By Ozodi Thomas Osuji – If you are an African and have lived in America for any length of time you probably have noticed the existence of racism in the land. You probably have wondered why white folks are in the main racist. When you deal with individual white folks you may not notice their racism; in fact, you may even conclude that they are nice people but when you deal with the larger white world, especially when you seek employment in the land you notice the workings of the peculiar institution. Since instinctively, if you are like me, you probably believe that all human beings are equal and the same you feel baffled by the institution of racism. You ask: why are many white folks racist? I have asked that question. In this essay I try to answer my question.
There must be some sort of reason why many white folks are racists and the sooner we address those reasons the better for all of us. Racism is probably rooted in many white folks perception of black folks as inferior to them and as a backward people.
In the mid-1400s the Portuguese, and for our present purpose white folks finally came to the land of the blacks, Africa. Portuguese sailors sailed on the coast of West Africa from what is now Mauritania to South Africa (they reached the Cape of Good Hope in 1488…please notice that they had the technology to come to our world whereas we did not have the marine technology to go to their world). The Africans they saw were mostly naked and backward compared to the Europeans. Europeans had the technology to sail the high seas whereas the best Africans of the time were able to do is have dugout canoes. The European sailors did not see great African civilizations and did not see giant houses built with bricks, mortar and stones; they did not see great monuments to human ingenuity and architectural accomplishments such as the Basilica in Rome, The Notre Dame in Paris, and other architectural wonders of the Western world. In Africa they saw people living in thatched huts.
They must have asked: Why are Africans behind us? Africans certainly look like us except their color but in accomplishments they seem way behind us, so why so? They must have additionally asked whether Africans are capable of civilization or whether they are a lesser breed of human beings who cannot mount a civilization. And if they are lacking civilization because of some genetic factors do we, whites, want to intermingle with them and have our progeny degenerate to their lower levels of being? They probably did not want to be like the backward Africans that they saw.
(I am aware of West African empires, such as Ghana, Mal and, Songhai; those were strictly speaking not African civilizations for they were stimulated by Arabs and their Islam…Congo by the Portuguese… and at any rate they did not leave great monuments of achievement behind unless you consider capturing your people and matching them across the desert and selling them to Arabs as sign of civilization or in the case of the Congo selling your people to Portuguese as civilization. Some Africans take pride in ancient Egyptian civilization. Chiak Anta Diop and Chancellor Williams contend that Egypt was an African civilization. However, given where Egypt is located, on the Mediterranean with a Mediterranean climate, the chances are that like those who live in Mediterranean climes all over the world they were probably brown, not white or black although they had some Sudanese, Nubians, in their empire. Ancient Egyptians were probably like today’s Egyptians, Semitic? And even if old Egypt was African that does not mitigate the fact that in contemporary black Africa there is no advanced scientific and technological civilization.)
If we know anything for certain about human beings it is that they always want to improve themselves; they want to be better than they are. In Europe the poor want to be as good as the aristocrats who live in mansions and rule them and certainly do not want to be like what seemed to them primitive Africans. They did not want their children to be around Africans for if children are around each other they tend to grow up without any sense of race difference and marry each other. White folks probably believed that if their children married blacks and produced children that the children would be as backward as the Africans they saw in the 1400s.
Human beings are separated selves, egos housed in bodies. Their bodies are vulnerable to injury and prone to pain. Therefore, they tend to experience fear. We all feel fear of all kinds of things, including fear of harm, death and failure. Europeans probably had normal ego fears of not wanting to descend to what seemed to them lower levels of African civilization. In America where racism is intense we know that those who settled America were poor white folks. They probably wanted to be like their rich folk in Europe, like the aristocrats that owned the lands of Europe. They therefore did not want to be lowered to what seemed to them lower levels of African civilization and certainly did not want their children to descend to what seemed to them primitive African states of being.
