Racist remarks against our region remind us that wars have cost us dearly. And we should think like winners; that we are backward because we have been subjected to circumstances of history which predestined us to find ourselves where we are, not because we are genetically condemned to suffer the backwardness we endure. The question of how intelligence is attained, whether it’s genetically determined or environmentally imposed, or both, is an old debate. Theories are abundant, from the fringes of racism to contemporary “sensitive” or “blank slate” advocates, and the debate still rages. But most educators agree a combination of innate and environmental influences. There are thousands of studies with critical/rebuttal, viewpoints. Even well-researched and repeatedly replicated studies may not last a decade.
The Genome Project tells us about areas in which human race converges sharing commonalities and in which it diverges. It won’t tell us exactly which combinations of genes will result to what degree of intelligence or the type of intelligence determining the fate of some “condemned” races. Simply, because we don’t yet have a computer powerful enough to simulate astronomical circuits and possible neuronal combinations. The problem with predicting intelligence may have to do how related regions interact rather than how many genes affect what traits.
My father who was an illiterate would have been more intelligent making the best out of his punishing environment than any westerner farmer who used modern marvels of technology provided that both were tested within their domain, anything and everything else controlled. He would have scored higher IQ test simply because his environment challenged him to be extremely resourceful and innovative in order to manipulate whatever limited choices he had for the sake of survival. His collective experience would transfer to his off springs, and refining those skills and marrying them with technologies, those upcoming off springs would have fared better. And so, after generations, it would all turn out into survival instinct, it would be a part of his society (environment) information system. Sub-Saharan Bushmen’s amazing skills at adapting into their harsh environment and the manipulation of the meager resource they have is a marvel, the mixing of science and skills.
Europe had benefited from migrating ideas. The birth of modern science, math, astronomy, biology, etc. is Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, The Middle East, including the Mediterranean realm. History will tell us that our region was a bastion of knowledge and discoveries when most of Europe was dark and miserable. How could a mere 2000 years make such a difference? If progress is due to genetic variation, the pattern of civilization should have taken a South-bound path at least 50,000 years ago. What you see is a Europe which has been saved by confiscating thousands of years’ worth of collective ‘Southern’ civilization. So, picking names of modern era scientists, like Einstein, a man who is genetically closer to Sub-Sahara than he is to white Europe, in order to show the disparity of modern “Southern” era predicament in comparison to the much developed “Northern” hemisphere is disingenuous.
The fact that just a couple of thousands of years ago the North was much backward than the South tells us that the North’s modern time leap in terms of its development is not due to the blessing of genetic alignments, but due to circumstantial factors. The North was much “purer” in its genetic pool a couple of thousands years ago. We should have seen the arrow of ‘development’ directed to the south thousands years ago. Instead, until as recent as less than a thousand years ago, the migration of civilization was South-to-North– and that is some African contribution to human knowledge. And here are some lists of Middle Eastern scientists, philosophers and politicians, ancient scientists of our region who predate European scientific renaissance. That renaissance itself was influenced and actually inspired by the Middle East, Mediterranean, and African civilizations and scientific contributions.
- Ancient Stones Hint At How Humans Migrated Out Of Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa’s genetic pool could not be explained outside that region. The same is true with other regions of Africa; I am talking about Sub-Saharan Africa since I am explaining why Ethiopia and Eritrea are backward.
It’s a settled fact that humanity had evolved in Africa, and migrated to Europe some 70,000-130,000, a blink of an eye in terms of evolution. Environmental factors and intermarriages with other sub-species like the Neanderthals are believed to have morphed migrating humans to the physical features Westerners (Whites) are now identified by, external bodily features which do not explain intelligence. While our genes may explain why we act smarter than chimpanzees, environmental factors are essential for those dormant genes to express themselves; both social and geographical environment, with the social environment more dictating on how certain communities exceed in some activities but not on others.
Early coastal dwellers would have excelled in sea navigation, fishery and technologies related to them, and would have outperformed others on those areas until such a time those “others” were given the same chances of adapting to the environment, relative length of time of mitigating circumstances, and undisturbed existence of consolidating their experiences to a degree where those experiences were turned in to internalized skills and traits of their culture. Similarly, Eskimos would have developed unique skills and traits of conquering the frigid polar climate. Saharan caravan custodians would have known heavenly bodies. Their survival would depend on how good observers they evolved to be in order to navigate a desert that lacks physical reference point.
