In recent times, there seems to be a rising awareness of the danger of racism in contemporary society. The rise of Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd and the reopening of the debate on reparations by Western countries to African Americans and their nations of origin in Africa are all a pointer to this heightened awareness. For some, the heinousness of slavery is of such magnitude that the (White) Europeans who took part in it are guilty of an unforgivable offence and, as a consequence, their descendants should spend the rest of their lives asking for pardon and doing reparations for the sins of their ancestors. The foregoing is the core concept behind the controversial Critical Race Theory (CRT) that is now being taught to high (secondary) school students in the United States of America.
Racism is not a White thing. Rather it is a common manifestation of (foolish) pride which is a consequence of our fallen human nature and interior brokenness
Anti-racism activists such as Ibram X Kendi often lash out against what they call a White Supremacist Agenda and even go as far as affirming that just being born White is to incur the Original Sin of being a racist and White supremacist! For him and his fellow CRT antiracist activists, contemporary society especially in the West is so thoroughly imbued with racism that every institution and even the psyche of individuals both White and non-White is influenced by the racist assumption that White people are superior to non-White people. With the aim of mitigating this fundamental error, the anti-racist movement has developed its supporting moral codes and practices with the same zeal as practitioners of a new religion aimed at overthrowing White Supremacy and restoring the dignity of indigenous people everywhere especially the Blacks who are the most oppressed.
Among Nigerians with a traditionalist cultural bent, Critical Race Theory has provided a very convenient explanation of what they consider to be the deliberate destruction of indigenous culture with the advent of colonization by the White man (Oyibo or Onye-Ocha) aptly alluded to in Chinua Achebe’s classic work Things Fall Apart. As proof of the foregoing plot by the colonial powers to destroy our indigenous culture, a friend recently shared the following quote alleged to have been made by Lord Macauley to the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835: “I have travelled across the length and breadth of Africa and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, and people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage and therefore I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Africans think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.”
I am yet to verify the authenticity of this quote but even if it were true that Lord Macaulay actually said this, the quote omits the reactions that his purported address to the British Parliament elicited. The House of Commons is notorious for being the venue of heated and opposing views. There is no indication that Lord Macaulay’s observation was adopted as a deliberate colonial strategy. Colonial policy in Nigeria is in fact a case study on the effects of differing approaches to colonization in Nigeria. Indirect rule in Northern Nigeria left the revered ancient educational system in place along with the ancient spiritual and cultural practices while direct rule in the South led to the large-scale adoption and adaptation of Western (European) culture and education. The consequences of these two approaches are patently obvious in present-day Nigeria.
But are Whites inherently racist as the Anti-Racist and Critical Race Theory activists allege? Are we Black Africans inherently anti-racist in practice? Documentary eyewitness testimony of the colonial and missionary experience does not support such an assertion. The Marxist critique of colonialism often fails to distinguish the differences in motivation between the missionaries and the merchants. For them, the missionaries were basically colonialists in disguise sent as advance parties of the colonial project. Yes, the Royal Niger Company and its successor entities came in search of trade and vital raw materials. In contrast, the missionaries came to evangelize the people. Despite the many mistakes and errors they made, they promoted the building of hospitals and schools throughout their areas of influence. Many people do not realize that many indigenous languages were literally created by the missionaries in their quest to translate the Bible into vernacular for the purpose of evangelization. The missionaries often clashed with the colonial authorities when they felt their policies were detrimental to the well-being of the indigenous populations. At times the missionaries were accused of being too sympathetic with the indigenous people and opposing the colonial authorities. It is noteworthy that the Efiks and the Itsekiris are notorious for their belief in their cultural superiority over the Ibibios and the Urhobos, respectively. The historical basis for this is their early contact with the European slave traders who often armed them to enable them to hunt these people down for sale as slaves!
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The foregoing and our own experience as Nigerians are enough proof that Racism is not a White thing. Rather it is a common manifestation of (foolish) pride which is a consequence of our fallen human nature and interior brokenness. The family and culture you are born into and exposed to have an influence on you even though you retain the capacity (freedom) to decide what you want to do with your life and who you want to become. All cultures are not equally supportive of human flourishing. Some are more technologically and culturally advanced than others due to geographical location, natural resources, etc, all of which are a manifestation of Providence. So, just like privileged children may regard other children from less privileged backgrounds to be inferior to themselves, so do we at a personal level often regard our natural aptitudes (gifts) as proof of our superiority over others. From there comes the temptation to regard our family members, members of our community, and tribe to be superior to that of others! Inequality (our talents), when weaponized often begets envy in the people we consider ourselves superior to. These same talents, when used to serve others, contribute to the common good and build the community. The heroic and exemplary lives of many of the missionaries who came to evangelize Southern Nigeria give testimony to the use of their talent to serve the common good and build the community.
The racist fails to acknowledge the reality of the gratuitousness of his natural talents and accidents of birth that are the basis of his privilege. Rather, he erroneously considers them as his birthright. We are all potentially racist because of our fallen nature. Let us stop expressing undue outrage over it as if we were incapable of being partial (racist)! The foregoing is in no way an attempt to excuse racism. Rather it seeks to clarify the root cause of racism and provide a viable and realistic framework for combating it. I consider every attempt to totally eradicate racism as an unrealistic utopic dream that misses the fundamental truth about human nature: our innate brokenness! Through proper education and exposure, we may reduce its external manifestations, but personal interior conversion is the only fundamental solution. The root of Racism is the heart and so long as it harbours the wrong values, it will only require an opportunity for those values to be made manifest in action.
Nyambi writes from Lagos