How do I know that these were probably how white folks felt? I do not know how any human being feels; no human being is in another human being’s head to know how he feels but through projective identification we can all sense how other persons feel, not accurately, of course. What I suspect is how Europeans felt is how I felt the last time I was in Africa. I saw Africans in ragged clothes, some naked, most without shoes. The people lived in squalor and incredible poverty. I felt that the people were less developed than Europeans. From that experience I sensed how racist whites must have felt about Africans upon their encounter with Africans; they must have seen Africans as primitive and therefore not wanting anything to do with them (except use them as slaves).
I believe that the root cause of racism is Europeans perception of Africans as primitive.
So, how come Africans are backward in every area of human endeavor making it possible for those who see them to draw the inference that they are primitive? Our schools in Africa were given to us by white folks, before them we did not develop formal schooling, did not develop the art of writing, and did not invent the wheel etc.
In the extant world white racists say that black folks are less intelligent than them. They cite what they call black folks lower score on their intelligence tests as evidence. In the West there are three main intelligence Tests: Stanford Binnet, Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scales, WAIS, and Wechsler Intelligence Scales for Children, WISC. These tests are designed to figure out average folks’ intelligence. The idea is that if one is at least average that one would be able to learn at school. The tests are supposed to identify students who can benefit from regular education and those who cannot and need special education classes. The tests do not predict how the individual would do in life in general but how well he would do at learning situations.
The IQ tests are scored from one to about 140. Generally, the average white person scores 100. Some whites are above average (score from 118-130) and a handful have superior intelligence (score above 132). Asians as a whole tend to score higher than white folks, their average is about 115. Black Americans tend to score lower than whites by about fifteen points (85). Africans, we are now told, tend to score even lower than black Americans (average 70).
It should be noted that in America IQ of 70 is considered mental retardation. Africans average score therefore means that the average African is mentally retarded. At least that is the hidden message white psychometricians want to tell the general public. The other message is that Africans are so mentally retarded that they cannot govern themselves well nor do anything well. The Nobel Laureate, James Watson, of DNA fame, said as much.
(Africans appreciate the psychological warfare involved in this whole IQ business; it is propaganda to convince Africans that they are so dumb that they should allow supposed smart white persons to govern them, to do the more difficult work; this whole IQ controversy is designed to give white folks a sense of superiority over blacks and give black folk a sense of inferiority and rationalize white rule and control of black folks. One should not underestimate the warfare going on here for many white professors, especially in the physical sciences do not believe that black students can make it to prestigious universities or that black professors can teach there; blacks are supposed to teach at less demanding universities and or community colleges.)
Scores on IQ tests tend to be correlated with scores on college entrance examinations such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). White average here is about 1100 out of 1600 possible points; Asians average tends to be about 1250 out of 1600 possible scores; black Americans tend to score around 900 out of 1600 possible points. Africans probably score even lower. The implication here is that the average black person is unable to enter the top 100 American universities that supposedly select the best high school students (those with SAT scores of 1400 and higher, and high school cumulative grade point average of 3.8 out of 4).
These statistics appear to be what testers find. If they are correct the question is: Are black people at the bottom of the intelligence totem pole, with Asians at the top and white folks in the middle? If you go by the test scores you would say so. But the real question is whether those tests do in fact test Africans accurately? Do they? Does what measure intelligence in the West do so in Africa?
If intelligence is what it takes to adapt to ones environment surely Africans adapted to their environment and obviously succeeded for they are alive. If they adapted to their tropical world they surely are intelligent? A typical African child knows most of the medicinal leaves and roots in his world, a knowledge that would take medical and or pharmacological education for white folks to have.
A white racist would say that Africans adapted to their environment in the most minimal manner considering the lack of the indicators of high civilization in Africa. Africans could retort by saying that the tropical environment did not require them to be inventive to survive on it. One could go about naked in the tropics and survive. In the colder regions of the world, on the other hand, you must be inventive to survive. If you did not wear clothes and shoes you would freeze to death in England during the winter months. Moreover, nature is more generous in the tropics; one can feed on all sorts of fruits and other largesse of nature and survive all year round whereas in the temperate world one must save food for the winter months or one dies.
