Racism and colonialism were symmetrically related in Africa under white rule. Both drew a line between the “superior” white man and the “inferior” black man
Besides the predominantly economic justification for European colonization of Africa, the race factor stands out distinct. The slave trade which preceded colonialism had confirmed the thesis among Europeans that the black race was an inferior one. The need there fore to “civilize” these inferior peoples was often advanced as one of the major justifications for European control of Africa. This notion fed heavily on a new theory called social Darwinism which appealed to imperialists.
Social Darwinism, Racism and Colonialism in Africa
The greatest intellectual force that lent support and justification to European control of Africa was social Darwinism. It derived from Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and what he called the “survival of the fittest.” Darwin argued that in a world of fierce competition for limited resources, the strong survive and evolve into higher forms while the weak perish.
This theory appealed to imperialists all over Europe who later put it to good use in Africa which in their view belonged to Darwin’s category of the “weak.” The result of this experiment was the surge of colonialism or the scramble for Africa. In his book Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics and Society, Marvin establishes the link between social Darwinism and colonialism in the following words.
“In the popular mind, the concepts of evolution justified the exploitation of lesser breeds without law by superior races. This language of race and conflict, of superior and inferior people, was widely expressed in western states.”
Even before social Darwinism took hold in Africa in the form of colonial rule, European states had advocated reforms to select the best breeds for the greater task of empire building. “When working men proved unfit to serve in the Boer war” says Perry, British imperialists became advocates of health and education reforms to improve the British race so that it could rule the empire.”
The popularity of eugenics throughout the West in the 19th and 20th centuries was proof of the search for a superior race capable of dominating the world. In his search for a master race, Hitler put eugenics to good use. And one of his principal demands was the restoration of lost German colonies in Africa, seized by the Allies after WW1.
Manifestations of Racism in Colonial Africa: South Africa, Congo and others
Colonialism was racism in its most brutal form. It was expressed differently in differently African colonies but the common denominator was the line separating “white” from “black” or the superior from the “inferior.” In South Africa, this line of division was called apartheid but the black man in South Africa was as dreaded and tormented as his brother in Algeria or Kenya or Rhodesia.
More on this topic
Darwinism and Colonialism in Africa
Portuguese Colonialism in Africa
Land Seizure, Land Reform and Land Grab in Africa
While the Portuguese flogged Africans with the painful and humiliating “baramatola” in Angloa and Mozambique, their German brothers subjected Africans in the Kamerun and Togoland to bone-breaking slave labor on roads and plantations. As the British removed “natives” from their ancestral lands in Kenya and Rhodesia, King Leopold contested the number of African limbs and legs he severed in the Belgian Congo. Estimates put his victims at between 5 – 8 million or about 50 percent of the population. In her graphic illustration of European colonialism in Africa Susan m. Pojer unveils Leopold’s carnage in the Congo is conjured in the following testimony by a Belgian official
“It is blood-curdling to see them (the soldiers) returning with the hands of the slain, and to find the hands of young children among the bigger ones evidencing their bravery…. The rubber from this district has cost hundreds of lives, and the scenes I have witnessed, while unable to help the oppressed, have been almost enough to make me wish I were dead…. This rubber traffic is steeped in blood and if the natives were to rise and sweep every white person on the upper Congo into eternity, there would still be left a fearful balance to their credit”
Racism found open justification throughout colonial Africa (and especially in British colonies) in statements which openly said that one white man was equal to or more than hundreds if no thousands of Africa. It was therefore natural to place the white man’s interests first and foremost. The greatest manifestation of this philosophy was in land deprivation.
The Black stigma in Colonial Africa
Throughout colonial Africa, the black skin was viewed with suspicion. As a result, Africans had to carry identification badges before entering into “white quarters.” In Kenya, the black man carried the “kipande” as he sojourned on the land his ancestors. It was the same in Algeria and Southern Rhodesia. In other cases, the black skin was enough to attract police brutality and all forms of discrimination sanctioned by colonial laws.
In the eyes of the French, Africans simply had to move from their “primitive” stage to become assimilated and flogging was also employed to realize this goal. To ascend the hierarchy of civilization had to think, eat, dress and behave like the French. Anything less than this was tantamount to inferiority – with all the inhumanity that came with it.
What later emerged as the anti-colonial struggle or decolonization was, in its proper context, Africa’s war on racism. This was Africa’s way of restoring her dignity stolen under decades of racist oppression. From the independence of Ghana in 1957, each newly independent African country entered into history as an additional success in the general struggle against white domination of Africa. This explains why the fall of apartheid in South Africa was celebrated as one of the most significant events of the 20th century.
Africa from Colonialism to Col War
Phases in the Scramble for Africa
Colonialism and Land Conflicts in Africa
Pojer, M. Susan. European Colonialism in Africa
Perry, Marvin et al. Western Civilisation : Ideas, Politics and Society Vol.11, 1989
Rodney, walter. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, 1989.
Racism and colonialism were symmetrically related in Africa under white rule.