Have you ever heard of the name James Dewey Watson? I will not be surprised if you have not. This is a name which belongs to the exclusive world of science and research.
And the man Dr James Dewey Watson is no mean a person. He entered the University of Chicago at an early age of 15 and graduated with Bachelor of Science in Zoology.
He went on to do his PhD in the same field at the Indiana University.
In 1962, Watson shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine with his research mate, Francis Crick, and a third person, Maurice Wilkins. Watson and his colleague discovered the structure of DNA, the molecule that lies at the heart of heredity in living organisms.
About two weeks ago, Watson was in the news again, this time also about a personal discovery. The only difference is that this time Watson’s discovery lacked scientific proof (at least that was what people claimed).
Dr Watson was alleged to have said in an interview he granted a British newspaper that Africans were less intelligent than Europeans. In short, Blacks are less intelligent than Whites.
The outrage was expected, so were the condemnations. Suddenly, Dr Watson became a pariah. The Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory where he works distanced itself from the renowned and yet controversial scientist’s discovery. The consequence was that the laboratory’s board of trustees took a stern action by suspending him, “pending further deliberation by the board”.
By some coincidence, another top scientist, Dr Craig Venter, was also in London to promote a book and he did not mince words in his condemnation of his colleague.
“Skin colour as a surrogate for race is a social concept, not a scientific one,” Dr Venter said, adding, “There is no basis in scientific fact or in human genetic code for the notion that skin colour will be predictive of intelligence.”
A lecture which Dr Watson was due to deliver at the Science Museum in London was cancelled. An appearance at the Bristol Festival of Ideas was also torpedoed, all because Dr Watson, by the judgement of the rest of humanity, has gone beyond tolerable levels.
But what did Dr Watson say? Was he telling the truth and were all those flurry of condemnations sincere or just another smokescreen to cover a hidden belief from Africans?
Dr Watson told the Sunday Times that he was “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”.
Now Dr Watson has spoken; the world has condemned him and he has since apologised, claiming those words were not actually his or at best they were put out of context.
What is the assessment of Africans themselves about Dr Watson’s words?
We may be glad that even before we Africans opened our mouths, Dr Watson’s own people have spoken for us. Is that the case? By the way, Dr Watson did not talk about the colour of the skin. He went beyond that. He may be referring to the mentality of the Black race or the Black people’s inability to exercise brain power.
I, therefore, think instead of rubbishing Dr Watson’s statement and taking consolation in the condemnation which followed it, we Black should use it as a wake-up call for some moments of sober reflection for obvious reasons.
We are yet to have proof that the other races came into existence long before we Blacks, neither have we been told that the Earth first came without Africa. On the contrary, we have been told that historically, civilisation started from Africa.
If that were so, why the vast gap in terms of development between Africa and the rest of the continents?
Even in the most developed parts of the world, Blacks are found on the fringes. As for the mother continent, the least said about it the better. Africa is the first, not in the best, but in the worst.
Africa is home to the poorest, weakest and most malnourished. Every disease that has ever plagued humanity had its biggest and safest sanctuary in Africa. It has the highest illiterate population in the world. This contrasts sharply with the material resources available to Africa.
Look at the beautiful landscape, forests and their rich timber and mineral resources, the big rivers and lakes and all that they represent in resource terms, the awe-inspiring mountains and lush vegetation. It could even be argued that compared to other geographical regions, Nature has been over generous to Africa.
There may not be a genetic difference between Blacks and other races, neither can we claim that Mother Nature was cruel to us at any stage during creation. So what went wrong? We may be quick, as we always do, to point accusing fingers at slavery and colonialism. But for how long shall we continue to live n the past?
We played active roles in both the slavery and colonization processes. It was Africans who sold their own children, brothers and sisters to the Whites to be sent into slavery. And it was our chiefs who gave away our lands to he Whites for gin, brandy, whisky and tobacco. So do we continue to mourn these sad episodes if we claim today that we have regretted our folly?
One truth which is retarding our progress must be told. We have a mentality which is not assertive and proactive – a complex which is always pushing us down. That is inferiority complex. This is why we continue to downgrade or underestimate our capabilities and talents and see hope only in foreigners. We do not seem to see salvation within but without.
We have embraced everything foreign, modified our eating and dressing habits and crowned it all with new names which we were told and believed were Christian names.
We have even lost contact with our natural environment when we see a three-piece suit in the tropical heat as a sign of enlightenment.
There was a time in this country when you had to trap yourself in suit before you were considered properly dressed to enter Parliament House. Should we fault the likes of Dr Watson for their low opinion of us when we do not like ourselves?
Our football teams do not feel safe or secure unless they are trained by white-skinned coaches. We are proud praising products from other continents, and the more we patronise foreign goods, the more affluent we wrongly think we are. A continent so depleted of initiative that every bit of problem has to be referred to foreign consultants who come to tap our brains and go home with millions of dollars.
On a continent where millions of innocent children are dying daily of malaria, measles and malnutrition, politicians, without any sense of shame, continue to stock their private bank accounts with funds stolen from the national exchequer.
We are always begging, yet our presidential motorcades rival those of our benefactors. At the end of the day, we are happy not because we have made our countries better places but because we are a few millions of stolen cash richer.
Some years ago, we in Ghana were in the same trench with countries like China, Malaysia and India. Today, China has the fastest growing economy in the world. Last Wednesday, China blasted its first lunar probe into space, the same day that Malaysia’s first astronaut returned to Earth.
India is preparing to launch its own lunar probe next April. We in this part of the world are yet to manufacture a wheelbarrow, neither do we have the faintest idea where we will be in the next 50 years.
Incidentally, the Chinese are equipping us with energy resources, while the Indians are building our presidential mansion for us. Even then we are still asking for more.
Are we blaming slavery and colonialism for our inability to exhibit any technological advancement? No. The problem lies in our mentality and poor leadership.
We need to rediscover ourselves. We need to have confidence in our abilities and capabilities.
We need to break away from the dependency and begging syndrome. We need leaders with vision and who are focused.
Dr Watson may be too blunt and unscientific in his evaluation of the African mind, but whether we like it or not, Africans have so far not proved that they are equal to others.
Having been so unimpressive, it is easy for anyone to conclude that the Black race is an inferior one. Will Dr Watson’s theory jostle us to confront the reality which will spur us into serious action? Are we going to remain existing in the shadows of others or we want to live as independent people? As we pause to answer these questions, who knows, we may, after all, be grateful to Dr Watson for a painful truth.
Source: Kofi Akordor/Daily Graphic