By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
Garden City, New York
I did not listen to Dr. Mensa Otabil’s lecture on Ethnic Pride, in his “Living Word Series,” so I cannot argue with the founder of the International Central Gospel Church over whether, indeed, Ethnic Pride is such a bad thing (See “Entertaining Ethnic Pride Dangerous – Otabil” Starrfmonline.com / Ghanaweb.com 9/5/14). What I can say in defense of Ethnic Pride, however, is that the latter is decidedly different from Ethnic Supremacy. And I have a feeling that the renowned inspirational speaker and preacher might have confused these two very closely related but, nevertheless, clearly distinctive terms.
“Pride,” it is true, can and does often lead to “Hubris” and “Arrogance,” but it does not need to. For instance, one aspect of pride is the concepts of “Nationalism” and “Nationality.” The latter terminology deals with territoriality and culture; and it is not always clear which precedes the other – that is, whether a group sharing the same language first acquires land space and then develops its language and culture, or the vice versa. What is clear is that identity and achievements are integral to human nature, and it is achievement that is rewarded with pride. Pride, fundamentally speaking, is a sense of either individual and/or collective self-worth. It crosses the “dangerous” line into Supremacy, when pride is perceived and experienced by a subject as evidence of superiority over one’s neighbors.
Nationalism also has an invidious element of spacial/cultural exclusivity, often determined by culture, language and phenotype. However, nationalism as expressed among Third-World peoples in the wake of the massive European colonization of the non-European world, has almost invariably been in response to Western/White Supremacy, the purely political and fundamentally unscientific promotion and/or prosecution of racial supremacy. Ethnic/Racial Supremacy has its beginnings in the West in the eighteenth century, a period that has been ironically characterized by most Western scholars and intellectuals as the Century of Enlightenment. It is ironic because it actually marks the false “scientificization” of the purely political and ideological. It also curiously and invariably celebrates the purported cultural, technological, economic and sociological differentiation of the Western-European Man from the rest of global humanity.
And so in a practical sense, African Nationalism is reactive rather than proactive, although there definitely is a proactive manifestation of the same. Siginificantly, however, the most radical among African Nationalist Scholars tend to be “Essentialistic” in orientation. Essentialism presupposes certain innate qualities with which certain groups of humans are uniquely endowed by either Mother Nature or Divine Providence by virtue of Manifest Destiny, the self-arrogated status of “Exceptionalism” or privileged enlightenment which, somehow, authorizes one group of militarily advanced racial group or nationalities to dominate less militarily advanced racial groups for the purported benefit of the latter.
The reality, of course, is that it is the purported beneficiary of this lopsided, master-servant, relationship that gets wantonly exploited for the economic and material benefit of the dominant group. Dr. Otabil is right to observe that Pride does often lead to Ethnic Chauvinism and Supremacy, but so does eating more than one’s fill often lead to illnesses and an unhealthy lifestyle. And so the question that ought to be asked is as follows: Just because of the fear of the deleterious – or pernicious – effects of Pride, does it mean that we are better served by indulging in the denial of our diverse ethnicities and sub-ethnicities?
In other words, Ethnicity is integral to our humanity; and likewise the set of belief systems or mores that goes with the same. It is Pride that infuses our behavior with Dignity, Nobility, Civility and all the other eudemonious elements that make for a peaceful and progressive society. And so it cannot be that Pride is absolutely devoid of any redeeming features. Indeed, it is the abject lack of pride in our sense of nationalism that has enabled many of our leaders to amass wealth and indulge in excessive luxury while the rest of society endures abject poverty and filth.
The recent cholera epidemic that convulsed our nation was the direct result of our collective loss of any remarkable sense of pride in our historically unique and privileged national identity. At the end of the day, Pride, as it can clearly be seen, is a double-edged sword – too much of it can, doubtlessly, lead to one’s fall or existential failure; but so does too little of it lead to an abject loss of self-esteem and, with the latter, the eruption of anomie and decadence.