Understanding Why We Hate: Is it Nature or Nurture?

Tue, 27 May 2008 Source: Pryce, Daniel K.

A caveat: I will attempt to make this article as pithy as possible, in order to encourage the participation of many, although a 12-paragraph article, irrefutably, cannot hold all the substantive information required to make a plausible argument pertaining to the topic of hate.

In the United States, there are the occasional snippets of information embedded in advertisements, especially before popular events, like the Superbowl and the NBA Finals games, are aired, where well-known actors and actresses, of all skin tones, extol the virtues of our commonalities and denounce the hate that we, blatantly and subliminally, teach our progenies. Basically, these actors and actresses decry the dangers inherent in the false assumptions that we all adhere to, in regards to the exclusivity and “superiority” of our particular racial groups.

Let us export the same concept of hate to Ghana ? and to Ghanaians, for that matter ? and we see a dangerous evocation of ethnic hegemony that is slowly eating away at our oneness and commonalities. Not a day goes by when we do not stumble upon ethnocentric and tribalistic effusions on Ghanaweb.com, and other leading pro-Ghanaian Internet portals, trends that are very frightening indeed. Lately on Ghanaweb.com, someone has been calling for the secession of all Akans from our common union, even going further to accuse Atta-Mills of acting as a front for Ewes to return to power! This same person has similarly mastered the art of repeating his/her messages to the point where many of us have taken notice. Rancid as these ethnocentric ripostes and comments may seem to some, it is their latent potency to eventually destabilize our nation that requires that all peace-loving Ghanaians unequivocally condemn such visceral and infantile remarks.

A few days ago, Ghana was lauded as the most peaceful nation in Africa (see BBC News and Ghanaweb.com for more information)! Not only was I elated by such an affirmation, I was also convinced ? and this is a position I have always maintained ? that Ghanaians take greater pride in their “Ghanaian-ness” than most people are willing to give them credit for! In fact, the tribalists who utilize the anonymous environs of the World Wide Web to spew out and foment their hegemonic and ethnocentric persuasions seem to be in the minority, as far as their dangerous beliefs are concerned. And I have always maintained that our brothers and sisters domiciled in Ghana do find our ethnic and tribal bashings on the Internet very strange indeed, as the Ga, Asante, Fante, Ewe, Nanumba and Kokomba, just to name a few groups, all live together peacefully in our villages, towns and cities.

The fairly recent field of political psychology, a discipline that “tries to apply insights about individual and collective behavior to the geopolitical sphere” (Howard Stein, Oklahoma University), teaches that “nothing promotes the cohesion of a social, ethnic or national group as surely as a common object of loathing.” The concept of “us” versus “them” ? a mindset that portrays those dissimilar to us as the bad ones in our midst ? is a conduit for hate. Sadly, hate is an opportunistic outlet for the garbage we all carry ? greed, anger, tribalism, ethnocentrism, hegemony, et cetera. A study of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, the Cold War, the recent presidential election fiasco in Kenya, the ongoing political turmoil in Zimbabwe, among other notorious examples, reveals a clear trend of “us” versus “them” in each instance!

A few years ago, an item on Dateline NBC, in the United States, discussed the role of the black male in American society. The lead journalist was attempting to explain the rather strong bond between black males and their mothers ? of course, this strong bond has many causes, the ubiquitous absence of black fathers being one of them ? but what got imprinted on my mind from the news item was the comment made by a black mother that her 5-year-old son, while seen by all as cute and cuddly at such an early age, will, by age 21, instill so much fear in people of other races, that this black man certainly will become an insignia of all the atrocities, divisions, and racial divide pervasive in contemporary American society! Hate starts with what parents say about others, on a regular basis, to their children, so, we, as parents, ought to view childhood, the most impressionable stage of human life, as the best time to inculcate tolerance, nobility and empathy.

John Mack, of Harvard Medical School, uses a simple analogy to teach us how we perpetrate hate and teach our progenies to do the same. Mack explains it this way: “When a child observed at play stumbles and hurts herself, she immediately accuses her teddy bear, as if it were the bear [that] tripped her. If she is scolded for misbehaving, she turns and scolds her doll. Although our attitudes mature as we age, we never quite outgrow this self-versus-other mind-set: ‘It lies there as a kind of potential for political recruitment’ that can occur in the schoolyard or later.”

Have we observed what is happening in South Africa lately? This is a nation that had suffered horrific atrocities under white rule until it was extricated via an avalanche of actions and steps, not only by Nelson Mandela and his peers, but significantly by other nations and individuals determined to halt the political and economic slavery of a people! And thanks to the efforts of the entire global community, South Africa, as a nation, is now politically free. Sadly, however, black South Africans have been in the news lately for ignominious reasons, attacking “foreigners” ? fellow blacks from places like Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Ghana ? all because of a perceived lack of job opportunities for some indigenous blacks! In essence, people dispel their own guilt by quickly dehumanizing the “enemy!”

During the Cold War, the former Soviet Union resented the United States because the former was seen as inferior. Today, a large number of Americans still cling to this hegemonic stance, which is why modern Russia continues to bolster its economic strength by making very good use of its vast oil and natural gas resources. Additionally, Russia has continually opposed the expansion of NATO (this group was originally founded to promote a strategic alliance between the United States and a pro-Western bloc of European nations) to include former Soviet-backed Eastern European countries, for the simple reason that Russia sees this expansion as a long-term assault on its post-Cold War influence! Extrapolate this same “self-versus-other” ideology into Ghana’s multiethnic society and the hazard inherent in touting the “superiority” of any one tribe becomes very obvious!

While Akans make up about 45% of the Ghanaian population, the former is not a homogenous group, but consists of several entities that speak one variation or another of the Twi language. Ewes constitute only 13% of the Ghanaian population and, generally, do not pose a threat to any other tribe(s) in the nation, so why are a few disgruntled people using the anonymity of the Internet to launch insidious attacks on Ewes? Sadly, Ewes are not the only ones facing this frontal assault, as our brothers and sisters from northern Ghana are occasionally subjected to such invectives as well. To those Ewes and northern Ghanaians who launch retaliatory online barrages, I call on them to desist from such practices, as the interests of their tribal groups are not at all served by their actions. If we perpetrate such nonsense against one another, what moral authority do we then have to denounce racial bias away from our motherland?

To those who think that they are promoting a good cause by fanning tribal hatred, I have some advice for them: They need to examine themselves, as their own deficiencies and inadequacies are the reason for the denigrations and outbursts they have, rather ignorantly, chosen to unleash on others on a daily basis. Most Ghanaians love one another and are bent on promoting peace and stability in their nation, with or without the cooperation of these bad nuts!

May God continue to bless Ghana, and may all Ghanaians everywhere continue to live together in peace, harmony and togetherness. And may Ghana continue to serve as a beacon of hope to its neighbors in the West African sub-region and beyond. Hate, once it takes root in the heart, like an incubus, cannot be easily banished. As such, we must pursue noble decisions and promote all-inclusive values that are the hallmark of unadulterated sagacity, in order to make the world a better place for ourselves and posterity. So, is hate congenital or nurtured? You be the judge!

The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, holds a master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University, U.S.A. He is a member of the national honor society for public affairs and administration in the U.S.A. He can be reached at dpryce@cox.net.

Columnist: Pryce, Daniel K.