African development is the subject of great discussion around the world, and many factors and elements arise in this discussion. The subject of race and racism rarely does any longer. Claims of the inferiority of Africans — common a hundred years and even made on the eve of the independence of Europe’s African colonies 50 years ago — are no longer cited by professionals and politicians as reasons for the region’s uneven or slow development.
Privately racist talk continues, and Africans still labor under the burden of their blackness. That’s one conclusion to be drawn from the comments of the eminent biologist James Watson published on Sunday in the Times of London. One zinger: Watson told the Times 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.”
However wrong Watson is about the biological basis of race and intelligence, his comments are welcome reminder that thinking about Africa’s history and development remains mired in attitudes about race and identity that need reform or even revolution. Western (ie, white) analysts of African problems rarely cite racism as one of the hurdles facing the region. Even the subject of race and identity is rarely broached by development economists, sociologists and advocates of the region’s advance. In truth, race is not irrelevant to the story of African development. Racism is indeed a factor in the region’s socio-economic performance. Awareness that racism is indeed a drag on Africa and Africans is made all the easier to attain because of Watson’s strange and ill-timed comments.