My father would have to know the climate and forecast daily weather patterns in order to ensure his farm and livestock survived. He would tell you which mountain or valley would get the rain just by looking at the formation of the cloud. He used to say ዝላም ቀር ወኣት/ብዕራይ ትፈንቴ- rain marks its landing by the width of a cow’s horn- meaning a ridge may get a rain while the one close to it won’t, that’s African rain. There is a wealth of information regarding soil and its conservation, and raising livestock and their diseases, etc.
Here in the Western Hemisphere, African-Americans had achieved a rather remarkable achievements despite their condemnation to ignorance and abject life of slavery. Below are some lists of black scientists and inventors who overcome the harsh treatment of racist America.
If we take the Minnesota Transracial Adoption Study, for example, we have also have to control all factors within their normal setting, to equalize the groups. There are subcultures within any culture. So, African Americans, rich or poor, have certain values they consider cardinal to their families’ life. Those certain values may not be the same with what white America, rich or poor, considers cardinal familial values. Adoption itself is a pressure to kids, and therefore, affects them adversely. I hear colored children voice the same issues: “What is the value of wasting time and money in spending years of schooling for an opportunity that won’t present itself or hard to gain?” So, here political and societal hurdles are expressing themselves more than the poor genes. Other factors would include family environment and prior generational luck at knocking opportunities.
Children born to families who place education higher in their priorities usually do well. They see their parents reading, they get directions and supports from them; and generally, they are oriented towards the campus. Perhaps, their parents had gone through higher education and know how to navigate the educational system, and certainly, the frightening paths of getting into higher education. My wife and I had faced challenges in sending our son to college, because we just could not figure out how to circumnavigate the application processes. Both of us paid out of pocket to go to our local colleges; we chose an easy and practical way for a working family. We now know we could have gotten financial support, but due to our ignorance we had to pay almost all the tuitions. The same thing happened when the time came to send our son to college. In our case, we have been fortunate to absorb the financial pressure by sacrificing whatever little we earned. What if a similar challenge faces even poorer families?
One person’s experience or a generation’s case may not suffice an argument, but accumulated, it explains when stolen civilizations come back to repress their initiators. The ‘North’ has benefited from civilizations of the ‘South’ yet when the ‘North’ refined and internalized those civilizations, it owned them; and it applied the benefits of those civilization in repressing the ‘South’.
People often forget that the interference of Europeans, which could explain the interruptions of normal pace of indigenous civilizations in our region had occurred earlier than most of us tend to recognize. Most of us read about the scramble for Africa, yet we ignore the fact that Europeans had long established their contact with our region as merchants, navigators, religious missions, etc. Every trip or settlement that Europeans had made to our region had an impeding effect in the natural pace that our region had conducted with its surrounding. Each and every visit was accompanied by domineering attitude of “civilizing” Africa resulting in the disruption of evolutionary pace of our civilization. Had the transfer of North-South civilization been conducted in a way it respected indigenous information and belief systems, Africa would have benefited as much as the ‘North” had benefited centuries earlier from Africa and its surroundings.
But those European “civilizing” missions were anchored on the belief that Africans could not possibly be cued to voluntarily marrying their pre-white knowledge with those which were brought by whites, which the whites believed were superior to indigenous civilizations and belief systems. Worse, they would not let them do the adjustments in their own pace and terms which should have been driven purely by peaceful transfer of know-how through business and commerce. They disrupted African societies, altered African ways of life, suppressed their technologies and accumulated knowledge by substituting it for European values. They bribed kings and chiefs, pitched tribes against tribes, drew artificial divide lines which continue to create unrest. They exploited their historic artifacts and wealth. They dismantled or disrupted their evolving political systems and their indigenous rituals. They created a situation in which the South could not advance at par with the North. This has nothing to do with genes. Even in areas where genes are known to play greatly, if you don’t have a controlled environment, there is little that can drive one to an overwhelmingly biased conclusions.
Each species would have been intelligent enough to control elements which would pose unique challenges for survival. Those skills and technologies would have improved through generational inputs which would have resulted to an accumulated expression of excellence or intelligence. Most readings I have come across suggest that environment plays an important role in gene expressions.
Although areas of our brain and genes responsible for them are mapped out, only God knows how these areas influence each other; and only God knows how a merely one gene variation could screw up trillions of possible combinations. There are experiments being conducted to target psychiatric illnesses, for instance, based on genetic makeup. However, our brain is so complex that scientists still have to figure out how to target particular disorder causing genes without sending the complex network of our brain in disarray. Although those genes are known, their interactions and networking combinations is such an immense universe that it’s been challenging to cure a disease without causing adverse side effects to the neighboring region, or even to the whole brain. This is to say, that the science of genome has just begun, and any assertions alluding to conclusive generalizations is dishonest.
A glimpse at IQ tests
I am not an expert nor claim to have a good understanding of the tests. But this is my personal testimony. In the year 1991-92, I had an opportunity to seat for University exam. The testers were from Asmara University. I had not seen a college exam prior to that. I didn’t have any expectation of going to college; independence arrived and I, like some other comrades, had to dust ourselves clean and attend school. Despite work pressure, we got University entrance points. I was ill prepared for one of the tests, the IQ test. I had not seen such unorthodoxy exam before that time let alone seating to figure out answers to fancy questions, diagrams and figures. I did not know what I was doing. I was confused. Then a man, who later became my Psych101 instructor, Dr. Haile, noticed my discomfort. He came to me and asked, “Are you tegadalay?” I said,” yes,” very nervously. He said, “Do you have questions?” I replied, “I just don’t get it. What is this all about?” He stopped everyone, and explained that it was called an IQ test and that we should look for patterns, and that it was based on general readiness to tackle unfamiliarity with tools we had acquired thus far. I remember him saying, “Memorizing of formulas and theorems won’t save you, relax.” Fortunately, I was later told my IQ score was among the highest, and I got 4 on Dr. Haile’s course. I don’t know where he is now.
The racist article claims that “a backward people will never be able to create a successful society where not only human rights are protected, but also society is able to provide the basic economic/health related needs of its people (roads, railways, a sewage system, hospitals, electricity etc.).”
Here, the writer tells us that we should not expect a backward society yielding a progressive governance. As pointed out, this is an indisputable truth. However, a bit later in the article, he insinuates as though this backwardness is due to genetically explicable factors. That’s the pitfall of the article. The writer and many racists (I am not saying the writer is a racist, but many known racists openly disseminate similar assertions) fail to recognize that Africa, and more closely, Ethiopia and Eritrea are consisted of genetically different ethnic groups. They speak of black people as though they are genetically identical.
Normally, race is a social concept, that’s a means of people defining each other. We designate all pale colored people as whites, and all chocolate colored folks as blacks. That’s what we see. But genetically speaking, we may be wrong. We call Barack Obama a black man. Well, if we stick to the socially accepted way of categorizing people according to how they appear to our eyes (phenotype), we are right. He definitely looks more black than white. However, genetically (genotype wise), he’s half black and half white. We know he is an intelligent man. So, whose side is responsible for his intelligence, the white one or the black? Our region would pose similar challenges because it’s a melting pot of races. So, are we going to say the lighter skinned, which borrow that trait from the ‘North’, are more intelligent than the darker skinned? There are European racists who don’t consider the Greeks and the Italians, who had given them the torch of civilization, as people who are not white enough. Hence, they consider them not as intelligent as the ‘pure’ whites.
Consider Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. All these countries were once at the pinnacle of civilization. However, they have lagged behind in all indicators of advancement compared to their European peers. They all gave Europe the advantage of getting a springboard to modernity, yet due to political and historical disadvantages, they have become the poor of their neighborhood. History (environment) dictated them becoming who they are, not genetics. If it were for genetic disposition, what changes could have occurred within these two centuries that would bring such a big developmental variance?
