Sackcloth And Ashes

Sackcloth And Ashes
  • PublishedApril 4, 2006

“Those who dare spit at the sky, only dirty their own faces” – African proverb. As Beefs was enjoying its well-deserved holiday, a kind friend in Germany reminded me of the immortal words of the African-American in Texas, who, in his halting English, set the following in gold many years ago:

“When I born, I black. When I grow up, I black. When I go in sun, I black. When I cold, I black. When I scared, I black. When I sick, I black. And when I die, I still black. [But] you white folks … when you born, you pink. When you grow up, you white. When you go in sun, you red. When you cold, you blue. When you scared, you yellow. When you sick, you green. When you bruised, you purple. And when you die, you grey. So who you callin’ coloured?”

Well, Beefs is back. The butcher’s shop is open. The queue is forming. Buy one kilo, get one free. But watch your mouth, you might bite more than you can chew. Sorry, I have been enjoying my holiday so much that I have forgotten that we are now in this golden age of freedom of speech and of the press where irrespective of whose goat is gored, or whose prophet or religion is lampooned, you still cannot go beyond the bounds of decency and acceptability. “I hate his views, but do defend his right to express them” has become the new mantra in the so-called established democracies. Well, let’s put it to the test.

As I am writing, a huge uproar is raging on the campus of the University of Leeds in the north of England, where Dr Frank Ellis, a lecturer in Russian and Slavonic Studies, has sent many people’s blood pressures soaring above the acceptable level by claiming (in fact repeating, because this is not new) that black people are genetically less intelligent than white people, and women are intellectually inferior to men. Ellis said he supported the widely discredited Bell Curve theory propounded in a 1994 book of the same title written by the American academics, Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, which claimed that African-Americans were intellectually inferior to white Americans, based on their IQ scores.

“The Bell Curve has demonstrated to me beyond any reasonable doubt [that] there is a persistent gap in average black and white average intelligence,” Ellis told the Leeds University newspaper, The Student. When his views were attacked, Ellis wrote a follow-up article insisting that “multiculturalism is doomed to failure – and is failing – because it is based on the lie that all people, races and cultures are equal; that no one race or culture is better (superior) than any other. Such lies are propagated by The Guardian-reading classes.” Ellis has also been reported to have cited research which claimed that the average IQ on the African continent was 70, giving him the satisfaction to say: “In the West, an individual with an IQ of 70 would be regarded as being very close [to], or within the range of, mental retardation.”

Since the uproar, I have been reading up on the Bell Curve theory, and even with my untrained eye and an IQ of 70, I can say, hand on my heart, that it is not up to scratch. No wonder lots of experts have roundly dismissed it. Space constraints do not permit me here to go into the fine details of the Bell Curve (perhaps we will continue next month), but hundreds of students of the University of Leeds, from all races, are now up in arms, demanding that Dr Ellis be sacked before he infects too many students with his poison.

In an editorial comment on 11 March, the British daily, The Independent, called Ellis “a racist [who] knew exactly what he was doing – to provoke a public row about freedom of speech in which he would play the role of martyr. The row is now upon us and students and staff alike are in uproar… Dr Ellis’ views are undoubtedly repugnant … It takes no great leap of imagination to conclude that [he] is a racist and that he is dredging up the pseudo-science of the Bell Curve for malign purposes. It is deeply regrettable that such a man should be in a position to teach students, some of whom will be from ethnic minorities.”

I listened to Ellis defend himself on BBC Radio 5 Live on 8 February: “I have read an enormous amount of literature on this subject and I find it extremely convincing,” he said, after which a good son of Africa, George Shire, himself a university lecturer, born and bred in Munhumutapa and who now earns his bread in Her Majesty’s kingdom, was so furious that he shouted himself hoarse into the BBC microphone for minutes on end. Many nice people came on the line and said even though they hated Ellis’ views, they would still defend his right to express them, and that minority groups had become too touchy these days. The slightest thing they are offended. “These days a racist is anything you don’t like – it’s a hate word. I have no strong feelings towards black people either way,” Ellis chirped. George Shire was having none of it.

I was having breakfast at the time and I nearly choked on my cornflakes. “Calm down, George, I am sending you a truckload of support,” I said, and rushed for my telephone. I have never called any phone-in programme before, but I felt on that Wednesday morning to call Radio 5 Live. Five times, I couldn’t get through and gave up. I had to go to work.

If I had managed to reach the BBC switchboard, I would have told them I had a simple solution. Anybody who, in this day and age, believes that his skin colour is white, and still insists that his IQ is superior to a black person’s, is not worthy of a response.

