying individual culprits have no personal liabilities?

– when your airwaves are occupied by fake religious preachers 24/7 preying on the illiterate and uneducated folk?

As always, we must be scrupulous in setting the right standards of analysis and tone in our public space.

Young people are learning from us so we should endeavor to strive for and maintain the highest standards in our public discourse.

Is it not time that seasoned communicators, especially within university faculties, realise and teach the modern perspective on race as a social construct with no scientific basis whatsoever?

That should be the first step in totally destroying that despicable categorization which appeared only about 500 years ago.

We respectfully suggest that the real lessons to be learnt about Floyd’s case are the arbitrariness and absurdity of race; the importance of equality before the law and the presumption of innocence until a fair trial.

These standards we must all try to achieve in whichever society we live.

On this we are happy to agree to disagree; it’s a free world.

May the soul of George Floyd rest in peace.

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Writers and Shakespeares Ghana Limited exist to be a moral and intellectual guide to the best practice of PR and integrated communications around the world, beginning with Ghana.

Columnist: Isaac Ato Mensah