Title: When The Whites Went
Author: Robert Bateman
Publisher: Walker and Company
This is a partly apocalyptic book that imagines a world in which a significant proportion of the world dies. In this case, only pure blood negroes are left after an experiment (lightly explained as a high tech experiment with pigmentation) goes wrong and unleashes a disease. The bulk of the story is set in the UK. It has 4 main characters who react differently to the situation.
1. Charles Massam: an educated West African man working with the BBC. He is smart, decisive, commands respect and ultimately understands that his worldview is based on an inferiority complex. His reaction was to set up a community and plan for the future. He initially resisted advice on salvaging modern technology, arguing that technology is the output of white people's civilization. He wanted to return to animal power because black people had not developed any independent technological capacity and he did not think they could learn. He made a telling reference to Liberia, at that point, independent for almost a century and yet a mess. He is redeemed at the end when Ghanaians and black Americans come to the UK to collect technical books so they could maintain the march of technological progress. His story arc is optimistic, showing that people can determine their own destiny and even their own capacities.
2. King Sam: an uneducated glutton who moves into Buckingham Palace and makes himself king. He reminded me of Idi Amin. He represents the conceited person who thinks he is entitled to what he can take. He sees people in positions and does not understand the roles and responsibilities of those positions. All he can see are the perks of that position and he wants those things for himself. There is a version of this in Nigeria. There are stories that when oil companies offered to build infrastructure in oil producing areas, the leaders of those communities would reject the school or hospital being offered and say they prefer to be taken to the hotels where the white men live or be given the sorts of cars that the white men drive. Given his undisciplined, lustful nature, his group is stupidly violent but lacks the organization to be predatory.
3. Commissar Jones: a delusional man who imagined the decimation of the UK's white population was the work of the Russians. His group was supposed to be just for Jamaicans, indicative of the tendency of people to create divisions even when there is no reason. They are a violent group that shoots first and asks questions later. He is hanged by his people. It is not clear why. However, his icy nature gave his group's violence more purpose. Perhaps he was executed as a scapegoat. The group making penance for the violence they did at his bidding.
4. Waldo Amissah: Another person whose response to the situation is delusional. He imagines himself to be a prophet and starts leading his flock to some promised land. He is eventually deserted as they lose faith. His type is abundant today. The sort of people who believe prayer is the ultimate solution. In fact, that is a common statement here in Nigeria. We have a country wracked by violence caused by government failure. Yet instead of people to cooperate and solve the issues, the sentiment is just "pray harder".
I really liked this book. I had bought it because it was referenced in a racist Quora group which holds that black people are so inferior to white people that society and civilization would collapse if left to black people's stewardship. When I began the book, it was clear who the black people were because of the way they spoke. They were presented as speaking in the manner of black slaves. However, it later became clear that these were the uneducated ones. I only later realized that Charles Massam and his group (some of whom had white names like McKinnon and others black African names like Nkoso and Lomoso) were black people. I suppose there is something wrong in me assuming that people who speak good English, who think ahead, who have concerns other than selfish ones, are not black. Like how (it is said) that studious black American children are accused by their peers of acting white. The book criticizes the current global order that has blacks at the bottom. Where conspiracy theorists would say this global order is by design and racists would say it is due to inability, this book implies it is just an accident of history. The reactions of the 4 leaders above, and how their groups are set up are similar to the groups in Stephen King's The Stand. People are people. This opinion is popular and politically correct but also not particularly defensible. The mention of Liberia is an instance of its weakness. Further, while non black groups have nations running the success spectrum from really successful ones to basket cases, black people do not. The 2 functional countries (South Africa and Rhodesia) that black people took over have become like the other failures. So, even if people are people, there is something that is preventing black people from having functional, efficient governments and successful countries. It might be cultural rather than genetic, but it is something that black people themselves should investigate and solve. Not wait for other people to explain the reasons for our failures.
This book is just 183 pages. The writing is tight and readable. The characters are simple and in the case of the men, relatable. There are 2 women that have important roles, though subordinate to their men. And there is no instance of women talking to each other. This is not really a failing of the book, but it would probably be used as a feminist criticism. There are also some gay men in the book whose portrayal was negative. Ordinarily, I scoff at the inclusion of women, minorities, queer people and other marginalized groups in books and films when such inclusion does nothing for the story. However, in this book, they all had a role. Even if the role of the homosexuals was stereotypically negative, it still served to advance the story and resolve conflicts.
The book is recommended because it is a good story and it is well written.