The justification for colonial control over nations was multifaceted. Not only was it one related to race, framed as a way to bring “civilization” to “savages”, but it was also an economic choice, a way to obtain labor and natural resources and enrich the colonizing country. I think that it is really important to recognize that this justification is completely a result of the framework of capitalism. The goal of capitalism is to maximize profit. The same practices - those of plundering resources, exploiting workers for little to no pay, and mistreating those who object - continue today. So although perhaps the rhetoric of a “White Man’s Burden” is no longer morally acceptable, much of these practices have found new language to describe the same choices. In fact, one of the main arguments for colonialism was that the colonized country would benefit in some ways - they would be brought industry, infrastructure, and political organization. In reality, much of the industry and infrastructure was very poorly developed, the political organization was built purposefully to sow division, and the colonizing country got rich. Throughout the 20th and into the 21st century, private corporations from “developed countries” create infrastructure projects that are meant to bring “developing countries” forward, inflating the benefits, placing these countries into tremendous debt, and ultimately destroying livelihoods, increasing inequality, and putting those countries back. (Read about this in “Confessions of an Economic Hitman” by John Perkins).“Developed countries” wage covert operations to bring “political stability” and “democracy” into countries and ultimately sow more instability. Thus, many of the justifications for colonialism in the past, ones of bringing “civilization”, “infrastructure”, and “political stability”, when in reality, the goal is to enrich a greedy few, remain intact today. Reincarnations of the manipulative and exploitative practices of colonialism continue.
King Leopold’s Ghost describes one example of colonialism: the brutal plunder, killing, and destruction of the Congo to meet the desires of one man. Although Hochschild does point out that Leopold’s management of the Congo was unique in the way that he ensured that it was one-man rule, the way the colonized were treated is not unique. The “chicotte” beatings resemble the violence present in many other colonies. The delegation of the acts of terror to Africans themselves so that “the bulk of ‘chicotte’ blows were dealt by Africans on the bodies of other Africans” was a common practice in colonies - placing one segment of the local population above the others to enforce order, giving them benefits, and putting them in charge of inflicting the pain and punishment was meant to further debilitate, psychologically destroy, and break the colonized. The desensitization to acts of brutal terror described in the diary of Georges Bricusse was commonplace among officials in colonies around the world. The rebellion, resilience, and strength of the colonized populations detailed in King Leopold’s Ghost is also not unique - it represents, in many ways, the norm of colonialism.
The development of the world order as it exists now is a product of colonialism. The wealth of Europe and the United States is a product of colonialism. Even climate change can be attributed to colonialism and the disregard for indigenous life and the over-development of infrastructure that damages the earth.The effects of colonialism are deep seeded, and will never go away. Many other students have mentioned the economic and political effects of colonialism: Africa lost billions (trillions?) of today’s dollars of wealth in natural resources. Tons of guns were placed in the hands of the colonized, resulting in civil wars. African countries are not well-represented in many international political and economic organizations. The list goes on. But I also think it is important to talk about the psychological effects. The effects of decades and decades of torture, mistreatment, exploitation, violence, killing, and rape are felt for generations and generations.
I think that the best thing for colonizing countries to do would be to stop engaging in the reincarnations of colonialism that they are engaging in now. Stop taking land to mine, to build hydroelectric dams and to drill. Stop building military bases all over the world in places you previously colonized. Stop giving loans that will place countries in never-ending debt to you. I could keep going but I guess that is enough for now. Yes, reparations could be good. Changing the way we educate children about colonialism is important. But stopping imperialism and the other ways in which the same countries exert their power economically and politically in completely immoral ways needs to stop first.
In response to Eos’s question: “Do you think that the average American learns about colonialism in an adequate and comprehensive enough way?” No. The way history is taught, even at BLS (an elite, public school in Massachusetts, which has very good education compared to many areas of the country) is incomplete. I think there should be a separate required history course on colonialism. There should be an elective on imperialism. There should be an elective called “Movements of Resistance” that explores a bunch of historical and recent movements ( I’ve been thinking about this for awhile) because I think that it is very deliberate that much of the education we do get about the horrible things that have happened in the past leaves out the brilliant upstanders and organizers who built resistance. We, the youth, need to hear these stories so that we can build effective movements too.
My question is: is paying reparations to colonized countries plausible? Is that a good way to address the repercussions of colonialism in the modern day?