The blacks aren’t so smart. Look, they have been around for 50,000 years here yet we don’t see them in any leadership role, not in government, business or science. That was said to me in passing sometime in the 1980’s, possibly by a work colleague or newly befriended attendee at a convention. At the time, I did not mull over it and I was a much less confrontational bloke to refute that statement openly. Perhaps, as a fellow minority, I knew to keep myself inconspicuous unless the topic is central in my domain which was accounting and financial reporting. Why add salt and vinegar when I am not the cook, right? Better not to add oil and sauce (jia yu jia jiang) and exaggerate the facts if one is not knowledgeable of the truth, right? The Black Lives Matter street protests may no longer occupy the front pages of newspapers or online news, but I still see footy players “take a knee” before each match. The media lose interest in most things very quickly unless the people burn tires and cars. They need violence to prick our interest. The protests peaked in early June when over 500,000 protesters took to the streets in the US alone. The killing of George Floyd by a rogue policeman re-ignited a world-wide movement that had stalled since its inception in 2013. Despite the risks of catching the coronavirus, a niece of mine turned up in Victoria Square, Adelaide to lend support to the usually voiceless minority. The global rallying cry against racism and police brutality is evidence that the gruesome and unnecessary killing of an unarmed black man graphically captured the attention of many idle people under COVID-19 lockdown, including a new generation of young ones who were previously unaware of the brutal long history of cruelty against black people.
Although the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 freed slaves in America, we know that the gross injustice and deprivation of human rights still greatly disadvantage the blacks there. All over the world, we still see the after-effects of the wreckage to economies and education from colonisation and the disappearance of cultures and civilisations from genocides that saw many millions dead in recent history. From a distorted viewpoint and nostalgic glory, some may argue that colonialism introduced legal systems and brought properly planned civic and sanitary systems to many primitive cultures. And besides, look at the beautiful buildings they left behind, someone added. But, history cannot be rewritten to hide the ugly truth that colonialism was a humanitarian disaster that wiped out about 90% of the natives of the Americas. The Spanish arrival in Central and South America saw the local population of Indians decimated – by warfare and European diseases such as measles and smallpox. After a hundred years of Spanish rule, there were less than 8 million natives left and once proud civilisations such as the Incas were destroyed. Similarly, under British rule of 190 years, there was no increase in the per capita income within the Indian sub-continent. During the British Raj from 1872 to 1921, Indian life expectancy dropped by 20 per cent. British rail roads were built to send soldiers inland to quell revolts and to transport food, cotton and spices out for export. Devastating famines caused the deaths of some 30 million Indians, mortality rates were highest along the railway lines. The story in China under Western rule was no better. To force the opening up of China to the western notion of “free” trade, the British Empire bombarded and defeated the Qing Dynasty with superior ships and weapons in both Opium Wars. Ports and territories were ceded to the western powers following China’s defeat and special tariffs and taxes benefited the foreigners. It was the forced addiction to opium that ultimately fixed the trade imbalance that previously heavily favoured the Chinese who sold tea and silk to the West but needed nothing back from them. In India, the British had encouraged the farming of cotton and opium instead of lentils and millet. Similarly, the Chinese farmers were persuaded to stop producing rice and grain in favour of opium and cotton, the latter saw a boom in prices due to the demand for textiles bound for the American Civil War. When the El Ninio of 1876-1878 struck China, the severity of the famine was made worse by the lack of food supplies. Some 10 million people perished during those two years. Later, the erosion of the Chinese economy and the divisiveness of a new religion, Protestant Christianity, led to serious social unrests that caused the deaths of between 20 to 70 million Chinese during the 14-year Taiping Rebellion. Years of unfathomable misery were meted-out to the American Indians, Africans and Australian aborigines by their colonial masters. Indigenous Americans arrived from Asia over 15,000 years ago. After the arrival of Europeans, these natives were mostly wiped out by ethnic cleansing, slavery, war and diseases. The Australian aborigines are considered the world’s oldest civilisation – some 65,000 years old. But, it took the British less than 130 years to bring them to near extinction. A 1930 report showed there were only about 50,000 left in New South Wales. If it were true that the blacks are not so smart, we can quite easily understand from such historical accounts why their peoples would take many generations to catch up with the West. They were raped, robbed, starved and murdered. Education and scientific progress would not be of immediate concern to those crushed and treated worse than animals.
But, of course, it is not true that the blacks aren’t smart. A learned friend, Bikash, sent me Sahana Singh’s YouTube video about ancient India’s educational system last week. It may be ancient history but it was news to me. It was mind-blowing to learn of the history of ancient India’s rather advanced emphasis on tertiary education well before science was seen as the engine for industrial modernisation in the West. India was the educational capital of the world when learning was a sacred duty. The elite students from neighbouring countries were eager to attend India’s best colleges and universities, not unlike today’s mad rush to gain admission to top universities like Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard or Princeton University. Chinese scholars such as Faxian and Yi Jing made their way to India as early as the 5th century. Indian astronomers and mathematicians from the best universities held high positions in China soon after. They even introduced Indian numerals to China. Invention of the printing press was attributed to Buddhist scholars who went from India to China. Indian knowledge flowed to Greece and to the rest of Europe also. Historian Dr Raj Vedam tracked the information flow of Ayurvedic medicine from Rishi Kanada (6th century BCE) to Democritus to Hippocrates – the father of western medicine. Indian knowledge of mathematics, medicine, astronomy, logic and philosophy, chemistry and even music were transferred to Persia and to the rest of the Islamic world. European scholars frequently plagiarised from Arabic texts without references to their Indian sources. The Renaissance was propelled by the works of Arabic scholars which were passed off as original works by Europeans. Unfortunately, from 12th century, many of India’s prestigious universities such as Nalanda, Vikramshila and many others were destroyed by Muslim invaders. Much of India fell under Islamic rule, mostly of Turkic, Pashtun and Afghan origins and became known as the Delhi Sultanate. Libraries and temples were also not spared. Much of the knowledge written down in Sanskrit was destroyed. In the 16th century, under Mughal rule, science education was erased whilst the focus was on poetry, architecture and religion. India then was the world’s biggest economy. They left the Taj Mahal as the jewel of Muslim art for the world to witness their greatness, but its position as the premier centre for science and mathematics learning was long lost. During this time, the western world in the 17th century was making advances in science and technology known as the Scientific Revolution whilst the Indian students became more learned about the Quran. In a series of 19th century surveys carried out by the British in India, Dharampal discovered that the literacy level was very high and every rural village had a school. In Bengal and Bihar alone, there were over 100,000 pathshala. Yet, the British found the natives much less intelligent than the Europeans. Perhaps, that was how the wrong impression was formed about the blacks’ inferior intelligence.
If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is a part of a tree. – Michael Crichton.