In a leaked speech of South Africa’s President Pieter Botha to his Cabinet in 1985, he said categorically that whites were superior to blacks in all spheres of life. He even suggested that blacks were actually a different species from whites. “Hedgehogs are not porcupines and lizards are not crocodiles simply because they look alike,” he said, trying to insinuate that blacks may look like whites in that they walk on two legs, they speak, laugh or cry like whites, but they are a different species.
He went on to assert that blacks were “good in nothing else but making noise, dancing, marrying many wives and indulging in sex,” adding: “ Let us accept that the black man is a symbol of poverty, mental inferiority, laziness and emotional incompetence.”
Of course, when the speech leaked many years later, the former President’s sympathisers said anything they could to distance Botha from it. Somehow they realised that it was scandalous to say anything like that. Whether indeed these things were said or not, it remains true that there are many white people on this planet who regard themselves as vastly superior to blacks, socially, mentally, politically and economically.
I have always maintained that whatever differences exist between the capabilities of whites as compared to blacks are due not so much to intrinsic, biological factors as to culture. Black people have, for example, not developed a mathematical culture and it is consequently not surprising we have not had the likes of Pythagoras or Euler in our history. The Chichewa method of counting is so cumbersome that by the time you go beyond five, you use mouthfuls of expressions to state a number. Other African languages fare no better in this respect. The number 16, for example, would read something like khumi ndi zisanu ndi chimodzi. You would, therefore, need a whole paragraph just to state the expression 16 x 17 in Chichewa.
One thing I like about culture is that it is changeable. I have always said that culture is not cast in stone. The fact that our ancestors were strangers to scientific or mathematical concepts does not mean black people will always be inferior in these fields or indeed any other fields. It is simply a question of exposure.
I was recently pleasantly surprised to learn of a 10-year-old Nigerian girl, Esther Okade, who is pursuing a Mathematics degree in a British University. In all other respects she is just like any other 10-year-old girl—she is shy and she likes to play. But when it comes to Mathematics, she is in a world of her own. Esther is simply pure genius. In a recent examination, she came up tops, with a mark of 100 percent. I wonder what Botha would have said about this girl. I do not think anybody in Botha’s clan would come close to Esther’s intellectual finesse. And yet she is black.
Nowhere is the adage “Do not judge a book by its cover” more applicable in modern times than in the comparison across races between people’s performance in academics, sports, or the arts.
Some white people, desirous of keeping the black race out of the history of civilisation, have deliberately attempted to obscure some historical facts.
Writing in the National Geographic Magazine of February, 2008, Robert Draper bemoans the obscurity of a black dynasty of Pharaohs that ruled ancient Egypt for 75 years.
“Until recently,” says Draper, “theirs [the black Pharaohs’] was a chapter of history that went untold. Only in the past four decades have archaeologists resurrected their story—and come to recognise that the black pharaohs didn’t appear out of nowhere. They sprang from a robust African civilisation that had flourished on the southern banks of the Nile for 2 500 years, going back at least as far as the first Egyptian dynasty.”
Let us never be cheated, there is not a single race that has a monopoly of brilliance. If we search diligently within our own race, we will discover that we have the same capability to achieve great things as the races that have for a long time regarded themselves as superior. Biological characteristics do not determine the level of one’s achievement. Cultural factors can prevent certain groups from achieving certain things, but culture can easily be adapted, making it possible for the hidden potential among the people belonging to those cultural groups to be unleashed. n
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