prof-wole-soyinka

When you leave the main issue and proceed to trivialise it, as the few members of the Nigerian online community of Trump trolls and Trumpsters have done, you negate yourself, and by an act of omission or commission validate an emerging racist historiography, which the main backers of Donald Trump are promoting.


If I have to jump six feet to get the same thing you have to jump two feet for, that is how racism works. – Ta-Nehisi Coates.

“Laziness is a trait in blacks… Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day…” – Donald Trump to O’ Donnell.

“It will be refreshing to have a classy, beautiful, dignified First Lady in the White House. I’m tired of seeing an Ape in heels.” – Pamela Taylor, an American Trumpster and Trump voter, director of the Clay County Development Corporation, West Virginia.

The argument here is simple. The world is a global village, speaking both figuratively and substantively. It is too late in the day to reverse the interconnectedness in and of the world. Thus, the global discourse of what some may see as “local” and domestic issues, politics or a concern of a particular country, is sound and valid. For example, just as the anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany and elsewhere cannot be said to be the local and domestic politics and issues of Germans alone, so can hate, racism and bigotry in the United States and elsewhere not be said to be the local and domestic concerns of Americans alone. As humans we are all invested in a common humanity, and any threat to our common humanity must be combatted. For example, this explains why Boko Haram’s terrorism and how to combat it is a legitimate global concern, not just the local and domestic concern of Nigeria and Nigerians alone.

And because there is a local in the global and the global in the local, the global has become local and the local has become global. This is why following the outcome of the US presidential elections, the mainstreaming of hate, racism, bigotry, anti-Semitism, sexism and xenophobia in the United States of America, and anywhere in the world is dangerous to humanity and the health of the global world because they can easily be legitimised and normalised globally if not combatted. And this is dangerous, not just to Americans but also to the world.

To deny oneself this agency to act on a global level and concede same agency to others as members of the Nigerian online community of Trumpsters seems to suggest putting oneself at the margins of history. It is a kind of self-erasure from history, and it is not right.

Wole Soyinka, who represents a global moral voice on many issues concerning our common humanity, categorically rejects this global danger to our common humanity, which Trump represents. However, for reasons completely disconnected from the main issues, which are the enablement of hate, racism, bigotry, xenophobia and their normalisation, members of the Nigerian online community of Trumpsters, in their responses to Soyinka, equivocate and miss this danger to humanity, which Trump’s bigotry, racism and xenophobia represent. Their equivocation is dangerous. Their equivocation is morally, and intellectually unacceptable because it can normalise hate, racism, bigotry, sexism and xenophobia.

Given this danger, the very few but vocal members of the Nigerian online community of Trumpsters ought to know that it is the moral duty of anyone who is committed to our common humanity to report and expose hate, racism, bigotry and all forms of xenophobia wherever they happen in the world.

foraminifera

Now, let us take on the concrete claims of some Trump voters. In one of the above quotes, Ms. Pamela Taylor, a Trump voter and an American Trumpster from West Virginia was referring to the First Lady of the United States of America (FLOTUS), Mrs. Michelle Obama, as “an ape in heels” (sic).

Some obvious facts are worth re-stating. The FLOTUS Michelle Obama is an American, an African American, just as Pamela Taylor is an American, a Caucasian, a European American. Pamela Taylor’s quote suggests that all peoples of African descent are “apes” (by implication this will include members of the African and Nigerian online community of Trumpsters!) and (by implication) any female person of African descent is an “ape in heels”, according to the thinking of Pamela Taylor! And in the same quote, Pamela Taylor was also referring to the third wife of Donald Trump – Melania Trump, the migrant model worker from Slovenia in Eastern Europe as refreshing as “First Lady” for her.

The mainstreaming of hate, racism and bigotry by the Trump effect shines through the thinking of Pamela Taylor in her reference to the two Americans – Michelle Obama and Melania Trump. And this is the intersection, among race, citizenship and the question of who is the real American – an issue which Trump himself, and the birther movement of which he is a spokesperson, used to kickstart his presidential campaign within a section of the American populace.

Though they ought to know, but perhaps unknown to the Nigerian online community of Trumpsters, Donald Trump himself started his campaign on the intersection of race, citizenship and his attempt to dubiously use these to delegitimise the Obama presidency, and shore up support for his campaign among the rightwing section of the American populace. In order to create a base for himself, Donald Trump became one of the main spokespersons of the birther movement, claiming that President Obama was not born in the US. They used this lie to arouse their Republican and right wing base and to unsuccessfully harass and seek to delegitimise the Obama presidency for eight years.

