The Unjustifiable Fear of the Liberian ‘Elite’

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

One Comment Add yours

  1. “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.”

    Bravo! For the statement above.

    A few things to note: you’ve seemed to own the title of “elite” without fully understanding the accuser’s use in reference to the Sajj saga. What does it truly mean to be an “elite” in Liberian society today? Was the media personality trying to get at the fact that Sajj is not a place frequented by the “average” Liberian and so the fight was not relevant to the majority of Liberian women but only those fortunate enough to afford a venue like Sajj?

    Furthermore, does “elite” = educated? Does it = privilege of some kind that makes you impervious to the daily plight of the average Liberian? Does it = skin color? What’s the benchmark of money you need in your account before you are considered “elite”? How often do you need to visit Sajj or an establishment like it before you are considered “elite”?

    Often in Liberia because of our historical sensitivities having to do with socio-economic difference, tribal, etc. we are of course quick to jump to putting people in buckets and labeling them based on their exposure to things that aren’t “typically Liberian” whether it be your seres, your educational attainment, or your disposable income. What we as Liberians need to do more of however, is define and own what it means to be Liberian. Are you only a Liberian if you’ve went through a certain number of years of struggle? When do you gain that “elite” card and does it make you less Liberian? We’ve spent years dividing ourselves into elite & non-elite and that has made us vulnerable as a people to outside influence. What happened at Sajj in March, happened in Liberia and it means it potentially could have affected all Liberian women (not just elite ones) whether you were a 1st time visitor there or a frequent guest. The alleged prejudice levied against those young women was based 1st on skin color and several assumptions that went along with that, including the assumption that yes, they were Liberian young women and thus fell into a specific bucket of people who needed to pass an extra requirement before entering a venue in their own country.

    You can’t necessarily see “elite” when you look at someone so that observation by the media personality who said it seems ignorant at best and just serves to further divide us in a fight to be seen as Liberians in Liberia with rights and privileges that we so freely afford foreigners but often deny ourselves. Consider for instance if the same thing happened in Ghana or Nigeria, do you think there would be a Ghanaian uttering “that seems to be an issue amongst only those types of Ghanaians, it doesn’t concern us other Ghanaians”?

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