Monday, December 6, 2010

African Incompetence

One of the most frequent and inflammatory remarks made about Africa is the general incompetence of its people. Usually this charge is made by white, Asian, and non-Africans. Black Africans generally refrain though there are some exceptions. Responses to this charge, by Africans and non-Africans alike, are quite varied from vehement denial to racist agreement.

The most extreme deniers dismiss the charge of incompetence as baseless and purely racially motivated. Labeling white, Asian, and non-Africans as racists neatly ends the conversation and for the few black Africans who also make the charge, deniers have invented the label of "coconut."

On the extreme other end are those who agree with, and indeed make, the charge without nuance. For them African incompetence is self-evident, genetic, and irreversible.
We are right to call such people racists and to denounce them strongly.

What is interesting about these two extremes, however, is how they both rely on a fiction to support their position, namely the fiction of race itself. Deniers sidestep the actual charge of incompetence and simply undermine its accuser's legitimacy. Racists, on the other hand, support it by appealing to psuedo-scientific 19th century social darwinism. But both side are equally obsessed with race and incapable of, or unwilling to, view the issue outside of that paradigm.

In between these two extremes there is much room for an interesting discussion about why the charge of African incompetence is so prevalent amongst non-Africans, white and Asian Africans, and a minority of black Africans. But it requires that participants in that discussion agree to leave behind the above two extremes. With such an emotionally charged issue this is easier said than done. But I want to try. In a following post I will outline some of the reasons why I think African incompetence is such a prevalent discourse. While remembering the rules of the discussion (i.e. "race" is out of bounds), I invite you in the comments to provide your own suggestions.

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