Anybody reading this, and who thinks he or she is white, and is wearing a white shirt or blouse, could you please get to a mirror? Can you see your white shirt or blouse and the colour of your neck or face? Can you see the contrast? Is your shirt/blouse white, and your neck/face pink? Please don’t rub your neck, you haven’t used make-up. That is the natural colour of your skin. Yet the “received wisdom” is that your skin is white – a white man, a white woman – and I, from Africa, am black – a black man. Perhaps this very fact never gets mentioned in the IQ tests and the literature read by Dr Ellis and his ilk. But today, I am going to propound a Baffour Curve: Anybody who believes, in this day and age, that his/her skin is white should spare us the soaring of our blood pressures by not claiming that he/she has a superior IQ. Anybody with a superior IQ will not make such a claim. Period.

That is why I get quite distressed when I see Africans allowing themselves to be led by the nose by “white”-run human rights groups on matters African. The latest fashion is the campaign for the arrest and trial of the former presidents of Chad and Liberia, Hissan Habre and Charles Taylor respectively.

As Akinwale Akintunde reported from Lagos on 25 November last year, a group calling itself Campaign Against Impunity (“a coalition involving Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Open Society, Justice Initiatives and over 300 African civil society organisations”), has been pressing the African Commission to take a stand in support of thousands of victims of Habre and Taylor’s alleged crimes.

According to the coalition, the victims, their relatives and the society at large all have a vital interest in having abusers of human rights brought to justice. Akintunde quoted the Africa programme director of Amnesty International, Kolawale Olaniyan, as having said: “Bringing perpetrators to justice also sends a clear message that violations of human rights will not be tolerated and that those who commit such acts will be held fully accountable.”

As Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, would say, “these civil society groups have had an irony bypass”. On Hissan Habre who ruled Chad between 1982 and 1990, and is allegedly responsible for “tens of thousands of political murders”, the African NGOs and their foreign masters, led by the US-based Human Rights Watch, have been urging the AU to recommend his extradition to Belgium to stand trial for “crimes against humanity”. The AU politely rejected the demand at its last summit in Sudan.

Human Rights Watch proudly states on its website that it “has been working for seven years with the victims of Hissan Habre to bring him to trial. In September 2005, a Belgian judge issued an international arrest warrant charging Habre with crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture committed during his 1982-1990 rule”.

Well, let me make myself clear here before I am accused of supporting alleged human rights abusers and war criminals. I don’t care whichever African is tried for human rights violations and war crimes. What I do care is the selective hounding of some alleged abusers in Africa when others, by virtue of their “white” skin, are turned into sacred cows.

Belgium was the country that sent a gang of murderers to DRCongo to kill Patrice Lumumba, cut up his body and dumped the bits in a barrel of acid, obliterating the evidence. The Belgian king, Leopold I, was the man who supervised the genocide of over 10 million Congolese when he had the place to himself, so he could use Congo’s resources to build Belgium. What has Belgium done to these crimes against the Africans? After decades of denial, a pathetic apology was forced out of the Belgian parliament three or so years ago. That’s all! And 300 African civil society groups want to extradite Hissan Habre to stand trial in Belgium! Of all places?! Where did our self-worth and honour go, Africa?! Where? Would Israel extradite its war criminals to stand trial in Germany?

Tell me, does impunity only becomes an issue in Africa when the alleged abuser or war criminal happens to be black? Has the Coalition Against Impunity (nice name that) heard about Ian Smith or P. W. Botha or the others who happen to have European surnames and still walk free in Africa? Or are we saying “white” skin makes impunity lose its meaning? And the African victims less worthy of justice? Or is it only me having trouble with my IQ of 70? I can’t get it!

Written By
Baffour Ankomah

Baffour Ankomah is New African's current Editor at Large. He has spent much of his 39 years of journalism at the magazine, having served as its Assistant Editor for 6 years, Deputy Editor for 5 years, and Editor for 15 years, retiring from active service in 2014. In 39 years of his journalism career - Africa and his many causes have been his passion. His personal column, Baffour's Beefs, which has been running continuously in New African since 1987, is a big hit and a must-read for the magazine's worldwide readers. He is now based in Zimbabwe, where he and his wife Elizabeth run their own media consultancy and fashion house called "African Interest" which trades under the trademark "I am African".

1 Commentaire

  • The late Mwalimu Nyerere of Tanzania once said: “We, human beings, are doing things which even animals don’t do. Racialism and racism are beyond brutality.” It is, indeed, very strange to see academicians wasting time and resources researching such stupidity as the IQ gap between the so called White and Black people. What has IQ to do with colour or sex? This is non-sense!It is an undeniable fact that the first university in the world was in Africa, Timbuktu University to be specific. Is it not a proof that Africans are intelligent? Africa’s pace of development was frustrated by those who regard themselves intellectually superior. Had it been not without their frustration, Africa would on the top of development ladder.

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