So why do Africans do poorly on IQ and college entrance examinations? I do not know the answer. I have seen the tests and do not consider them particularly difficult. If it is true that Africans do not do well on those tests I do not understand what is going on here.
Let me ask this question. Since the rest of the world perceives Africans to be unintelligent and backward how is it that this does not bother Africans enough for them to do something about their people? As noted above I visited Africa and saw African school children in dirty rags and wearing no shoes…they probably get infected by all sorts of parasites from walking around bare footed, such as jiggers (they are not given food at school as American school children are given, for well-fed children learn better than hungry children). So why is it that given the insults heaped on Africans by other races their leaders do not get mad enough to undertake to develop their people, provide all children of school age with good education up to university level paid for by the public, make sure that children wear good clothes and shoes and are well fed and have access to medical treatment.
Why is it that African leaders do not try to industrialize their countries so that their people would have jobs and live like the rest of the world?
Why is it that what African leaders seem to know how to do best is steal their people’s moneys and squander them overseas? Just take a look at Nigeria; due to oil, not her peoples industry, Nigeria is possibly the richest African country; most Nigerian leaders are certified criminals who steal the people’s money while the average Nigerian does not have three square meals a day and his children are semi naked and do not wear shoes. Many children do not go to schools and those that manage to do so go to schools with standards not fit for human beings. The average Nigerian secondary school graduate functions at elementary school levels and the average Nigerian university graduate is functioning at secondary school levels.
Why do Africans tolerate these things given that the rest of the world looks down on them? Are they unintelligent, as the white man says that they are?
It boggles the mind that a people seen as pariahs do not do anything to improve their people’s welfare.
A white man recently came back from Nigeria. He visited the slums of Lagos and some villages and took pictures of the people. He gathers some of us in his house and showed the pictures of the people he took. I could not believe that the pictures are of human beings. The people were virtually naked, haggard as if they were starving and generally dirty. They looked like they came from a world that is at least three thousand years behind our current world. Yet the pictures were real for I could see where he took them. I grew up at Lagos and can identify most parts of Lagos and easily identified where he took his pictures.
So, why do our leaders allow their people to live like animals in a different planet thus giving the rest of the world the impression that Africans are not intelligent, are backward and are unable to run higher civilization?
If you were white would you want your children to marry the type of persons I saw in the pictures that this white man just took of Ajagunle folk, Nigeria? The environment does affect people’s behaviors; those who grow up in a jungle must behave like jungle persons; those who live in ghettos behave like those who live in ghettos.
Is there anything the matter with Africans, especially their leaders that they cannot do simple things the other people do as a matter of daily living?
If you have been around African intellectuals you probably have heard them talk about these matters. By and large, what they do is attribute their backwardness to external causes. They have written a spate of books showing how Europeans are responsible for their degraded fate. Walter Rodney talked about “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” by taking some Africans into slavery. He ignored the role Africans played in kidnapping and selling their people to slavery. Indeed, he downplayed the fact that Africans sold their people to Arabs more than to Americans. Africans began selling their people to Arabs from about 900 AD and did not stop until 1900AD when the European scramble for Africa finally stopped the Arab slave trade.
Other African writers, such as Chinwezi, talk about “The West and the Rest of Us”, indicating how neocolonialism is responsible for the backwardness of Africa. The metropolis structures the international economy in such a manner that Africa is made the periphery, a plantation that supplies raw materials to the metropolis (Nigeria supplies crude oil to the West). The metropolis manufactures goods and sells them to the periphery at exorbitant prices (Nigeria refuses to have enough refineries to produce her domestic oil needs and have to important oil refined overseas).
Look, there is some truth to the modernization literature but the fact remains that after fifty years of self-rule and Nigeria still remaining a gutter country there is now a credibility question about Africans. If others made a mess of Africa, and they did, how come Africans are unable to correct the mess? How long would it take them to correct the mess, infinite time?
