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Bias?

In response to:

Black History from the December 17, 1970 issue

To the Editors:

While duly appreciative of Roland Oliver’s comment [NYR, December 17] that The African Genius “is the most serious and best integrated of all” my books, I have to enter a mild complaint at the gloss he thereupon proceeds to lay upon it, or at least upon some chapters of it.

His main point about these chapters appears to be that I have allowed an anti-colonial bias to influence my selection of historical fact and my conclusions. He has said this kind of thing about my work before, of course; but now he finds that I am “a disappointed apostle of the left,” and so am driven to blame the colonial period for Africa’s present confusions. I think that an unbiased reading of my book would show that I most explicitly blame pre-colonial factors for these confusions, as well as the colonial period. But even if I were guilty of doing what Oliver accuses me of, why is a pro-colonial bias any better than its contrary?

I have known Oliver for a long time. He has worked hard on himself to overcome the grosser forms of preference for conservative orthodoxy. He has tried to enlighten an earlier standpoint that tended to see the colonial period in Africa as one of pure sweetness and light. He has really labored to enlarge his own initially narrow horizons.

Perhaps he has not yet labored enough. We should not hold this against him: after all, he is not alone in this respect. But he, for his part, should really stop pretending that he has been, or is, “above the battle,” and occupying a position of unadulterated scientific objectivity in contrast with others whose general standpoint he has decided to dislike or attack. For this kind of intellectual arrogance can do him only harm: it can so easily appear as a meanness of spirit.

Basil Davidson

London, England

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