Additionally, the danger with this kind of generalizing assertions is the risk it poses in causing us to fall into racist traps inadvertently or subconsciously; that’s, when such a fact is carelessly linked to biology. Europe was the worst backward continent which burned scientists alive; it was a continent where human bondage reached its worst expression under feudal systems; where wars and human carnages were the spectacle of the day, and where plagues loomed the landscape. It never existed enlightened all the time. Today, it may boast for landing a probe on half a billion miles away comet; or may raise the hypnotizing tunes of Mozart and the genius of Einstein, but it was known for centuries for its dark and gloomy; and yes, bloody history. South of its borders, the world had seen a relatively prolonged era of enlightening discoveries. But Europe woke up through renaissance and capitalized on achievements that had been made in the South making those migrated civilizations its own; notwithstanding the fact that there have always been brains of the world participating in these researches, Africans, Asians, Arabs, etc.
There is nothing that’s backward when you explain differences in societies. Each society should be judged within its stage of development. Furthermore, each society has its own consideration of what constitutes excellence. In some cultures, communal networking, reciprocity, and altruism may hold a higher consideration compared to western values such as pursuit of individual happiness and adventurism for personal fame and gains. Therefore, their collective push to excel would be towards each society’s prioritized preferences. That explains why we hear stories of Western explorers, naturalists, adventurers, etc. Every expedition and every pursuit of adventure will pose certain challenges which would entice artisans to come up with solutions which would provide profitable returns to them. Any new venture would lead to new scientific discoveries. Each new scientific discovery would result into new business opportunities. Societies that have ‘monopolized’ this path early on have exceeded in the accumulation of wealth leading to the haves of the North and have-nots of the South.
To The Gene Mall
Genes… genes…, they are everywhere. They are in the commercials; they are in the news; Oh, yes; and they are in fertility banks. If the trend continues, certain races are in trouble, and you know which ones I am talking about. The era of fertility freedom is here. Women are taking advantage of it; no more pressure of getting a man for the purpose of creating a child. Today, in most western countries, the opportunity to bear child at her own time of choice and from her preferred biological menu has arrived. She has many willing sperm donors and sperm banks ready for business. She can now even save some of her eggs, and do the child bearing long after career success. Therefore, the biological clock has been shuttered. Good news? Well, depends on your family values. Geneticists have promoted what we fear; that there is a perfect human race, a race that’s with perfect physical traits, intelligent, handsome, and tolerating diseases. Basically, you could have the perfect designer babies on your lap and the following is even scarier; creating a digital baby. If you don’t watch the entire clip, please start at at 22:36 – 27:28.
Here, we see biology coming to a severe clash with ethics, religion and social philosophies. No doubt, at the end, driven by business interests and corporate government policies, science and personal choice will prevail. So, brace for the end of the colorful mosaic of humanity as we know it today.
In the late 90s and early 2000, I was shocked to see Sudanese women bleaching their skins. At first, I thought the station was inviting audiences only from the light skinned northern part of the nation. However, I noticed the facial features did not match the skin. One day, I asked my wife why all those ladies where white with typical African facial features. She told me the mystery. I hear many women harmed their beautiful African skin in their quest for adopting foreign looks. I hope they have learned from their mistake, and start teaching their daughters self-confidence, and the golden rule: all that glistens is not gold.
It’s true we are backward in terms of development. We are not preordained to languish in poverty and backwardness, though. Our genes are as capable of being stimulated towards growth and development as those genes of the “pure” race. History and bad political choices have condemned us to be backward. Asian Tiger countries which have become the envy of developing nations had similar experience until recent times. Those Asian countries which have been able to register remarkable advancement in a short time have done so by putting a “period” on their long history of misery. They have, until recently, experienced similar challenges similar to what we are experiencing. They have been able to shake off the shackles of poverty only when they chose alternate political paths. Their neighboring countries, which have not done so, don’t fare better than us. So, it’s clear that genes have little to do with national or regional development. If we fail to par with our competitors, given similar opportunities and having taken similar sound economic policies and relatively enduring peacetime, then we may scratch our heads and pause contemplating, “Gee, it may all be true. We may need to shop for better genes.”
As mentioned above, our backwardness could be explained by referring to history; and the search of ways of how we pick up ourselves out of this predicament will continue to be central to debates we conduct nationally and/or regionally.