African countries got their independence around the same time Asians did but today Asians are living at near European standards of living, their economies outperforming the West. China, in five years would overtake the USA as the number one world economy, according to IMF predictions.
Very few persons these days want to listen to the rationalizations provided by Africans for their backwardness. If you have a problem you solve it, you don’t just talk about it forever and ever while doing nothing to solve it.
So, why is it that Africans do not seem to do the right thing? They inherited countries that were put together by their European colonial masters, countries where the Europeans lumped different tribes together without regard for their different cultures. It served the interest of Europe for African countries to be in conflict for that way they are more able to divide and control them. That being the case one would think that the first order of business for independent Africa was to restructure their inherited countries and make them realistic. But, no, they have not done so; all they do is bitch about how Europeans threw disparate ethnic groups into African countries hence setting them up for conflict.
In different papers I showed how each African country ought to be reorganized, with each ethnic group made a state, and allowed to develop according its national character, a central government running the country’s external affairs and the military but leaving it to the states to develop their people at their own pace. If Igbos, for example, were left to their own devices they would today be as developed as Korea, Taiwan and the other Asians tigers. Instead, they are henpecked and marginalized hence remain as backward as the rest of the people of the Nigerian state.
What is the matter with Africans, anyway; are they as dumb as white folk say that they are? I do not get it. What is so difficult about doing the right thing by our people, why do we find it easy to steal but difficult to work for our peoples good?
Are there racial differences? What do I think? Does my opinion matter or is it the case that only white folk’s opinions on this subject matter?
Who exactly gave white folks the right to even talk about black folk’s intelligence? God? What God, their God or the African God? It is their racial arrogance, their grandiosity, their delusion disorder that has disposed them to talk about black folk’s intelligence. They are not God and as such do not know what constitutes intelligence and cannot talk about it, certainly not about African folk’s intelligence. If they must talk about intelligence the, must restrict their talk to their own white intelligence and leave black folk out of it. They have absolutely no right whatsoever to talk about black folks intelligence or their lack of it. Every white person who talks about black folks intelligence is insane, deluded and ought to be hospitalized and treated for mental disorder or put out of his misery, killed by any black person who enjoys killing folks (I am assuming that there are black psychopaths as there are white psychopaths).This whole talk about Africans lack of intelligence is a declaration of war on Africans. Those at war fight with every means necessary to win it. Africans ought to fight white folks with every means necessary.
The Jew in particular must stay out of this intelligence matter for he has done enough damage to the world already. He sowed discord in the world with his religion (Christianity is of Jewish origin). The Jew has planted enough ill will for him and does not need to make life more difficult for him by talking about black folk’s lack of intelligence. The Jew is easily got rid of and must be got rid of if he continues babbling on subjects he knows nothing about. There are less than fifteen million Jews in the world and more than a billion Africans in the world so we can figure out who could destroy the other.
Are there differences between the races? If there are I have not seem them. The white folks that I have dealt with seem to me like the black folks I have dealt with. Where I am all people are the same and equal. Of course there are individual differences for each of us is unique but there are no racial differences at all.
There are cultural differences. It took a different culture to adapt to the temperate world than it took to adapt to the tropical world but that apart people are genetically the same and coequal.
(I am willing to concede that because it required a lot of technical efforts to adapt to the exigencies of their cold world that white folks have sort of developed better scientific and technical propensities hence do better than Africans in those matters. But this is a temporary advantage for sooner or later Africans will catch up, and overtake them.)
That been said I am still baffled why African leaders have not girded their selves and done what they needed to do to drag Africans to the twenty first century. I am as angry as hell at African leaders for not resolving to do what needs to be done to industrialize and modernize Africa. We must stop always explaining our backwardness and blaming other persons for it and take responsibility for our fallen house and do what we have to do to rebuild it.