Having made birth, citizenship and Americanity an issue of the Obama presidency, one wonders what Trump and the birther movement have to say to Pamela Taylor’s characterisation of Michelle Obama and Melania Trump – a migrant worker from Slovenia, after they called the legitimacy of the Obama presidency to question on the basis of citizenship! This is because First Lady Michelle Obama is a full-blooded natural born American. However, like any other immigrant (e.g. Donald Trump’s grand father who migrated from Germany), Melania Trump is not a natural born American. She is a migrant model worker in the entertainment and fashion industry from Slovenia, who came to the US on a visitor’s visa. And from the records of her lawyers, Melania violated the immigration laws of the United States before she got a green card and became a resident.

All new immigrants (and if you are on a visitor’s visa, you must not work under the laws of the United States, though Melania worked with her visitor’s visa) must queue and take their turn in becoming residents, before becoming citizens. That is the American immigration law and order. This is important because Trump claims to be a law and order “Christian” candidate, seeking to be tough on what he calls “Illegal immigration.” Yet, his third wife, from Slovenia in Eastern Europe, violated the immigration law and order of the United States of America by working when she ought not to have worked under the law. This is a fact presented by Melania Trump’s lawyers.

But here is the absurd implication in the mainstreaming of hate, racism and bigotry of the racist Trump effect. A violator –Melania Trump, is the Trumpster Pamela Taylor’s “dignified First Lady” (sic). So logically for this American Trumpster, there is “dignity” in the violation of the law, and why such violation is allowed may as well be found in the false and racist account of the United States of America as a “white race” nation, where a violator of the law will go free because of the colour of her skin.

The morally and intellectually controversial history (because it simply expels the owners of the land, the Native Americans, from historiography) that the United States of America is a white race European nation is the official account of some of the organisations and forces that backed Donald Trump. These are the right wing big and small donors to the Republican Party and the Trump campaign; the right wing media and radio hosts, such as Fox News, Breitbart News, Rush Limbaugh; a section of the American church in 2016 but whose roots date back to WASP – White Anglo Saxon Protestants, and a section of the evangelical and catholic church. Also, the so-called Tea Party within the Republican Party; the original Ku Klux Klan; the white nationalist, racist and race supremacist alt right (led by Richard Spencer), an organisation that is allied closely to the alleged catholic Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s political and “moral” counselor.

So based on this view of American history, it comes easy for a Trumpster, Pamela Taylor, to call the FLOTUS, Michelle Obama, an “ape”, while the same Trumpster and Trump voter sees “dignity” in someone, Melania Trump, who openly violated American immigration law before she became a resident! Following the increased mainstreaming of hate, racism and bigotry in the United States today, this is not strange because racists and bigots will commit what may amount to treason against their country, so long as it fulfills a vision. After all today, on the Russian cyber assault on America, and the integrity of the recent American election, Donald Trump has sided with Russia, a foreign country and adversary of the United States of America, against his own country, in the account of how Vladimir Putin’s Russia successfully conducted a major cyber attack on the United States of America during the election.

And today, as the American National Public Radio (NPR) and YouGov poll show, 37 percent of Republicans view Russian President Vladimir Putin (a person who the American Intelligence community claims is implicated in the cyber attack on the United States during the election) favourably. In other words, these Americans approve the Russian cyber attack on their own country, so long as it gave them what they want – a racist and bigoted Donald Trump, who will help restore a controversial historiography that the United States is an only white race nation, as claimed by Ku Klux Klan, and white nationalist and race supremacist like Richard Spencer of the alt right, the major media backers of Donald Trump!

But perhaps what the Nigerian online community of Trumpsters miss is Trump’s racist history. Let us state some facts. In 1973, the Trump family’s real-estate company, Trump Management Corporation, was sued by the Justice Department for alleged racial discrimination in housing in New York City. At the time, Trump was the company’s president. The allegation was that the company discriminated against blacks who wished to rent apartments in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. The government charged the corporation with quoting different rental terms and conditions for blacks and whites, and lying to blacks that apartments were not available. This is based on the reports of the lawsuit.

Two years later, Trump Management settled the case, promising not to discriminate against blacks, Puerto Ricans and other minorities. It was an admission of guilt of hate, racism and bigotry under the headship of Donald Trump.

In the global world where hate, racism and bigotry may be being normalised, Donald Trump’s racist housing practice reminds one of the type of hate, racism and bigotry Soyinka had deployed his intellect and craft to combat in his poem, “Telephone Conversation”, speaking about the hate, racism and bigotry of a female house renter. Set in England in 1962, Soyinka’s poem captures the same hate, racism and bigotry practiced by Donald Trump in New York in 1973, and Trump’s mainstreaming of hate, racism, bigotry and xenophobia in 2016.

This explains why the Nigerian online community of Trumpsters ought to understand where Soyinka is coming from in his instant and categorical rejection of Donald Trump’s hate, racism and bigotry, which must have shaken him in a fundamental manner. Soyinka’s humanist commitment is simply transcendental, because for him, defending our common humanity (which goes beyond Trump’s mainstreaming of hate, racism and bigotry locally in America) ought to be the very first condition of our personhood and humanity. So Soyinka’s case on humanity is beyond just one Donald Trump and the Trumpsters.

