In 1939, Leopold Sedar Senghor wrote in one of his essays that “Emotion is Negro, as reason is Hellenic.” This phrase raised a lot of dust in Africa and pitched many African intellectuals against Senghor. It was probably the most controversial statement which Senghor made and for which he has not been forgiven by African intellectuals even after his death. The statement was interpreted out of its context by non-blacks as meaning that black Africans were ruled by their emotions rather than by logic or reason. Some further claimed that Africans were incapable of engaging in logical reasoning or studying subjects that demanded such. Philosophers under different guises postulated that the Hellenic race appropriated logic and reasoning while blacks functioned on primitive mentality. Senghor further stated in his 1956 article on “Negro African Aesthetics” that “European reason is analytical…; Negro reason is intuitive…” In both Senghorian declarations there is no middle point. The statements give the impression that one attribute is exclusive of the other; you cannot be black and be guided by reason or be analytical. And you cannot be white and be guided by emotion or be intuitive. Unfortunately for Senghor and fortunately for the black race, none of his pronouncements hold true. However, many from other cultures, particularly the West (now mimicked by Asians) continue to subscribe to these discredited pronouncements in their dealings with Africans. They see Africa’s problems through the prism of African emotionalism and absence of reason. Paradoxically, those who exclusively ascribe emotionalism to Africans are guilty of same. And while they remain obsessed with inventing new euphemisms to disguise their divisive Social Darwinism, Africans have moved on.
A common disease of emotionalists is an exaggerated generalization of an occasional aberrant event or situation and a consequent warped judgment. Africa has been at the receiving end of exaggerated generalization of occasional oddities by the Western media and International Aid Agencies, although for different motives. This sensational emotionalism by those supposedly ascribed reason by Senghor continues to put African and Africans in bad light in the world. The latter churn out impossible statistics of woe from a few cases while the former spins what the leader of the Western world calls fake news. We now understand that Western media (now copied by Asian media too) need to portray Africa as the world’s barometer for measurement of poverty and woes for their citizens. They need a feel-good high; an emotional high.
The 44th and 45th American presidents are recent proofs that Senghor was very wrong. In the management of his administration, Barack Obama, a black man of direct African origin represented and demonstrated what Senghor would have qualified as Hellenic reasoning par excellence. His approach was measured and guided by facts and cold statistics. His speeches were measured and delivered with clarity and devoid of sensational emotionalism. On the other hand, Donald Trump, a pure-bred representative of the Hellenic race, seems to function on emotions. Facts do not seem to matter. They are often seen as an inconvenient nuisance to his convictions and intentions. In his relationship with others that are different from him and his group, Mr. Trump tends to generalize deviant exceptions in the lives of the other and bases his judgments on these exceptions irrespective of contrary evidence. Hellenic emotionalism has made a triumphant arrival on the world’s highest political platform. This is a new development - a change from previous policy-making process based on coldly calculated faceless statistics (Obama) to a gut-feeling or eyes-rejecting or simple hate-based facts-deficient emotional policy of Trump. Emotionalism is the new opium; it brought Trump to power and will ultimately put the far-right in power in Europe, too. Nigel Farage, the UK politician and former leader of the UK Independence Party sees this as "the beginning of a great global revolution". In other words, dangerous emotionalism may be the new ideology, the beginning of a permanent paradigmatic shift in governance and the relationship between countries and between peoples. It is an ideology of mental, social and physical borders.
In the monochrome vision of Trump’s Hellenic emotionalism, many are discountenanced and discounted. And because the vision is monochrome, ultimately everyone that is not of their ideological orientation, alternative values, colour or religion will suffer. Those already under the burden of exclusion for different reasons will suffer more and new lists will be added as we are witnessing from the different executive orders from the White House. We are probably witnessing the birth of a new world order.
This dispensation demands that potential victims, particularly Black Africans reorganize themselves to protect their citizens from abuse and dehumanization. It demands concerted brainstorming of all Black African intellectuals and not off-the-cuff comments of government officials on historical friendships to the press. The era of hand-wringing and victimhood has passed. New alliances based on mutual respect must be actively sought and old agreements with Hellenic emotionalists revisited. Black Africans must protect each other irrespective of colonial language and religious differences. African reason must prevail in this dispensation of dangerous Hellenic emotionalism.
I hope Jacob Zuma reads this.