Adults do not blame other persons for their fate; they take their fate in their hands and do what the exigencies of life call for them to do to live. Of course other persons would always try to use us to make living pleasant for them but we do not have to give in to their sadistic and terroristic demands from us. I am sick and tired of hearing Africans make excuses for their rotten fate, what I want to hear is what we are doing about that fate.
I am a realist (and also an idealist, I call me an idealistic realist); in the light of realism I can see that there is a temporary gulf between white and black folk. In terms of scientific and technological development the white world is five hundred years ahead of Africa (in 1543 Copernicus challenged the geocentric view of the universe and later in the 1600s Galileo provided scientific proof that the sun is the center of our solar system hence became the first modern scientist, and Newton followed with his three laws of motion and law of gravitation and gave the West a jumpstart on science).
Africa has not even begun the scientific endeavor yet. This is a fact and I accept it without being defensive. Europeans are ahead of us by many centuries. Because they are ahead of us I can see how they can see us as primitive and backward and not want to mingle with us. I accept the reality of racism because I understand its roots. However, that I accept its temporary reality does not mean that people are different.
If Africans work as hard as hell they can catch up with the West in a century and thereafter overtake them. If Africans are like Igbos we can even over take the West in less than a century.
In the meantime, I understand the root cause of racism…the fact that white folks are ahead of black folks in material culture… and that is the point I wanted to make in this paper. One does not deny a reality that stares one in the eyes with childish rationalization, such as making wild claims that Egypt was an African civilization hence Africans are at the same level as white folks. Well, Africans have not contributed to the science that we study in school.
(Show me African equivalents of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Kepler, Tyco Brahe, Dalton, Boyle, Thomson, Harvey, Pasteur, Mendel, Faraday, Darwin, Lavoisier, James Clerk Maxwell, J. J. Thompson, Bozeman, Planck, Rutherford, Currie, Einstein, Bohr, Flaming, Heisenberg, Schrodinger, Broglie, Pauli, Dirac, Chadwick, Pauling, Born, Darlington, Meitner, Fermi, Oppenheimer, Friedmann, Lemaitre, Hubble, Gamow, Hoyle, Crick, Watson, Gell-Mann, Wheeler, Alan Guth and the other giants of the physical sciences; show me any African who has received the Nobel Prize in the physical sciences. The Nobel Prize in peace and literature is not important; what counts are the physical sciences.)
I accept racism because I understand its cause. However, I am not justifying racism.
The world of the future is ours to earn if we want it that bad. I want it and hope that you, too, do. Science is currently at an impasse waiting for another group of giants to move it forward. At the beginning of the twentieth century science was at a similar point until Max Plank and the Quantum mechanics and Einstein and his relativity theory jumped started it. Today, there is search for unification of the four forces of nature (strong and weak nuclear force, electromagnetism and gravity), the nature of dark matter and dark energy, whether in fact many universes exist in the same space…it is speculated that where we are other universes are, each operating at different dimensions, ours is three dimensional whereas others may have more dimensions, the origin of the universe…something cannot come from nothing so to say that a hot thing came from nowhere and shattered in a big bang and stated this world begs the matter; where the universe is expanding to, the nature of the human brain and body etc. there are simply many scientific questions awaiting answers to them and Africans can make contributions to these subjects (some even say that the African mind is more attuned to answering these type of questions, that the European has reached the end of his tethers and that Africans will move us forward).
Let us get to work instead of wasting our time being defensive and not doing anything to improve our African world.
PS: I have noticed the existence of a shallow breed of African pseudo intellectuals that take their shabbily understood white ideas and lob them at any African that asks serious questions. Alfred Adler contributed the idea of inferiority and superiority complex to psychoanalytic psychology. These days some idiotic Africans borrow from Adler and quickly call any African that raises the question of why Africans are backward a person with inferiority feeling, a person ashamed of his Africanness. Adler, the originator of the concept, admitted that he had inferiority complex and said that all human beings do and that all of us struggle for superiority and power hence all of us are neurotic needing to shrink our swollen egos. So, let us stop calling each other stupid names and address our issues squarely.