In Africa, it is common to see natives accord special treatment to white people. Whereas African natives are hospitable and generally warm natured towards foreigners, the preferential treatment they give to white people in markets, local kiosks and hotels deserve special scrutiny.
A close associate of mine once expressed his contempt for the brown-nosed behavior espoused by Africans towards white people whilst denigrating their fellow natives. He gave a bitter account of his younger years when he was in a football academy with a white kid named Tristan that always got better treatment from the coach while the rest were treated as second rate players.
This was one of the many tales about white privilege that we have all experienced on numerous occasions. What influences this first-class treatment that white people almost always get in Africa? One only needs to re-examine colonial history to learn that a lot of the reverence that the white man gets from the native is the white man’s own making. He is the orchestrator of the white man’s privilege that has been deliberately imprinted upon the native as I will labor to explain below.
Two worlds divided apart.
The native was segregated against during colonialism, especially in settler colonies. In his book The wretched of the earth, Frantz Fannon argues that the colonial world was divided into two compartments. The settler’s town was strongly built out of stone and steel. On the other hand, the town belonging to the colonized people, or the negro village was a place of ill fame, peopled by men of evil repute. It was a world without spaciousness. There was no native who did not dream of setting himself up in the settler’s place. Therefore, part of this modern inferiority complex stems from this compartmentalization of the colonial world. By being subjugated into these shanty areas, the African native dreamt of living in the settler’s world and becoming his equal. This was also the case in Uganda where Africans hard to earn the right to live within the radius of the metropolitan capital of Jinja-Kampala.
As if it was not enough for the settler to delimit the native physically, that is to say with the help of the army and the police force, from the settler’s town, he painted him as a sort of quintessence of evil. Native society was not simply described as a society lacking in values, these values had never existed in the colonial world. The native was declared insensible to ethics; he represented not only the absence of values but also the negation of values. He was, let us dare to admit, the enemy of values, and in this sense, he was the absolute evil. He was the corrosive element, destroying all that comes near him; he was the deforming element, disfiguring all that had to do with beauty or morality. This explains the white man’s lofty standards of democracy, human rights to which the Africans should conform in order to be counted among the civilized peoples of this world.
Western education model
In Ngugi wa Thiongo’s book Decolonising the mind, he writes that the white man’s privilege is because of the western education model that we have in Africa. The Africans have been taught that all knowledge begins with Europe. All that he learns is in relation to Europe and not to Africa. Europe is the epicenter of his civilization and therefore he owes it his enlightenment. Few people realize how powerful literature is, in that we’ve had more white people writing about Africa than Africans themselves.
The economic superstructure.
In colonies, there was also the economic superstructure that entrenched the white man privilege. For the white man, the cause was the consequence. You were rich because you are white. You are white because you are rich. This perception persists up to today. The economic might accumulated from the colonial rapacious state was used by the white man to impress the local natives. The scale, the grandeur, the sheer boastfulness of colonial headquarters was used to stupefy the locals and dazzle them of the white man’s wealth and might. The idea is that if you look like a ruler, the people will treat you like a ruler. For example, early explorers like H.M. Stanley, nicknamed Kakiraminkyenkye (one taller than reeds) by the local Ankole people of Western Uganda, hired native potters to carry him on their shoulders using palanquin chairs. As a result of such schemes, most natives still give white people better treatment as a means of self-aggrandizement.
The Whiteman’s church
There was also the influence of the church. The Church in the colonies was the white people’s Church. She did not call the native to God’s ways but to the ways of the white man, of the master, of the oppressor. And as we know, in this matter many were called but few chosen. From Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God, the church can be seen as the only avenue for western education and civilization. In Ferdinand Oyono’s Houseboy, the white man’s church could even mete out corporal punishments to atoners. It was the only passage through which the native could save himself of his own darkness and become saved. It was also the buffer between the poor native and the settler. Through the church, the natives learned to dress like the white man, speak like the white man, and achieved salvation that was only meant for the white man but for his grace.
Western cultural imperialism
Having said that, one cannot forget to mention western cultural imperialism to which the native is subjected to. The native’s culture is diluted through formal western education, his creativity is suppressed, and he is handed down the white man’s. The African intellectual’s world is divided into two, his own and the white man’s. The balance is hard to achieve and he thereby becomes an opportunist. The white man’s language becomes his own. Both the material and the metaphysical world of the white man becomes his own. The African man’s journey is a teleological one, his predetermined end to be more white than black. This is especially worse in French colonies where there was a policy of assimilation unlike in British colonies. All these colonial factors have contributed to white privilege that persists up today.
Although Africa was decolonized in the second half of the 20th century, the legacies of colonialism remain. Up to now neo-colonial tendencies still take root on the continent through Bretton woods institutions like the IMF and the world bank, donor aid cycle of dependency, and foreign debt. The African continent must cut itself from the last vestiges of colonialism by being self-reliant, getting African solutions to African problems. Africa should put in place its own economic institutions and make its own rules. African countries must re-shape their education systems, reclaim their pride and dignity by preserving African culture and literature.