“The Conquest of the Earth…..is not a pretty thing”: Colonizing the Kongo
In my mind, there is no justification for colonial control over a nation. Justification implies that the ends justify the means, or that the pros outweigh the cons, and that simply is not true to me. The “justifications” only ever come from the colonist nation, because for them there are no cons that need outweighing. It is not their people, nor their language, nor their culture, nor their environment that suffer; their nation thrives without consequence. The colonized receive generational trauma, a depletion of resources, and longstanding instability. There is no balancing act- the goal for the colonizing country is to tip the scales in their favor, and the best way to do that is to break off the opposing side.
What is described in Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost is not the extremes of colonialism, because I frankly believe that colonialism in and of itself IS the extreme. He describes how African labor was not used to make themselves money, but for the white man to “rescue” them “from their indolence”. This was slave labor, and it was deemed an appropriate method- hell, it was a praised method, and the norm. Even Africans who weren’t working in ivory gathering or other physical labor weren’t safe. Merchants would be held at *gunpoint* to accept extremely low prices from Europeans. CHILDREN who did nothing wrong but *laugh* were given FIFTY lashes by a horrifying Hippo hide whip that was designed to be particularly painful. They pushed so many terrifying ideas and condoned unspeakable crimes against humanity. Hochschild described it as draconian, but honestly even that harsh of a word doesn’t even begin to describe the extent of the everyday horrors that took place across the continent. It would be a disservice and a disgrace to chalk it up to “extremism”, because this IS colonialism.
I think that many of the short term effects of colonialism quickly turned into long term effects that hindered the development of African nations and their modern status. They were stripped of their natural resources with ecosystems ravaged and environments on the road to destruction. On top of that it is impossible to ask people who have undergone such severe trauma to not just rebuild, but to do it all from scratch. So many western European countries are considered very modern and wealthy because they’ve stolen it, and continue to profit from their theft. I know particularly the British Museum is notorious for having taken countless items from their colonies and refusing to return them to their countries of origin. They will use them to put on display and gain revenue from tourists, but the vast majority of their artifacts are *hoarded* away in private archives. The tourism/travel industry is the largest global industry by size of employment and 5th largest in terms of revenue. Just imagine what gaining back cultural artifacts and increased tourism revenue could do for some countries. Oftentimes the colonizing nations will argue that- oh well we CAN'T give you back your things because- because you just can’t take care of them properly like we can :(( (bs). An obligation of the colonizing nations and frankly the very least they can do to their former colonies is to give them back their damn stuff- not withhold something they have no right to possess in the first place.
Answer to Babybackribs: I think while recognizing the role African elites played in facilitating the slave trade, it’s vital to acknowledge that the type of slavery introduced by Europeans after the “discovery” of the Americas was unlike anything anyone had ever seen or even thought of before. I think the distinction between what they knew and what was truly going on is important, because there was no way for them to know the scale of the effects.
Question for the next: How do you think schools should approach teaching this topic within classrooms? When and how much do you think is appropriate to cover? Should the time spent differ? For example does it make a difference if it’s an American school vs. a British one? What would you say to those who oppose this in the curriculum altogether?