Serge Ibaka demands respect for Black lives around the world

Aaron Rose

Content Warning: The following story contains details about rape and sexual assault.

Black lives matter.

The three words that have become a rallying cry around the world to demand equality for Black people. In North America, it means ending racialized violence, police brutality, and over 400 years of systemic oppression. It means enough is enough, racial injustice needs to be stopped.

But Black Lives Matter doesn't exclude demanding equality, justice, and respect in majority Black countries around the world.

"This is one thing I want people to understand: What is going on in the United States is what is going on everywhere," said Raptors Congolese forward Serge Ibaka. "In the States, you can see what is happening directly, how police [are] killing somebody. But in Congo, in Africa, in all the countries in Europe, it's happening too, in different ways. The fight we're fighting here is bigger than the fight people are thinking [about] because if we can win this fight here, we're going to change a lot of things around the world."

Ibaka is from the Republic of Congo, a former French colony until 1960. It is one of the poorest countries in the world with 37% of people living on less than $1.90 USD a day, according to the United Nations Development Programme.

Next door to the Republic of Congo, is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a former Belgium colony until 1960, where Ibaka's mother, Amadou Djonga, was born. For over twenty years, Eastern Congo (DRC) has been the stage of one of the deadliest wars in human history. One estimate suggests that between 1998 and 2007 over five million people died in the conflict, according to the International Rescue Committee

"It's a brutal war, it's an absolutely deadly war," said Séverine Autesserre, a professor of political science at Barnard College, Columbia University who specializes in DRC affairs.

The region in eastern Congo (DRC) has been called the "Rape Capital of the World," by the United Nations. Across the country, approximately 51% of women over the age of 15 have experienced sexual violence from an intimate partner, according to the United Nations. 

"Sexual harassment, it's so commonplace that an incredible number of women will experience that," Autesserre said. 

The spectrum of sexual harassment ranges from men not respecting women and their bodies in workplace settings to the most heinous and disturbing acts of sexual violence, according to Autesserre.

"Sexual torture, the kind of thing that you read about or you hear about or you talk about and then you have nightmares for the rest of the month," Autesserre said. "What's heartbreaking is that it affects people and women at any kind of age. I've heard of babies being raped, like month-old babies being raped and grandmothers, 80 years old, 90 years old, grandmothers being raped."

That's what Ibaka is trying to draw attention to because for him Black lives matter around the world.

"The things happening in East Congo. You know how many women be getting killed, raped, every day?" Ibaka said. "They're making us out that we're killing ourselves, killing each other, raping our moms, our daughters, others. They're coming and they're getting a lot of other resources from our countries. We are living poor. We have nothing."

Almost 77% of people in the DRC live on less than $1.90 USD a day, while others have almost unimaginable wealth, according to Autesserre.

"It's absolutely terrible," Autesserre said. "You've got this kind of injustice, which is the huge inequality between a handful of people who are incredibly rich and then the largest part of the population who are living in really, really terrible poverty."

For those who emigrate from the countries, racial discrimination haunts them throughout much of Europe. It's something Spaniard Marc Gasol spoke about last month.

"I think we can see how we treat a lot of immigrants that come from Africa to Europe," Gasol said. "We look at them as immigrants, not only as human beings."

Ibaka echoed Gasol's sentiments Friday.

"When we go immigrate out there, they don't want us to be there," Ibaka said. "They treat us like nothing. ... They think we don't deserve respect. They don't respect us."

That's why Ibaka will wear the words "Respectez Biso" meaning "Respect Us" on his jersey tonight. He wants the message to be heard around the world that Black lives matter not just in North America or majority White countries, but even in majority Black countries where Black people have been ignored and taken advantage of for centuries.

For more information on how to help end the violence in the DRC, Autesserre suggested supporting Cure Violence, Live Free, Resolve, Life & Peace, Peace Direct, or reading her upcoming book The Frontlines of Peace on how people can facilitate change in Africa by supporting grassroots organizations.

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