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“Better-off Racist? Ex-Associate Justice Defends ‘Negro Clause”: A Rejoinder

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P e r s p e c t I v e s
Public Policy . Economics . Democratic Politics . Political/Economic Decentralization . Public Dishonesty . Dual Citizenship

February 19, 2015

Mrs. Gladys Johnson and Mr. Sam Zinnah present arguments in support of Citizenship – Mrs. Johnson, “The Negro Clause” and Mr. Zinnah, “Dual Citizenship in Liberia”. Both arguments are the usual, so-called “challenges” to the concept of Citizenship, a concept developed, established and administered by Organized Society or the Social State, based on human reason, law, moral and political philosophy, religion and related social contract thought, practice and international law.

Mrs. Glady K. Johnson is Counselor-at-Law, Former Justice of the Liberian Supreme Court and now, Head of the Nation’s Commission on Human Rights; therefore, we take serious interest in her arguments. “The Negro Clause” is our (Liberian) Constitutional provision that says “. . . only persons who are Negroes or of Negro (race) descent shall qualify by birth or by naturalization to be citizens of Liberia”.

The Argument by Mrs. Johnson

A close review of Mrs. Johnson’s support of the Negro Clause shows questionable absence or lack of “meat on its bones”, so to speak; in that, the learned Counselor provides no intellectual discourse and/or citations – relevant, legal (national/international law) – in answer to the critical questions raised in opposition to discrimination based on race, etc., by the Negro Clause. On the contrary, the Former Justice of the Supreme Court and current Head of our Commission on Human Rights dabbled only in such “emotional, street-corner” debates as “white People”, “third-class citizens”, while her husband (Rudolph and herself, for a long time lived) lives comfortably in Yeadon, suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, a “white people” country. This is characteristic of some Liberians; we will come to that later.

We hold that with her training, position and experience, the uniformed majority of Liberia and rising, young intelligentsia expects Mrs. Johnson to address and provide comprehensive answers to the changed and changing conditions and realities regarding Race and Human Rights.

The most important basis in legal, political and logical terms, for granting Liberian citizenship to qualified persons of non-Negro race, we observed elsewhere, lies in socio-political change, consistent with changed and changing conceptions of citizenship, rights and obligations, of political thought and practice, with respect to current conditions regarding race, nationality, tribe & ethnicity, gender, respect for and observance of human, civil, and political rights.

During the days when our Country, Liberia, was founded by freed, Negro slaves, men and women who fled from racism, injustice, brutality and death, there was no one who cared enough to dare and challenge the established socio-political power on behalf of the disadvantaged – the poor, the weak and racial minorities – whose inalienable rights were routinely abused and denied with impunity. Indeed, there was no League of Nations or the United Nations to which one may or could appeal for redress.

Under those conditions, it was reasonable, indeed mandatory, to close their national borders and doors, at homes, to the enslaving, non-negro peoples – who routinely and systematically brutalized and denied Liberians of the Negro race their socio-political and inalienable rights – from becoming citizens of the new nation of freed Negro slaves for fear that the non-negro race might gain socio-political control and, again, enslave and persecute its citizens, having been freed from servitude and human bondage, achieved political independence with statehood and national sovereignty for Liberians. However, time, socio-political thought, practice and conditions have changed dramatically; therefore, socio-political thought and practice must, inevitably, change correspondingly with the prevailing realities of the day; so it had been throughout human history and is likely to be henceforth. 

For, the Liberian Nation of freed, Negro slaves, has now become the high-profile, internationally-recognized, founding member of the United Nations, and a participating actor on the world stage, in this age of democratic pluralism, human, civil and political rights of all peoples. It was in this light that noting the Apartheid Policy of the Republic of South Africa, brutally practiced against the Negro Republic of Namibia, then under its trusteeship, the Liberian State took legal action against that nation (Republic of South Africa) in the International Court of Justice, for Racial Segregation and the Denial of Basic Civil & Human Rights as the core of that policy.

In the light of these contemporary developments in political thought and practice, particularly, as founding member-state of the United nations and willing signatory to the UN Charter that forbids discrimination/segregation on the basis of gender, race and national origin, how then, do we, Liberians, explain our laws (contradiction in Article 11(a) of the Liberian Constitution) and policy action against persons of non-Negro race seeking justice and equality? Are we not aware and convinced of the prevailing, modern and enlightened, liberal democracy under “The Rule of Law” when we proclaimed that “. . . only persons who are Negroes or of Negro descent shall qualify . . . to be citizens of Liberia”?

Are these constitutional prescriptions and actions not, in fact, blatant contradictions of our own belief systems with respect to socio-economic and political justice, particularly racial justice? Was it not because of these considerations that Liberia took legal action against the-then “racist” Republic of South Africa?

