Becoming 'European' (2); West Indian officers in British West Africa were treated as "Europeans" by the colonial governments. this led to a conflict in 1904 over their employment in the Gold Coast (now Ghana).

Author:Ray, Carina
Position:Lest We Forget

In the first installment on this two-part series, we explored why British colonial administrators began to recruit West Indians to works as "Euporean" colonial officers in Sierra Leone during the middle of the 19th century. Despite the fact that colonial racism led to a backlash against these officers, who were ultimately barred from serving in all but the most rudimentary positions in Sierra Leone, at the turn of the century the Gold Coast colonial government embarked on its own policy of recruiting West Indians. It was not long, however, before these officers became the target of another racist campaign.

The first all-out attack against West Indian officers in the Gold Coast occurred in 1904, just a few months after the retirement of Governor Nathan, who had vigorously supported their recruitment. This attack, spearheaded by the Comptroller of Customs, Mr. G. Attrill, employed a racial rhetoric which positioned West Indians of African descent, whom he called "Native West Indians", as a problematic interstitial group between Africans and Europeans that disturbed the racial dichotomy which underpinned colonial rule. In the course of making a standard request for a replacement officer to fill the position of an outgoing supervisor of customs, the newly appointed governor, Sir John Rodger, informed the Colonial Office in London that Comptroller of Customs Attrill had requested that no more "Native West Indians" be hired as supervisors in the Customs Department. According to Attrill "such officers are not satisfactory, either when dealing with Europeans or with natives of this colony".


Rodger took Attrill's request a step further, stating: "If, in future, a Native West Indian be appointed in any capacity, to a post in this colony, I venture to suggest that, in justice to Native West Africans, he should receive only the 'bative' terms" as specified by the rules governing the appointment of native officers.

Couched in the language of equality and fairness vis-a-vis African officers, Governor Rodger's two-pronged proposal that (1) the government cease hiring "non-white" West Indians and (2) in the event that "non-white" West Indians were hired they be reclassified as natives was, in short, an attempt to redefine the proper racial place of "non-white" West Indians as either being in the West Indies or in the native sphere of the colony's administration.

Rodger's dispatch created confusion at the Colonial Office with regards...

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