Why calling me obroni is racism

Columnist: Jeff Leon, Medical student from Holland

It is an experience I have to go through every day when making my way to the hospital on the dusty roads of Damongo. Only my appearance passing by, instantly prompts groups of school kids pointing at me, shouting at me from far and tracking me down followed by resoundingly repetitive clans of this word.

I am a person, with a profession, but for them, all I am is an obroni. Although the intent of shouting this word out loud might be innocent on the behalf of the children, the name-calling is clearly a mild form of racism whose effects over time should not be underestimated. Allow me to explain why.

When interactions and encounters are shaped primarily along the lines of ethnicity, this qualifies as racist thinking. The moment we see another fellow human being as ‘the other,’ we create barriers between people which results in a needless demarcation of people and the crumbling of social cohesion.

Yes, I am aware that I am not a native in this country, but singling out my foreignness in the form of a public announcement is not just funny, but rather makes one feel uncomfortable and alone.

This, however, seems to be only the tip of the veil of tribalism that covers each corner of this stratified Ghanaian society. How stupid of me to think that Ghana is one country, and Ghanaians are one people! Apparently there seems to be more importance on striking out the differences rather than embracing each other’s commonalities. Shocked as I am to hear a nurse call a patient not by his name but by his tribe (Hey Foulani, close the door!), it invoked no counter reaction at all by her fellow nurses nor by the patient. Apparently so entrenched into the fabric of Ghanaian society, racist thinking has become so normalized that no one takes note anymore.

Now, racist thinking is one thing, which some might argue is to a certain extent inescapable of happening subconsciously, but racist behavior by consciously and persistently reminding every person about his ethnicity or race is a way is damaging human relations. By doing so, we allow this subconscious racism to sneak in into every encounter. Our days begin to end, the moment we allow ourselves to become alienated from another by treating each other as ‘the other.’ If this is a moral bridge too far to some, we could perhaps start with a smaller first step. Instead of calling me obroni, call me Jeff.

 

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