Richard Dawkins had African servants while growing up in British colonies

So-called “New Atheist” hero Richard Dawkins is the quintessential neocolonialist. A staunch advocate of the imperialist “clash of civilians” narrative, the British pundit is the contemporary manifestation of the “scientific” racist, with a White Man’s Burden large enough to compensate for his utter dearth of scholarly credentials. (Actual scientists do not respect Dawkins and laugh at his work.)

While Dawkinsracism is often acknowledged, what is much less so is the fact that he literally had African servants.

Dawkins’ father worked for the genocidal, white supremacist British colonial system. The anti-religious fundamentalist was himself born in British-colonized Kenya, and grew up in Malawi — where the British colonial regime violently put down numerous rebellions.

In “The Closed Mind of Richard Dawkins,” a critical review of the book An Appetite for Wonder: The Makings of a Scientist, John Gray wrote (emphasis mine):

Born in 1941 in Nairobi, Kenya, and growing up in Nyasaland, now Malawi, Dawkins writes of life in the colonies in glowingly idyllic terms: “We always had a cook, a gardener and several other servants. … Tea was served on the lawn, with beautiful silver teapot and hot-water jug, and a milk jug under a dainty muslin cover weighted down with periwinkle shells sewn around the edges.” He remembers with special fondness the head servant, Ali, who “loyally accompanied” the family in its travels, and later became Dawkins’s “constant companion and friend.” Unlike the best of the colonial administrators, some of whom were deeply versed in the languages and histories of the peoples they ruled, Dawkins displays no interest in the cultures of the African countries where he lived as a boy. It is the obedient devotion of those who served his family that has remained in his memory.

Loyal servants turn up at several points in Dawkins’s progress through life. When he arrives at Oxford, the porter at Balliol—a college that had demonstrated its intellectual credentials by admitting three members of his family—recalls Dawkins’s father and two uncles but mistakes them for Dawkins’s brothers. This, Dawkins tells us, showed the “timeless view” characteristic of “that loyal and bowler-hatted profession.” He goes on to recount an anecdote about a new recruit to the profession, who recorded in his log-book of his duties how he could hear “rain banging on me bowler hat while I did me rounds.” The tone of indulgent superiority is telling. Dawkins is ready to smile on those he regards as beneath him as long as it is clear who is on top.

It is very likely that some of Dawkins’ servants — such as his subservient “friend” Ali — were Muslim. This may partially explain Dawkins’ pathological hatred of Muslims and Islam.

At the least, this reflects Dawkins’ status as an unreformed British colonialist who believes deeply, and personally, in the cultural “superiority” of the imperial hegemon.

It may hence come as no surprise today that, when Dawkins is not making racist generalizations about Muslims, he is supporting the US invasion of Afghanistan and applauding neo-fascist politicians like Geert Wilders, to whom he wrote, “I salute you as a man of courage, who has the balls to stand up to a monstrous enemy.”

(I also wrote this on the reactionary politics of “New Atheism,” a deeply destructive movement that unfortunately only serves to give atheism a bad name and to associate secularism with right-wing imperial white-chauvinist politics.)