Friday, 11 April 2014

Race and Beyond Race (The Scramble for Africa)

It is well known that in the final years of the 19th century there was a “scramble for Africa” by all the main European powers. It was a scramble for control over precious resources and a scramble for land for the expansion of European population. Britain sought to build a railway north to south from Cairo to Cape Town, while France had similar ambitions East to West. Where the European powers intersected, there was inevitably conflict. Even where they didn’t intersect, there was oppression of native African peoples under the fragile mask of a “civilizing mission”, laid bare for example in Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” (1899) which epitomised how any good intentions of colonizers could degrade into the most wretched inhumanity. 
In the same year (1899), Harry Johnston, a British explorer, botanist, linguist, colonial administrator & historian included the above map of what the civilizing mission might mean for the future of Africa, to conclude his historical survey “A History of the Colonization of Africa by Alien Races”. The map was drawn by the legendary map-maker John George Bartholomew & his company, but Bartholomew himself bemoaned that the maps he created did not necessarily reflect the views of him or his company. It was Harry Johnston who commissioned it. Michel Foucault in his essay “What is an Author?” and Barthes in “Death of the Author” warn against over-emphasis on authorship — Johnston’s book and the above map could be said to be a product of their time, and just as much a consequence of its imagined readers as of its author. They must be seen within their historical context, and they also shed light on that context. Despite this proviso, it is worth noting that Johnston was an idealist and a moderate of his age. He worked alongside blacks in his colonial administration to the chagrin of some of his colleagues. In 1890, he had campaigned for a multi-cultural Africa of “blacks, whites and yellows”. But it seems the latter was only out of pragmatism. What we see in this map is a roadmap for the expansion and formalisation of colonialism. Even if Johnston’s ideal had once been for a rainbow Africa, this map represents a mindset of apartheid with its naked objectification of the continent into three zones of decreasing desirability for the “European” and a fourth zone of undesirability. Here is the map’s colour key:

Colonizability of Africa

The pink: Healthy colonizable Africa, where European races may be expected to become in time the prevailing type, where essentially European states may be formed.

The yellow: Fairly healthy Africa; but where unfavorable conditions of soil or water supply, or the prior establishment of warlike or enlightened native races or other causes, may effectually prevent European colonization.

The gray: Unhealthy but exploitable Africa; impossible for European colonization but for the most part of the great commercial value and inhabited by fairly docile, governable races; the Africa of the trader and planter and of despotic European control

The brown: Extremely unhealthy Africa

Getting past the fact that the Sahara is apparently “fairly healthy”, we find African peoples categorized as docile, warlike or even enlightened, but what they all share is that they are not European. Civilization is equated with European civilization. Yet all the main wars of the period would be between supposedly civilized Europeans in their scramble for territorial control. In the Boer wars (1899-1902), thousands of women & children of Dutch and African origins were put in concentration camps to exert pressure on their fathers to stop fighting against the British or to divert them to protect their own families. This was an ominous precursor to the genocides of the 20th century.

Much has changed in the last hundred years, but the colonial attitude of “control” remains, and among some people of “race”. This is a stark & chilling reminder of its consequences. We must be able to see through those who think in these terms, but the experience of colonialism has unfortunately taught the once colonized to think in these terms also. Looking deeper into Johnston’s reasoning in his book, and its subtle changes in emphasis by the 1913 edition, it is easy to see why.

Johnston cites overwhelmingly difficult “factors opposed to the substitution of a large European population for the present owners of the soil” (p. 279), and though excluding this from the 1913 edition, he still refers to his ideas as a “compromise”. It brings the word into disrepute! It was certainly not a compromise with the native black population who had no say in these machinations, and it could only mean a compromise with the wish for such a complete displacement. There were other interesting changes to the later edition. He toned down “despotic European control” of central Africa in the map’s key to “European supervision and control”, also replacing “despotic” in the text with the milder “autocratic”. He also added warnings against “gross oppression” lest this inflame a blazing rebellion uniting people of all colours and cultural differences against the white man, though he also explained why he thought this unlikely (see next paragraph). Finally, he added some remarks extolling the white’s superior looks and intelligence, envisaging the future of Africa to lie with “a dark-skinned race but with a white man’s features and a white man’s brain”. While wanting to avoid bloodshed and brutality unlike some of his contemporaries, what he reveals is the obsession with race of that period as well as a Malthusian predilection for predicting and engineering possible futures that would suit the “European”. The black population is slowly displaced to less favorable climates, and he even admits this rude form of apartheid could be cast aside two or three hundred years from now if pressures of population force it.

