As states and kingdoms demand more resources they must expand their territories, and the process of taking and holding foreign territories is called imperialism (Kottak 2012). Imperialistic civilizations go as far back as the early Egyptian Empire, the Incas, Greeks, and Romans. Yet the colonial epoch which marked European imperialism throughout the past 500 years is a significant part of the history and culture of people living in formerly colonized areas today. Colonialism is the economic, social, political, and cultural domination of a society over an extended period of time. Increasing demands for wealth and resources heightened tensions between European civilizations and compelled European states to expand their territories into Asia, Africa and the Americas in order to extract resources. In the 15th century Portugal launched maritime voyages to extract resources and acquire territories along the coast of Africa and Spain contracted Christopher Columbus to locate and establish territory in the Americas. By the 16th century, France, Britain and the Netherlands began to compete for land resources. By 1914, European empires occupied nearly 85% of the planet (Petraglia-Bahri 1996), and occupation was made possible through the widespread practice of genocide, enslavement, and the exploitation of indigenous people.
Genocide and Enslavement The widespread decimation and exploitation of indigenous people was part and parcel of European imperialism. During the colonial epoch known as The Conquest in the Americas, millions of indigenous people died from colonial conflict or disease. In Africa, the enslavement of more than 20 million people over the course of several centuries decimated the population, ripped apart societies, and opened the door for European occupation in the 20th century. The Trade Triangle, the one-way triangular trade route that imported enslaved African people to the Americas, raw materials from plantations in the Americas to Europe to be manufactured into luxury items, and the exportation of luxury items to Africa in exchange for more people, helped fuel the accumulation of wealth in European civilizations. Watch this video on the Trade Triangle.
Increased wealth, made possible by the one-way triangular trade route, facilitated technological advances in steam-coal power, manufacturing, transportation, weaponry, and medicine which served to strengthen European powers and change worldwide power relations. European powers were able to undermine the sovereignty of foreign states by carving out territories on maps and claiming to ‘explore’ and ‘discover’ areas that were already occupied by indigenous people. The documentary, Uganda Rising, details how contemporary issues in Africa are rooted in colonial policies of the past. The occupation of an indigenous majority by a European minority was made possible by a ‘divide and conquer’ policy that facilitated internal conflicts within occupied groups. Colonial boundaries intersected ethnic groups. Colonial policies priveliged some and alienated others. And despite increasingly popular ideas about liberty and equality among the masses in Europe during that time, colonial states managed territories according to a feudal-capitalist model; rights and privileges were granted to Europeans and to indigenous people who abandoned their culture and conformed to European authority and ways of life. In light of the apparent atrocities and inequalities that became evident during the colonial era, imperialists relied on propaghanda that offered a moral justification for the injustices that were embedded within the colonial system. The Race Science webpage explore how racial theories and categories were created by philosophers and scientists in order to reconcile ideas about equality with the oppression of large groups of people. Evolutionary theories were used to construct linear trajectories that positioned occupied societies behind European societies, and were therefore in need of ‘development.’
Prejudice and Orientalism There is a distinctive pattern associated with power and representation. In most cases, representations are produced by those who are in power, and the powerless are usually the ones being represented. In his book, Orientalism (1978), Edward Said points out the social and political implications associated with power and representation as he described the inconsistencies between outsider representations of Arab men and his own experiences as an Arab man. According to Said, prejudiced outsider interpretations are shaped by the attitudes of imperialists in order to justify the occupation of foreign territories and the exploitation of indigenous people who live in those territories. Although Said’s analysis primarily targets artistic representations of the Middle East by European artists, his orientalist critique has been expanded to address pejorative representations of oppressed people worldwide.
According to Said, negative representations of indigenous people are designed to ensure popular support of occupation among the masses living in the homeland. The Uganda Rising documentary posted above featured Noam Chomsky describing how colonial policies and practices are presented as being for the benefit of the people who are under occupation. This ideology was coined as ‘The White Man’s Burden’ in a poem written by Rudyard Kipling, famous author of The Jungle Book. The poem expresses a sentiment shared by European and American imperialists.
The White Man’s Burden (1899) Take up the White Man’s burden– Send forth the best ye breed– Go bind your sons to exile To serve your captives’ need; To wait in heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild– Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child.
