Outrage from an African ‘shithole’ inhabitant

We should not stay silent about Donald Trump’s ‘shithole’ remarks.

Donald Trump
US President Donald Trump before signing a proclamation to honour Martin Luther King Jr day in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on January 12, 2018 [Joshua Roberts/Reuters]

I heard last night that the president of the United States believes that, as an African, I come from a shithole country. Charming.

Donald Trump – despite his subsequent denials – apparently insisted in a White House meeting that people from “shithole” countries, by which he means Haiti and the entire continent of Africa, should not be encouraged or allowed to come to the United States. Norway is apparently still OK for him, so that’s a relief.

(To be honest, I almost feel sorry for Norway. Who would want to be on Donald Trump’s personal list of most favoured nations?)

But there’s a more serious issue here: how should we react to racist statements from the president of the United States in a way that is appropriate to the gravity of what he is saying, and the basic dignities he seeks to erode?

In the past year, we have been presented with an ever-growing multidecker sandwich of presidential offensiveness – with ingredients including Trump lying about the threat climate change poses to humanity, describing another country’s population as “criminals” and conducting diplomacy by threatening to destroy another country while boasting about the size of his “nuclear button”. 

His latest outburst is in flagrant defiance of values summed up in the Statue of Liberty itself. When I last looked, the poem at the foot of the statue did not read: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free … except if they come from shithole countries.”

His casual dismissal of countries, or even whole continents, shows a bottomless, unfathomable disdain for the people of Africa and beyond.

But we would be losing the argument if we tried to respond to the falsity of his claims. Insisting that “Africa is not a shithole” likely means you’ve already been wrong-footed by the president.

Trump knows that – in the US, as in many places – appealing to the lowest common denominator can pay political dividends. True leadership is about appealing to the better angels of our nature. The current president consciously does the opposite.

So the real question is: What do we all do next, and how? Governments across Africa and around the world continue to remain silent in the face of Trump’s behaviour due to the residing belief that the US still has a leadership role to play.

There comes a time, however, when we must stand up against hatred and discrimination, not least when it emanates from the most powerful nation in the world.

If Trump’s government is not ready to stand up for human rights and speak up against such hateful statements, at the very least we need to see an obvious show of solidarity from governments worldwide – from Africa to Norway and elsewhere.

As this continent’s leaders prepare for the African Union summit later this month, we as Africans – like everyone else – deserve and expect a unified voice of outrage and unequivocal rejection of this blatant disregard for our dignity and rights. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.