My journey started in Ghana, a country of diverse people, of different cultures and over 70 different languages. We have tensions between ethnic groups and stereotypes. But what unites us is stronger, our diversity and traditions.
For example, at state and community events, it is not uncommon for a Muslim Imam to pray for Allah’s protection, a Christian Priest to pray for peace in the name of Jesus and a Traditional Priest to pour libation for prosperity in the name of the local Gods. We have embraced and integrated our diversity rather than dismiss them or silence them.
Our current president is a Christian from the Southern part of Ghana, and the Vice President is a Muslim from the Northern part of Ghana. We all celebrate and participate in each other’s significant days and send our good wishes to one another, from the traditional festivals of Odwira, Adae, Hogbetsotso, Homowo to Eid al-Fitr, Christmas and Easter. We recognize that the prosperity of our society is tied to our unity. In the end, we are all human, we are all Ghanaians, we are all children of God, the Gods or Nature.
As a child, I observed that people have different shades of skin colour. It never had any significant meaning in my community. In fact, native Ghanaians have a mix of similar shades of skin colour as people from Europe, the Americas, Asia or Oceania. We never attributed any special meaning to the skin colour of people. The most meaningful aspect of a person’s life was their character.
As an adult, and having travelled to Europe for studies and work, racial classifications and its associated tensions and prejudice became more apparent. I have struggled to understand why some people are called white or black when in fact they are not even close to the colours we call black and white. What I see is different shades of the same colour… perhaps brown.
I wondered why I have to tick a box with such classifications? Why is it not sufficient to state where I come from? I started researching and studying the system carefully… and I arrived at a conclusion…
I resolved to go on a “new journey”. The first is to refrain from referring to groups of people by social constructs that are not descriptive of “universal reality” (for instance not to refer to people as black or white but rather by their nationality). The second is to acknowledge and respect how individuals or groups choose to identify themselves (whatever it may be, pink, blue, green, white, black, brown…) but never attach any connotations of intelligence or superiority to labels.
The third is to recognize that there is only one human race and to celebrate the power of unity in our diversity and beauty. Lastly, to always refer to the country or region one comes from or is likely to come from based on available scientific evidence on ancestry, and not to their skin colour, hair colour or any other superficial social constructs.
Finally, the 1978 UNESCO Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice resonated with me: “All peoples of the world possess equal faculties for attaining the highest level in intellectual, technical, social, economic, cultural and political development. The differences between the achievements of the different peoples are entirely attributable to geographical, historical, political, economic, social and cultural factors. Such differences can in no case serve as a pretext for any rank-ordered classification of nations or peoples.”
As a very good friend commented, “I am concerned about the impact of these race and social classifications and the disservice we do to ourselves and humanity by viewing people in the light of these limitations. Thus, by stereotyping, we forfeit the chance of truly getting to know the content and abilities of each individual.”
The journey continues…
By A. Amankwaa | Reflections