Some westerners assert that Africa's socio-economic predicament is attributable to inferior intelligence. The 18th century Scottish philosopher, economist and historian, David Hume, is quoted by Morton (1999) as saying that he is '… apt to suspect the Negroes to be naturally inferior to the Whites. There scarcely ever was a civilised nation of that complexion, nor even any individual, eminent either in action or in speculation. No ingenious manufacture among them, no arts, no sciences'. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant is believed to have added that: 'The yellow Indians do have a meagre talent. The Negroes are far below them, and at the lowest point are a part of the American people' (Boxill 2001).
As if that was not enough, the 19th century German philosopher, George Friedrich Hegel pronounced that 'Africa is no historical part of the world' and that Blacks have no 'sense of personality; their spirit sleeps, remains sunk in itself, makes no advance, and thus parallels the compact, undifferentiated mass of the African continent' (Gilman 1982: 94). In the early 20th century another German, Otto Weininger added a drop of water to the abhorrent vast ocean of racist comments by uttering that: 'A genius has perhaps scarcely ever appeared amongst the negroes, and the standard of their morality is almost universally so low that it is beginning to be acknowledged in America that their emancipation was an act of imprudence' (Weininger 1906: 302).
In 2003, the uncouth Paul Holmes, one of New Zealand's leading broadcasters committed the fallacy of argumentum ad hominem (also known as abusive ad hominem) by questioning the integrity, intelligence and competence of the noble man, Busumuru Kofi Annan as UN secretary general on the grounds of his colour and country of origin and not his deeds (or performances) and personal achievements and/or failures. He remarked during a live morning radio show: 'It is all very well, giving a darkie that Secretary General's job.... We are not going to be told how to live our lives by a Ghanaian'. This was after he had repeatedly referred to the honourable man as 'cheeky darkie'.
Some contemporary academics like James Watson, a renowned US scientist and a Nobel Prize winner for his part in discovering the structure of DNA also asserts that the black brain is naturally incapable of formulating and carrying through effective policies. In an interview with The Sunday Times in October 2007, he remarked that he is 'inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa [because] all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really.' Annoyingly, the so-called 'testing' he referred to is absolutely non-existent.
Professor Watson further stated that there was an innate desire that all human beings should be equal, however, 'people who have to deal with black employees find this not true'. For him, 'there is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so.'
Mr Watson, his predecessors and exponents would certainly be found wanting if they were to define the term 'intelligence' and how it is measured. I diametrically oppose the view that Africans or Black people are intellectually handicapped and are condemned to economic wretchedness. As a matter of fact, a thousand-paged book will not be big enough if I am to comprehensively defend this position. Here, I will only give one or two very ordinary and simple points to support my stand.
If the advocates of Mr Watson's proposition define 'intelligence' in terms of academic success, then many Whites and people of other races who have sat in the same classroom or lecture room with Blacks to pursue the same academic programme can testify that Blacks have come out top on many occasions. Some of us have in fact offered extra tutorials to many of our White course-mates or classmates on their own soil using their own language.
Most mechanics in Africa are able to bring a hugely savaged vehicle back to its normal state – something very few mechanics in the western world can even attempt. A personal observation and the outcome of a survey conducted in two western countries induce me to believe that the Black African brain is probably sharper in learning languages than that of any other race on earth.
The point being arrived at is that until a generally accepted definition of the term 'intelligence' is given, and a scientific and supremely credible criterion or criteria for measuring intelligence is provided, no one can justifiably question the intellectual prowess of an individual let alone the entire members of a particular human race. The whole idea of classifying all members of a certain race as less intelligent is thus not only flawed but betrays one's own ignorance and exposes his ethnocentric bias. The established truth is that every human race is made up of both the intellectually strong and weak.
Unlike Mr Watson and his advocates, other theorists use the weak economic condition of Black African nations as the basis of a conclusion that Blacks have inferior intelligence. In other words, whereas Watson and his proponents hold that Africans are in economic predicament due to their possession of inferior intelligence – a claim that has never been scientifically proven, others argue that the fact that Black Africans are in serious economic misery suggests that they are intellectually challenged. If the latter school of thought is measuring Africans' intellectual position using just one criterion – economic state, then they are among the most confused and miserable thinkers on earth, as a country's economic situation does not necessarily define, or probably has got nothing to do with, the intellectual state of its people.
All the millions of people in a country cannot be rulers at the same time; only a few get the chance to steer the political and economic affairs of the country. If the person or persons mandated to lead, or those who force themselves into positions of authority (as is usually the case in many African nations) turn out to be crooks or incompetent, would that mean that all the people in the country are also bad or incompetent? The truth is that, with the right leaders (i.e. positive minded, selfless and patriotic people) laying down the right foundation, nations in Africa could be world leaders in economic prosperity, and do even greater things. Let the Ghana government for instance offer the mechanics at Suame Magazine in Kumasi, the needed funding and support and they will be designing and manufacturing super cars if not aircrafts within a couple of years.
How does one expect for instance graduates in Mechanical Engineering from a university in an African country to start designing and building significant machines when they never had the privilege to learn the practical aspect of the discipline due to the nonexistence of the required facilities and apparatuses? If White graduates who pursued a similar programme in a western based university and had access to all the needed facilities to develop the practical skills, start inventing an aircraft with a swimming pool, would that necessarily make them more intelligent than their African colleagues? I, for instance, never glimpsed a computer until I found myself in an European country in the year 2000 even though I had completed a three year programme in philosophy and sociology at the tertiary level in Ghana. As a matter of fact, very few White students can survive the abysmal conditions most students in Africa pass through before completing their secondary and tertiary educations.
Nevertheless, there are, and have been a number of great but often unrecognized Black leaders in the world of invention and innovation. For over three centuries many Black people have served as pioneers in the field of science and technology, industrialization, modern agriculture, and many more, making enormous impact on society. To tell the truth, many modern or contemporary amenities and necessities are directly linked to or derivative of, the inventions of Black people.
The fact that the gas mask, the traffic light (traffic signal), the artificial heart pacemaker, the Laserphaco Probe and procedure for the removal of cataracts, automatic shoe-lasting machine, the world's fastest computer, air-cooling unit or refrigeration (for trucks, train, ship, and aircraft transporting perishable food), the first clock in the United States, the radio frequency mass spectrometer, blood banks, the mic (officially known as the Electroacoustic Transducer Electret Microphone), the Image Converter, the Far Ultraviolet Camera (Spectrograph), programmable remote control, the automatic lubricating cup which provided oil to moving trains, the automatic railroad coupler (Jenny Coupler), the Multiplex Telegraph, and many others were invented by Black people, demonstrates how wrong, pathetic and ignorant, Hume, Hegel, Weininger, Watson and their exponents were or are in pronouncing that nothing innovative has ever or could ever come out of the Black race.
My message for Black people is simple: never succumb to the erroneous notion that White people are intellectually superior to Black people; rubbish the perception that Blacks are destined to remain in economic misery; have in mind that there is no such thing as African standards in terms of quality – international or global standards should always be the benchmark; be selfless; and let the sky be the limit. Let us work together to prove the racists and mockers wrong.
Emmanuel Sarpong Owusu-Ansah (Black Power) is a lecturer and an investigative journalist in London, UK. He is the author of 'Fourth Phase of Enslavement: unveiling the plight of African immigrants in the West'. He may be contacted via email ([email protected]yahoo.it).