BLACK SKIN, WHITE MIND: HOW IT STARTED with our Columnist Sserubiri.
No systematic effort toward change has been possible, for, taught the same economics, history, philosophy, literature and religion which have established the present code of morals, the African’s mind has been brought under control of his oppressor. The problem of holding the African down, therefore, is easily solved. When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his “proper place” and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. His education makes it necessary.
The same educational process which inspires and stimulates the oppressor with the thought that he is everything and has accomplished everything worthwhile, depresses and crushes at the same time the spark of genius in the African by making him feel that his race does not amount to much and never will measure up to the standards of other peoples. The African thus educated is a hopeless liability of the race. The difficulty is that the “educated African” is compelled to live and move among his own people whom he has taught to despise.
The “educated Africans” have the attitude of contempt toward their own people because in their own schools Africans are taught to admire the Romans, Greek and the European and to despise the African. The thought of the inferiority of the African is drilled into him in almost every class he enters and in almost every book he studies.
To handicap a student by teaching him that his black face is a curse and that his struggle to change his condition is hopeless is the worst sort of lynching. It kills one’s aspirations and dooms him to vagabondage and crime. It is strange, then, that the friends of truth and the promoters of freedom have not risen up against the present propaganda in the schools and crushed it. This crusade is much more important than the anti-lynching movement, because there would be no lynching if it did not start in the schoolroom. Why not exploit, enslave, or exterminate a class that everybody is taught to regard as inferior.
Our most widely known scholars have been trained in Universities outside Africa. Most of what these Universities have offered as language, mathematics and science may have served a good purpose, but much of what they have taught as economics, history, literature, religion and philosophy is propaganda and that involved a waste of time and misdirected the Africans thus trained. When the African has finished his education in our schools, then he has been equipped to begin the life of a Europeanized man, but before he steps from the threshold of his alma mater he is told by his teachers that he must go back to his own people from whom he has been estranged by a vision of ideals which in his disillusionment he will realize that he cannot attain. The people whom he has been ordered to serve have been belittled by his teachers to the extent that he can hardly find delight in undertaking what his education has led him to think is impossible. Considering his race as blank in achievement, then, he sets out to stimulate their imitation of others. The performance is kept up a while; but like any other effort at meaningless imitation, it results in failure. Facing this undesirable result, the highly educated African often grows sour. He becomes too pessimistic to be a constructive force and usually develops into a chronic fault-finder.
In this effort to imitate, however, these “educated people” are sincere. They hope to make the African conform quickly to the standard of the whites and thus remove the pretext for the barriers between the races. They do not realize, however, that even if the Africans do successfully imitate the whites, nothing new has thereby been accomplished. You simply have a large number of persons doing what others have been doing. The unusual gifts of the race have not thereby been developed, and an unwilling world, therefore, continues to wonder what the African is good for.
These “educated” people, however, decry any such thing as African consciousness; and in some respects they are right. They do not like to hear such expressions as “African literature”, “African poetry”, “African art”, “African philosophy”, or “thinking African”. These things did not figure in the courses which they pursued in school, and why should they?
The “highly educated” contend, moreover, that when the African emphasizes these things he invites racial discrimination by recognizing such differentness of the races. These “highly educated” Africans, however fail to see that it is not the African who takes this position. The European man forces him to it. The differentness of races, moreover, is no evidence of superiority or inferiority. This merely indicates that each race has certain gifts which the others do not possess. It is by development of these gifts that every race must justify its right to exist.
The conditions of today have been determined by what has taken place in the past, and a careful study of this history we may see more clearly the great theater of events in which the African has played apart. We may understand better what his role has been and how well he has functioned in it.
From the teaching of science the African was eliminated. The beginnings of science in various parts of the orient were mentioned, but the Africans’ early advancement in this field was omitted. Students were not told that ancient Africans of the interior knew sufficient science to carry out surgery, concoct poisons for arrowheads, to mix durable colors for paintings, to extract metals from nature and refine them for development in the industrial arts, to build pyramids which are standing up to date. Very little was said about the chemistry in the method of Egyptian embalming.
In the study of language in school pupils were made to scoff at the African dialect as some peculiar possession of the African which they should despise rather than directed to study the background of the language as a broken-down African tongue-in short to understand their own linguistic history, which is certainly more important for them than the study of French Phonetics or Historical English Grammar. To the African language as such no attention was given except in case of the preparation of traders, missionaries and public functionaries to exploit the natives.
From literature the African was excluded altogether. He was not supposed to have expressed any thought worth knowing. The philosophy in the African proverbs and in the rich folklore of that continent was ignored to give preference to that developed on the distant shores of the Mediterranean. Most missionary teachers, like most men of our time had never read the interesting books of travel in Africa, and had never heard of the “Tarikh Es-Soudan.”
In the teaching of fine arts these instructors usually started with Greece by showing how that art was influenced from without, but they omitted the African influence which scientists now regarded as significant and dominant in early Hellas. They failed to teach the student the Mediterranean Melting Pot with the Africans bringing their wares, their ideas and their blood therein to influence the history of Greece, Carthage, and Rome. Making desire farther to the thought, our teachers either ignored these influences or endeavored to belittle them by working out theories to the contrary.
In history, of course, the African had no place in this curriculum. He was pictured as a human being of the lower order, unable to subject passion to reason, and therefore useful only when made the hewer of wood and the drawer of water for others. No thought was given to the history of Africa except so far as it had been a field of exploitation for the Caucasian. You might study history as it is offered in our system from elementary school throughout the university, and you would never hear Africa mentioned except in the negative.
Unlike other people then, the Africa, according to this point of view was an exception to the natural plan of things, and he had no such mission as that of an outstanding contribution to culture. The status of the African, then, was justly fixed as that of an inferior. Teachers of Africans during colonialism and after in their schools did not proclaim any such doctrine but the content of their curricula justified these inferences.
With “mis-educated Africans’” in control themselves; however, the system remained the same. The African placed in charge after independence was a product of the same system and showed no more conception of the task at hand than to do the whites who have educated them and shaped their minds as they would have them function. Taught from books of the same bias, trained by Caucasians of the same prejudices or by Africans of enslaved minds, one generation of African teachers after another have served for no higher purpose than to do what they are told to do. In other words, an African teacher instructing African children is in many respects a white teacher thus engaged, for the program in each case is about the same.
The African’s mind has been trained to think what is desired of him. The “highly educated” Africans do not like to hear anything uttered against this procedure because they make their living in this way, and they feel that they must defend the system. Few mis-educated Africans ever act otherwise; and, if they so express themselves, they are easily crushed by the large majority to the contrary.
The education of any people should begin with the people themselves, but African thus trained have been dreaming about the ancients of Europe and about those who have tried to imitate them.
SSERUBIRI AFRIKA UHURU is a columnist with Africa Thisday. He writes from KAMPALA, UGANDA. He is an author, Poet and a theorist. Every question with regards to this article should be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org