Take up the White Man’s burden– In patience to abide, To veil the threat of terror And check the show of pride; By open speech and simple, An hundred times made plain To seek another’s profit, And work another’s gain.
Take up the White Man’s burden– The savage wars of peace– Fill full the mouth of Famine And bid the sickness cease; And when your goal is nearest The end for others sought, Watch sloth and heathen Folly Bring all your hopes to nought.
Take up the White Man’s burden– No tawdry rule of kings, But toil of serf and sweeper– The tale of common things. The ports ye shall not enter, The roads ye shall not tread, Go mark them with your living, And mark them with your dead.
Take up the White Man’s burden– And reap his old reward: The blame of those ye better, The hate of those ye guard– The cry of hosts ye humour (Ah, slowly!) toward the light:– “Why brought he us from bondage, Our loved Egyptian night?”
Take up the White Man’s burden– Ye dare not stoop to less– Nor call too loud on Freedom To cloke your weariness; By all ye cry or whisper, By all ye leave or do, The silent, sullen peoples Shall weigh your gods and you.
Take up the White Man’s burden– Have done with childish days– The lightly proferred laurel, The easy, ungrudged praise. Comes now, to search your manhood Through all the thankless years Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom, The judgment of your peers!
In his poem, Kipling refers to occupied people as ‘half devil and half child’, ‘sullen’, ‘sloth’ and ‘ungrateful.’ He goes on to characterize occupation as a seeking ‘another’s profit’ and ‘working another’s gain.’ From his perspective, colonialism aims to ‘fill the mouth of famine’ and ‘bid sickness to cease. This poem ignores the social and historical recipe that shapes conditions in Africa by blaming the failures of occupation on ‘sloth and heathen folly’ that bring all hopes to naught.
The Ideological Apparatus It is easy to wonder how a small minority of elites can come to dominate a massive population of people. French philosopher and Marxist, Louis Althuesser (1970), built on Gramsci’s notion of hegemony to argue that while a large part of European occupation was fueled by military power (what he refers to as the repressive apparatus), long-term occupation and state power rests on ideologies that convince people that they are inferior and unequal. He refers to this as the ideological apparatus. While the repressive apparatus constitutes institutions such as the Government, the Administration, the Army, the Police, the Courts, the Prisons, and other bodies that exert external social controls, true domination, according to Althuesser, is based on a set of realities that get inside the minds of people and compel them to control themselves. During the colonial period, euro-centric institutions such as churches, schools, media, and associations were used to get inside the minds of the colonized by promoting European cultural values and ideas. Although World War II is considered the official end of European colonialism, the legacy of world-wide ideological and cultural domination by colonial powers persists into the present. The commercial below is one of several advertisements for a skin-lightening product. Watch the commercial and consider the ways that the advertisement correlates skin color with success and acceptance. Imagine that you are an eight year old girl living in a village in North Africa and this commercial airs several times a day while you are watching television. What type of conclusions would you develop about people and skin color?
Afrocentrism and the Decolonization of African Representations The American Civil Rights Movement in the 20th century called greater attention to dominance of Euro-centric representations and ideologies in the public and academic arena. African-American scholars offered alternative viewpoints and representations that gave a voice to the peoples and cultures represented by Europeans. Watch the brief lecture by M.K. Asante that challenges euro-centrism and calls for the recogniztion of an Afro-centric viewpoint. To learn more, watch the recent film ‘Hidden Colors’ which offers a counter perspective about the historiesof non-european people including coverage of West African Empires and the exploration of Europe by the African Moors.
For discussion, Edward Said defined ‘Orientalism’ as prejudiced outsider interpretations that were shaped by the attitudes of imperialists that serve to justify occupation and exploitation. Use what you learned in the Orientalism lesson to present one example of an orientalist representation (cartography, literature, film, etc) of the people living in your selected country. Who produced the representation and in what historical context? What meanings are conveyed to the viewer? What effects have been and continue to be generated by the representation? Be sure to include a link to the representation.
Extra Credit: Identify and describe a resistance movement to enslavement and/or colonialism in Africa. Be sure to cite scholarly sources for your research.
When you complete the discussion, move on to the Independence lesson.