Earlier, we stated that this argument in support of the Negro Clause is characteristic of some Liberians. Here-under, we present a Reprint of our article on the issue:

I Pen this Article Because Many Liberians . . .
June 23, 2013

 I Pen this article because of Many Liberians, including the hard-line proponents of dual citizenship in Liberia, academics, intellectuals, politicians, economists, lawyers, former officials of the Liberian government (policy theoreticians & policy-makers), technocrats, professional diplomats and regular, ordinary Liberians who fled our country, then engulfed in a deadly nightmare of a tragic, civil war and socio-economic and political tyranny; and others who migrated long before the conflict in search of the proverbial green pastures. These Liberians, all of the Negro race, sought, took refuge and settled in Asian, European, North and South American countries, countries of non-Negro Peoples, dominated by their culture.

The Non-Negro inhabitants of these countries opened their borders, doors, graciously received and welcomed the Negro Liberians seeking refuge from war, human suffering and death. These countries, and their peoples, non-Negro, offered and delivered immediate, temporal refuge/residence, re-settlement, financial assistance, political asylum, permanent residence, employment and granted citizenship, eventually, and:

•    These Many, Negro Liberians, including their off-springs, sought/seek and were/are granted citizenship of these non-Negro countries.

•    Attended/attend the schools, vocational institutions, colleges and universities of these non-Negro countries and peoples, some with financial assistance from the non-Negro individuals, businesses and governments.

•    Acquired/acquire higher, graduate-level education, professional training and experience.

•    Secured/secure high-paying positions and jobs in the private and public (government) sectors.

•    Bought/buy expensive homes and live comfortably with investment in retirement, services and conveniences made possible and available by the sweat, blood and related sacrifice by these non-Negro peoples. 

•    Yes, Indeed, many Negro Liberians have, rightly, posted, will continue to post, in leading, world newspapers, heart-warming, successful life stories of hope, peace, justice, freedom, security and dreams of hope for the family future, from scratch; all because of and due to the profound generosity of their non-Negro hosts.

Yet these, very same, Many Liberians argue, will argue, vehemently, to death against granting, at the very least, real property rights and ownership, let alone Liberian citizenship, to these peoples, only and, only because they are NOT NEGROES and/or not of Negro descent, during this 21st century worldview. Yes, these many Liberians are adamant in this type of discrimination based, only on race and skin color in denying to non-negro others benefits and opportunities available in their (the Negro Liberians’) country (Liberia) of origin that they, abundantly enjoyed and continue to enjoy in the other’s (non-negro’s) countries.

This behavior is not only morally-detestable and unfair, but also a violation of the Gook Book (Bible) teaching to do to others that which you would like them to do to you, but also a serious violation of our own belief systems and law, the United Nations Charter, United Nations Universal Declaration of Human of Human Rights   and other international treaties to which we, as a founding, member-state of the United Nations are voluntary signatories.  

I pen this disturbing, prevailing Liberian phenomenon, seeking explanation or rationalization, if you will, of this blatant legal/ethical/moral contradiction; for, Liberians are, generally, considerate, good natured, kind, gracious, god-fearing, law-abiding people, committed to and practice high standards of moral rectitude, with an opened heart and extended-hand of assistance in love, peace and understanding to all others, friend, foe and stranger. What happened to our tradition of socio-cultural acceptance and respect for the life-style and culture of others?

I pen this, also, because many Liberians subjected me to an avalanche of mean, vicious and hateful denigration, demonization, name-calling, ethnic/tribal bigotry and guilt-by-association, because in 2005, I responded to a newspaper article by a Liberian, BBC Journalist that reported that “. . . after 14 years of war, the influential Lebanese community is pressing to be allowed to take part (in the national elections of 2005). Liberia’s economy is dominated by the 4,000-strong Lebanese community, many of whom were born in the country. So strong is the Lebanese community that it is likely to influence (in fact, influences) major political decisions”.

To this article, I responded that “Indeed, it is about time that these ‘Liberians’ of Lebanese descent who lived, worked, contributed immensely and continue to live, work and contribute to the socio-cultural, economic and political development for the betterment and advancement of our common country, the Republic of Liberia, be accorded Liberian citizenship with ‘all rights and privileges appertaining thereto’, if qualified”.

I pen this, also, because rather than come to terms with my simple, true and relevant, legal, reasonable and fair argument, the critics, many Liberians, apparently, in their effort to confuse our relatively-uninformed, played the emotional race card of the discredited notion of ethnic/tribal guilt-by-association, linked to ethnic/tribal politics, with such deceptive, irrelevant, erroneous, false, worn-out phrases and themes based on ethnic/tribal bigotry.  

With Bai M. Gbala, Sr.

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