Campaign against racism occured in this hotel in 1948
Hotel Bristol at the time Alfred Rewane led a capaign against its racism in 1948

Racism; the active assertion of supremacy based on race is not inherent among human beings. There was indeed no cause for one, as there was parity in achievement of the races for most of history. Arts of the early medieval times and beyond frequently feature black persons as leaders, and soldiers, even saints. The black man whom figures of the Enlightenment era derided as inferior in intellectual and moral status were indeed the superior at a time in antiquity. Ancient Europe, among the known world of the ancient times was more underdeveloped than the pockets of civilizations that dotted the Nile banks. Discrimination against and violence towards the black race was invented over the years as her fortune dwindled and her civilization torn to pieces so much that scientific minds many hundred years later began to bring up theories that racists would later use as justification for their inhuman acts towards her. A school of thought puts the origin of racism in this time. Supremacy feelings however may have had its roots in antiquity, ethnocentrism, being integral to the culture of many peoples who may not be described as racist. This controversy among scholars on what is racism makes the quest into its origin uncertain.

When a cross-section of Lagos society sent a deputation headed by Ademuyiwa Haastrup to Ijebu Ode with the aim of convincing the obstinate Yoruba tribe of the need to be friendly towards the English crown, the people’s representatives declared in unequivocal terms that the black man was superior to the White man and that it was a mortal sin for the two races to mix. The Olisa of Ijebu Ode lectured the delegation that “friendship between us is not intended by God, who had separated them from each, assigning to the white man the sea and to the black man the solid earth.

In the view of a group of scholars, the Olisa may not be properly termed racist but one who evince extreme ethnocentrism, for he bear no ill will against the whiteman, nor has he any plan to take away his opportunities or happiness. Even Duse Mohamed Alli who once wrote anonymously about Adeyemo Alakija, that God made a mistake to make him (Alakija) a black man, cannot be explicitly declared a racist. Racism, to a group of scholars, therefore consists of a belief system that seeks to justify or cause discrimination. This easily points us to a surprisingly recent time, in deciding the origin of this practice. The transatlantic Slave Trade, racial segregation in the pre-civil rights United States, and the apartheid, are examples of racial discrimination which often become fatal. Unlike the black American who constantly lived under the consciousness of being discriminated against or who feel unsafe in many situations, the Nigerians of this time carried on with lesser victim mindset, but reported having suffered discrimination because of the color of their skin.

Though invited by Governor Moloney to join the colonial Lagos medical service, John Randle, a member of the pioneer native medical doctors had suffered discrimination to which he responded with a revolt. Even though the European Acting Colonial Surgeon, Dr. Jeans decried the situation where a man who passed out of Edinburg with much credit to himself and is therefore on equal footing with Europeans as regards medical education should receive only half the salary of his European colleagues, Randle was still not saved from the hands of the government, under Governor Gilbert Carter, who dismissed him in 1893.

Ladipo Solanke on his arrival in Britain in 1922 was greatly disturbed by the racial intolerance of the white against Africans and peoples of African origin which was very widespread and intense. Back home, the discrimination was subtle. Some 600 worshipers of the Breadfruit Church in Lagos pulled out to form the African Church in 1900 because of the racism perceived in the CMS missionaries’ treatment of their African pastor, James Johnson.

In 1908, plans of Bishop Herbert Tugwell of the Anglican Diocese of West Equatorial Africa and Sir Walter Egerton, colonial governor of Lagos to start an all-white church in Lagos like it is done in America, was resisted with logic. After the Christ’s Church Cathedral was delisted for this purpose, Egerton had come up with even more ridiculous proposal- sanctioning five thousand pounds sterling for the establishment of a colonial church whose white pastor was to be paid from public purse. This sheer act of discrimination necessitated the unification of Christians, spearheaded by educated African Christians, with the muslims of Lagos. Tactically, Muslims made a request of theirs, – loan of one thousand and five hundred pounds to complete a mosque project on which some four thousand have been expended. When Egerton rejected the request on the basis of it being of religious concern, his double standard became obvious, and Christian leaders fed on his errors.

In the November 29 1947 edition of the newspaper, Eleti Ofe, Mr. Harold Cooper, who was the Public Relations Officer of Nigeria, was celebrated for his efforts at bridging the gulf between Whites and Blacks. Before Cooper, relationship between the races was strained to the extreme. Young educated Africans, because of the shabby treatments they were gratuitously receiving from certain Whites who considered themselves superior beings, were only too ready to coin offensive phrases against those who were unnecessarily antagonizing them. Cooper, referred to as African’s truest friend, was transferred out of the country before the end of the year of his public commendation.

Although the black is often the subject of racism, there has been cases where for instance, the racist theory of “the African mind,” developed notoriously by J.C. Carothers in his work during the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya gained prominence.

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer