Institutional Racism in Lumumba
In class, we discussed institutional racism in the context of “Nervous Conditions”. However, while we briefly mentioned the concept when we were discussing Lumumba during our most recent class period, we did not note any specific examples of institutional racism that we may have observed in the film. So, I wanted to address a case of institutional racism from the film that really caught my attention, perhaps due to the pure audacity of it.
In the beginning of the film, Lumumba had to go to a government office to receive his “civilized persons card.” While this was a brief the scene, I believe it is a blatant display of institutional racism by the Belgian government for several reasons. The first being somewhat on obvious in that only the black Congolese citizens were required, by the government(the Belgians) to obtain the card if they wanted better paying jobs and more varied positions. But a more subtle reason confirming that the Belgian government, as an institution, is subjecting the Congolese to institutional racism, is that by issuing these cards, they are assuming that because of their race, the black Congolese people are uncivilized. This assumption has led to several instances of racism during the Belgian rule over the Congo, the issuance of the cards being just one of them.
Furthermore, I think that Peck included this short scene to illustrate just how powerful the colonial rule was over all aspects of one’s life in the Congo. This is evidenced in that even Lumumba, who appears both intelligent and civilized, is required to get a “civilized persons card,” proving that no black citizen, despite what their status or position in their community may be, is above this ludicrous system.