Zainab Kperogi, Daily Trust (Abuja, Nigeria), October 29, 2007
When I read James Dewey Watson’s thesis, I knew that he had not only stirred the hornet’s nest, but has actually ripped through it. Instantly, I knew that reactions will come in torrents and sure they came in thick and fast. Among the tonnes of articles that have been written, two articles written by Simon Kolawole in the Thisday of Sunday, October 21 and Idang Alibi’s column of Thursday, October 25 in Daily Trust, made interesting reading. For those who have not read it, Watson put his foot in the mouth when he said that black people are less intelligent than their white counterparts.
Mark you, Watson is not your run-of-the-mill knee jerk ideologues who make baseless statements either for the fun of them or to court controversy just to be in the news. Over the statement, James Dewey Watson is not only a Nobel Prize laureate, but the man who contributed immensely to the discovery of the structure of DNA. So, a man of Watson’s scientific stature can’t be dismissed out of hand. However, his statement is not only controversial but it is generating debates across the globe. More so, it has re-opened the never-ending theory of white supremacy and black inferiority.
While Alibi agreed almost totally with Dr Watson, Kolawole agreed in part and disagreed in another. The Nobel laureate was reported to have stated that he was “gloomy about the prospect of Africa . . . all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours—whereas all the testing says not really”. He went ahead to give example of black employees under white employers, saying that the latter have found it hard working with the former. This assertion is a loaded one and it opens a whole gamut of debates which are too broad to accommodate here. However, the beauty of the ongoing discourse is that many of Watson’s colleagues, especially the whites, have not only condemned the statement, but Watson himself. Before we get carried away by emotions and become enmeshed in the theory of black pride, we should ponder awhile and do some soul-searching. When we do that objectively and look all around us, we will not disagree too much with Watson.
Over several years, almost every other race in the world has evolved from the animalistic level, but the black man is rather descending further into it. Whenever debates like this crop up, instead of us to pull back and reflect on the reasons why such a statement is made, our first and instinctive reactions are misdirected indignation and denial.
We’re very good at putting blames for our underdevelopment at the doorstep of any other person’s, but not at our doorstep where they squarely belong. We often blame slavery and colonialism for our backwardness but we were not the only ones that have so suffered. India was also under British rule but unlike us, they are not only a nuclear power but one of the world’s leaders in Information Technology. Again, their population is much higher than ours, and they’re also multi-religious like most Black societies. The same goes for China. I’m not comparing these countries with Nigeria alone; I’m talking of the whole Black race.
There are many factors militating against our development, among which are that we lack depth and perseverance. This love for quick-fixes makes us to easily lose interest in whatever will not benefit us financially. In addition, we do not have a maintenance culture and do not mind staying in filthy environments. Most of our workforce is redundant and civil servants most often than not loaf around. Governments cannot re-focus the ministries to function properly. The ministries, both state and federal, have always been described in derogatory terms as avenues for gossiping.
We’re so used to talking rather than acting, which is why our rulers have continued to make very banal promises without concrete actions.
Most of us blacks simply do not have the capacity to think very deeply and a people that can’t do this, in addition to planning, strategising and organising, can’t make progress. About 70% of blacks lack these attributes and the few that have them are too engrossed in their individual achievements and cannot be bothered with the common wealth.
If we are tired of insults, why don’t we try to prove the White supremacy theory wrong by developing our societies? No one can deny that our African rulers lack focus, vision and strategy and the fact that they are kleptomaniacs. I find it exceedingly stupid of any African ruler to go cap in hand begging for debt relief after having siphoned billions of his country’s money to the very people he went to ask for reprieve. How can anybody blame the whites for thinking we’re less intelligent?
I always view with scepticism the MoUs signed by Nigerian rulers with other rulers. I always believe that our rulers leave us holding the shorter end of the stick. They do not even bother if the deals do not fall through eventually. The next ruler simply either initiates another down-the-drain deal or continues (at a much higher cost, of course), from where his predecessor stopped. How can we believe we’re as intelligent as the whites, or other races?
Part of the problems that we have is greed; which is why just one person will appropriate to himself what should ordinarily belong to all. This is the reason why our useless and stupid rulers cannot channel our abundant resources to areas that will be of benefit to all. We hardly have this self-sacrificing spirit. A white man or woman can leave the comfort of his country and stay in a remote African country simply because he or she believes that they can improve on the lives of those people. Examples abound when we think of the missionary preachers. All the structures that were constructed during the colonial eras have been destroyed by us—schools, especially missionary schools that used to be of high standards, where the environments were kept clean; hospitals; roads; houses; even our electricity has never been improved upon. How then can we truly claim we’re intelligent?
The moment oil was discovered, everybody became much lazier than they used to be. Laziness is one of the causes of our underdevelopment. I can’t imagine how anybody can sit down from morning till night doing nothing except staring into space and dreaming of making millions that he has no clue how to get legitimately. It’s probably why ritual killings have been in existence in Africa, and particularly here in Nigeria. Also, one of our banes is equating age with wisdom. Gerontocracy can explain years of experience, but definitely not wisdom. When Albert Einstein discovered the nitrogen bomb, he was very young!
In almost all parts of the world where blacks are in the majority, one is bound to find that their resources are not properly being harnessed. When the Dominican Republic and Haiti were one country, their development was slow. The Dominican Republic people who look more like Asians, decided to separate from Haiti and they have never looked backed in terms of rapid development. Haitians who are mostly blacks have on the other hand retrogressed further than they used to be. Their roads and other infrastructures are not better than what we have in many villages in Nigeria. How can we explain this?
Papua New Guinea, which is close to Australia and New Zealand, is a country constituted of black people that were never enslaved, according to historical facts, but they have never developed either. All these factors would make anybody who’s not black to believe that there must be something very wrong with the genetic make-up of us black people.
We have continued to argue that whites seem more intelligent because of their nutrition, environment and social make-up. Why can’t we create similar things for ourselves? On the whole, even though I don’t believe that Dr Watson is completely right, I can’t help feeling that much of his words are true. Among white supremacists, it’s always bandied around that if you do not want blacks to know something, put it in a book.
This is to indicate that we do not read. And to be sincere, how many people open a book or magazine to read in any given day? Most would rather sit and idle away the day chitchatting on nothing substantial. This is why when arguments ensue, many cannot substantiate their positions with facts; they rather rely on conjectures.
We find it very taxing to exercise our God-given brains. The brain is composed of billions of cells that die every year as we grow older. Once these cells are not challenged efficiently, they decrease in potency. Reading helps to develop and expand the brain, which is why I advocate that children should be encouraged to read more rather than to watch TV.
We’re also often referred to as all brawns and no brains. In Nigeria, especially here in Abuja, when I look at the Julius Berger workers and how they’re always herded into those long trailers that belong to the company like sheep, I can’t help but agree with this concept.
We believe too much in the physical, which is why a farmer or carpenter will keep hoeing or sawing away without thinking of how to make his work easier through inventing a machine that could assist to ease his burden. We hardly go for the qualitative; we believe too much in the quantitative.
Most African rulers have not proved all these accusations wrong, because they’ve not been able to lift their people out of the rot that they’ve been in since their countries gained independence from colonial rule. The years keep rolling by and there’s no sign of seriousness on the part of many of them.
So how can we strongly claim that we’re intelligent? Since we are in the age of science, someday Dr Watson, who is a great geneticist or some other geneticist may well prove that blacks are genetically less intelligent than the whites. Even with when theory is proven beyond reasonable doubt, most apostles of negritude will still prefer to bury their heads in the sand!
[Editor’s Note: “Alibi”’s article “I Agree With Dr. Watson” can be read here.]