In the poem by Soyinka, the owner of an apartment, upon hearing that a potential tenant is of African origin, asks him in a telephone conversation:

““HOW DARK?”… I had not misheard…” ARE YOU LIGHT
OR VERY DARK?” Button B, Button A, * Stench…
“….ARE YOU DARK? OR VERY LIGHT?” Revelation came.
“You mean-like plain or milk chocolate?…”
“WHAT’S THAT?” conceding
“DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT IS.” “Like brunette.”
“THAT’S DARK, ISNT’T IT?…”

In the fuller Soyinka poem, the house owner comes across as a “polite” and “well bred” woman but she is low in information, shallowly racist and bigoted. The racist behaviour of the apartment owner in the poem speaks both figuratively and in real time of Trump and his father, the son of immigrant from Germany, and how they discriminated against African Americans on the basis of their colour and race in housing in New York city. Hence, one is not surprised when Donald Trump, his campaign and the Republican Party, enable hate, racism, bigotry and refuse to back off in 21st century America.

Trump’s proclivity for hate, racism, bigotry and xenophobia are consistent and visceral. In a book written by John R. O’Donnell with James Rutherford titled, Trumped! The Inside Story of the Real Donald Trump – His Cunning Rise and Spectacular Fall, the author note how Donald Trump, revealed his innermost feelings about peoples of African descent when he said he did not want “black guys counting my money” (sic). John R O’Donnell was a former Trump staff. So he should know. When Donald Trump had the opportunity to refute O’ Donnell and Rutherford in an interview in Playboy magazine in 1999, he did not. Rather in the interview Trump abused O’ Donnell as being disgruntled but confirmed that what O” Donnell wrote about him was true! That is the Donald Trump who is already being normalised by the media after the election!

Finally, in the well-known Central Park Five Case, in 1989 a white female jogger then 28-year-old, Trisha Meili, was raped in Central Park, New York. Five African American and Latino men – Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Yusef Salaam were accused of this crime. Instantly, Donald Trump, without waiting for the law, took out a full-page newspaper ad calling for the death penalty of the then African American teenage suspects. Moved by hate for fellow Americans who do not look like him, Trump the supposed “law” and “order” candidate did not wait for the law, he judged and convicted these African American teenagers through the ad. Donald Trump said he wanted “criminals of every age” involved in the Central Park jogger case “to be afraid.” This hate, racism and bigotry are what Trump uses to fire up his base – most of who are Republicans. The ever cunning Donald Trump used this hate, racism and bigotry effectively in the 2016 elections to get the votes of a section of the American populace.

The Central Park Five were wrongfully convicted in 1990 and Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Yusef Salaam were in prison for just shy of seven years, while Kharey Wise served nearly 13. After a winding legal battle proving their innocence in 2002, the law, the court and the judicial process upheld the innocence of Central Park Five. In other words, they were unlawfully convicted in 1990, so concluded the American law. The court vacated their convictions after Matias Reyes (i) confessed to the crime, and (ii) DNA evidence backed up his confession. Now here is the rob. Donald Trump, the “law” and “order” candidate and the “Christian” candidate of a section of the American Church (i) rejected the innocence of the Central Park Five as ruled by the American courts, (ii) held on to his claim that they are guilty and must die! This particular case shows that for any parent, mother, father, any humanist, Donald Trump’s hate, racism and bigotry are unhinged.

As human being, members of the Central Park Five could as well be the children, nephews etc. of any member of the Nigerian online community of Trumpsters. Hence, the Nigerian online community of Trumpsters may by their own act of omission be normalising Donald Trump’s own hate, racism, xenophobia and bigotry, which are Soyinka’s critical targets. So here are the issues Nigerian online community of Trumpsters fails to get. But Nigerian online community of Trumpsters will never get it because of one thing: they lack a critical historical agency.

When you leave the main issue and proceed to trivialise it, as the few members of the Nigerian online community of Trump trolls and Trumpsters have done, you negate yourself, and by an act of omission or commission validate an emerging racist historiography, which the main backers of Donald Trump are promoting.

Can the Nigerian Trumpsters get this simple logic? Or are the members of the Nigerian online community of Trump trolls and Trumpsters saying that Pamela Taylor’s description of peoples of African descent as “apes on heels” is correct and acceptable to them? Here in lies the logic of self-negation and self-erasure from history, of the Nigerian online community of Trumpsters. Happily, members of the Nigerian online community of Trumpsters are a handful. They do not define who we are as persons.

Adeolu Ademoyo, aaa54@cornell.edu, is with the Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.