Saddest of all though is his observation “the negro has no idea of racial affinity” (p. 283) which makes any black rebellion difficult, “if not impossible”. In other words, he confirms that the colonizers thought in terms of race, and colonialism taught racism to those who had no concept of race. Now, the West prides itself on non-discrimination, but it is the experience of colonialism that introduced some parts of the world to discrimination in the first place. Johnston describes the natives throughout as “inferior races”. It is only natural then that one of the prescriptions against colonization and slavery in the 20th century would be the emergence of a black identity, a sense of common cause, that helped ultimately to reclaim native rights over colonized lands, secure equal rights in the Americas and end apartheid in South Africa.

Colonialism was facilitated by a certain idea of racial superiority. Now, in the West any ideology of race is largely discredited, especially after the European genocide, but that this ideology was not limited to fascism is largely forgotten. Those who were colonized have not forgotten, and in the face of oppression, ideas of racial and religious unity were powerful defence mechanisms. They provided cultural solidarity between oppressed peoples who might not otherwise have identified with each other. However, these same ideas also exclude and cause conflict, because that is what they were designed to do, to exclude the colonizer!
It’s important that any sense of belonging conditioned by history is not maintained for the sake of history but continues to support present struggles and needs. The truly enlightened must see through those who think in terms of colour and control but also see beyond these differences. It’s all very well for us in the West to preach non-discrimination, setting aside creed and colour, but there is a great shame we did not do this ourselves historically. And the least we can do is to see beyond such differences now.

Acknowledgment: Thanks to @CartoArchive for directing me to the source of the above “Colonizability of Africa Map”: Harry Johnston’s “A History of the Colonization of Africa by Alien Races” (1899). I’ve also cited alterations in the later 1913 edition.

Monday, 7 April 2014

7 Aspects of Love (Jean Vanier)

These are summarised from Jean Vanier's "Becoming Human" about his work with mentally-handicapped patients, but it seems relevant for us all, for dealing with any hurt which we or others might face. 
More detailed extracts may be read at the link below.

7 Aspects of Love

1. to reveal (beauty & recognise value, being present, love)
2. to understand (desires, needs, underlying conditioning)
3. to communicate (naming things & feeling with body, heart)
4. to celebrate (play & feel joy)
5. to empower (responsibility, respect, freedom to grow)
6. to be in communion (trust, letting down barriers, letting go of the need to control)
7. to forgive (acceptance, prayer, centred in love, inner voice, finding God, softness of heart, self-love, service, life meaning)

One sentence from the link which struck me as particularly insightful: "Claudia lived a horrible form of madness which should not be idealized or seen as a gateway to another world." Self-acceptance does not mean idealising the present and refusing to see the possibility or desirability of change. When in the grips of a madness, an addiction, a prejudice, or even a depression, these feelings are not “real just because we feel them”, yet they are real for us now. That is precisely why we, and society as a whole, needs to recognise why? and help inspire the change to grow & get beyond them.

Painting: 'The Lovers' by the impressionist Henri Martin

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Summer Haikus

Warm skin draped in white,
She breathes in with slow delight
A sapling’s fragrance.

Under my paintbrush,
Green sea lapping a white beach
Slipping out of reach

The salt earth sucked dry,
Tumbleweeds & desert cacti
Turn up to the sky


Painting by Pablo Segarra Chías

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The Castle on the Hill

The Castle on the Hill 

Once there was water here

It ran down the valleys

As tall grasses and trees 

Lent over and drank deep.

Now there is no water,

But where a stream had run

A rocky path remains

A path I follow

To lead me home

Away from here

From this place of secret beauty,
Down from the castle that I climbed
Down from the sea and sky

Up and over these winding hills
Into the woods encircling them 
Out to the world that man has built 
And a place where I can drink.

Before I reach my destination,
Two girls on bicycles stop to read a map—
I ask, and they are kind to lend me
Two squirts from their drinking bottle,
Enough to save me on my way.

Photo: “Castel de Montgri” by —okei