On May 11, 2018, I was fortunate to join almost a hundred young individuals in a protest against racism, sexism, and discrimination in Liberia. The protest was a fight against the racial and sexist policies of Sajj House, bar and restaurant in Liberia, discriminating against single black women. On the day of the protest, the atmosphere was a mixture of pain and frustration and the strong words displayed on the protesters’ posters were reminiscent of this. I joined the protest with so much enthusiasm and raised some ‘battle cries,’ it felt amazing. Let me use this medium to say kudos to all those who stood up in the fight for equality. History will definitely remember you.
In days following the debacle, I heard something that I have been hearing for quite a while now; a few Liberian media personalities and some of the general public, termed the protest as “unimportant” and “a struggle of the elites.”
Elites, as written about by C. Wright Mills in his book “The Power Elite,” are referred to as “an intricate set of overlapping small, but dominant groups, which shares in decisions that have national consequences.” In a patriarchal society like Liberia, women have been consistently oppressed, discriminated against, silenced and stereotyped (negatively If I may add). This oppression to a large extent is due to a high level of ignorance in our society, and I am a front liner in ensuring that such unfortunate reality changes and that starts with fighting for a society in which women views and voices are heard and promoted. Secondly, the mere thought that one human is better than another based on skin pigmentation is downright disgusting, and I frown on every act of it (racism). It is purely circumstantial that I know the victims of the “happening” at Sajj because I will stand up and protest on behalf of any woman who is or will ever be discriminated against.
Now, let me break down this label of “elitism.” I was born and bred in Liberia under some of the worst conditions. I am a product of the broken educational system, and at certain points in my education, I had to sell rice, charcoal, luncheon meat, beans, etc., by the roadside and later on, merit different scholarships because of the economic status of my parents. I experienced every war that was ever fought between 1995 and 2003 and like most ordinary Liberians, I had my own share of hunger, starvation, and insecurity. I lived through the entire Ebola crisis and even lost friends that were dear to me.
These struggles, or even worse ones, apply to some of those that were involved in that protest. However, I rose above my circumstances and never allowed myself to be defined by my challenges. I never felt comfortable with mediocrity, and I made a stern promise to myself that no matter what life brings, I’ll rise above it.
I always knew I had a more significant purpose and I was not created to be a part of negative statistics. I worked tirelessly to earn my spot at the “table”. I am an “elite” based on merits and not because I ever had things handed to me on a silver platter. Like a friend of mine will say, “My elitism is meritocratic and not easy-peasy.”
I fully understand how bad things can be in our society, and some people have had it worse than others. This makes it so easy to blame, label, and judge people, especially people that you consider to be in more privileged positions than you. We must, however, be cognizant that unfavorable circumstances, even though they differ in magnitude from person to person, is common to all.
My elitism is not a crime. It is not a negative label. It keeps me enlightened enough to know that I have a higher purpose and part of that is to help others get to their own goals and destinies. Like the bad policies at Sajj, if corruption, discrimination, broken systems, rape, domestic violence, and other atrocities that live in Liberian societies are going to change because the “elites” stood against it, I AM PROUD TO BE AN ELITE!
Now, let’s talk about unimportance. “At this time in our country, there are more important things to think or speak about than the struggle of a few elites,” a radio personality said when discussing the Sajj saga. Some people even labeled the protest as “a protest to enter a nightclub”. While I totally understand that some of these statements were made from ignorance, I take offense to individuals who think only they have the right to determine what’s essential for an entire country. My questions to such people are: When is something ever important? Does it have to be initiated by you, for you? I think that a person who utters such statement does so selfishly and with motives to discredit everything that is not about himself/herself.
In a nation like Liberia, how can women issues be unimportant? Can discrimination against historically oppressed women be insignificant? Is racism unimportant? If we all truly seek the change that our country needs, we must stand together and not tear each other down. If the solution finders are at war with themselves, we will lose the battle for change because a ‘house that fights against itself cannot stand’. We cannot solve all the problems single-handedly, but with the same goal and objective, we can tackle different issues, from different angles, and still affect the much-needed change in Liberia. I respect and support people who advocate for the rights of children, the hungry, the disabled, etc. I might not be with them physically, but I support them and will never label their struggle as “unimportant.” Everybody ascribes to different interests, and as such, issues of importance are subjective.
Moving forward, we must all be intentional about everything we believe or do. We need to stop blaming others for our misfortunes and learn how to change our own situations for the best. The system might not always be in our favor, and we might not still be in the majority with all the help and resources we need. However, we can use what we have and create the change we need to see. We need to look beyond our current realities and strive to create a Liberia, an Africa and a world that is conducive for us and for the generation yet to come. I am not stopping. I will continuously struggle to make myself better than I already am. I will not label anybody.
No one is a label. I am a member of humanity. However, if it takes “elitism” to help another human rise to his or her full potential, then I accept that label.
Authored by Dieudonne’ Perry
Featured Picture by Sergio Jacobo Baeza