ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes

   

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One of the chief causes which thus distorted the development of Europe was the African

slave trade, and we have tried to rewrite its history and meaning and to make it occupy

a much less important place in the world’s history than it deserves.

 

 

Books by W.E.B. Du Bois

 

The Suppression of the African Slave Trade  (1896)  / The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study (1899) 

 

 The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches  (1903)  /  John Brown.(1909)  / The Quest of the Silver Fleece (1911) 

 

Darkwater: Voices Within the Veil (1920) /   Gift of Black Folk: The Negroes in the Making of America (1924) 

 

Dark Princess: A Romance (1928)  /  Black Reconstruction in America (1935) / Black Folk, Then and Now (1939)

 

Color and Democracy: Colonies and Peace (1945)  / The World and Africa: An Inquiry (1947)  / In Battle for Peace (1952)

 

A Trilogy: The Ordeal of Monsart (1957) / Monsart Builds a School (1959) / Worlds of Color (1961) / An ABC of Color: Selections (1963)

 

The Autobiography of W.E.B. Du Bois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century (1968)

*   *   *   *   *

Shirley Graham Du Bois, His Day Is Marching On: A Memoir of W.E. B. Du Bois (1971)

 

Leslie Alexander Lacy. The Life of W.E.B. Du Bois: Cheer the Lonesome Traveler (1970)

 

Brian Johnson, ed. Du Bois on Reform: Periodical-based Leadership for African Americans.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

This is an attempt to show briefly what the domination of Europe over the world has meant to mankind and especially to Africans in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

 

What are the real causes back of the collapse of Europe in the twentieth century? What was the real European imperialism pictured in the Paris Exposition of 1900? France did not stand purely for art. There was much imitation, convention, suppression, and sale of genius; and France wanted wealth and power at any price. Germany did not stand solely for science. I remember when a German professor at whose home I was staying in 1890 expressed his contempt for the rising businessmen. He had heard them conversing as he drank in a Bierstube at Eisenach beneath the shade of Luther’s Wartburg. Their conversation, he sneered, was lauter Geschäft! He did not realize that a new Germany was rising which wanted German science for one main purposes—wealth and power. America wanted freedom, but freedom to get rich by any method short of anarchy; and freedom to get rid of the democracy which allowed laborers to dictate to managers and investors.

All these centers of civilization envied England the wealth and power built upon her imperial colonial system. One looking at European imperialism in 1900, therefore, should have looked first at the depressed peoples. One would have found them also among the laboring classes in Europe and America, living in slums behind a façade of democracy, nourished on a false education which lauded the triumphs of the industrial undertaker, made the millionaire the hero of modern life, and taught youth that success was wealth. The slums of England emphasized class differences; slum dwellers and British aristocracy spoke different tongues, had different manners and ideals. The goal of human life was illustrated in the nineteenth-century English novel: the aristocrat of independent income surrounded by a herd of obsequious and carefully trained servants. Even today the British butler is a personage in the literary world.

Out of this emerged the doctrine of the Superior Race: the theory that a minority of the people of Europe are by birth and natural gift the rulers of mankind; rulers of their own suppressed labor classes and, without doubt, heaven-sent rulers of yellow, brown, and black people.

This thinking gave rise to many paradoxes, and it was characteristic of the era that men did not face paradoxes with any plan to solve them. There was the religious paradox: the contradiction between the Golden Rule and the use of force to keep human beings in their appointed places; the doctrine of the White Man’s Burden and the conversion of the heathen, faced by the actuality of famine, pestilence, and caste. There was the assumption of the absolute necessity of poverty for the majority of men in order to save civilization for the minority, for that aristocracy of mankind which was at the same time the chief beneficiary of culture.

There was the frustration of democracy: lip service was paid to the idea of the rule of the people; but at the same time the mass of people were kept so poor, and through their poverty so diseased and ignorant, that they could not carry on successfully a modern state or modern industry. There was the paradox of peace: I remember before World War I, stopping in at the Hotel Astor to hear Andrew Carnegie talk to his peace society. War had begun between Italy and Turkey, but, said Mr. Carnegie blandly, we are not talking about peace among unimportant people; we are talking about peace among the great states of the world. I walked out. Here I know lay tragedy, and the events proved it; for the great states went to war jealousy over the ownership of the little people.

The paradox of the peace movement of the nineteenth century is a baffling comment on European civilization. There was not a single year during the nineteenth century when the world was not at war. Chiefly, but not entirely, these wars were waged to subjugate colonial peoples. They were carried on by Europeans, and at least one hundred and fifty separate wars can be counted during the heyday of the peace movement. What the peace movement really meant was peace in Europe and between Europeans, while for the conquest of the world and because of the suspicion which they held toward each other, every nation maintained a standing army which steadily grew in cost and menace.

One of the chief causes which thus distorted the development of Europe was the African slave trade, and we have tried to rewrite its history and meaning and to make it occupy a much less important place in the world’s history than it deserves.

The result of the African slave trade and slavery on the European mind and culture was to degrade the position of labor and the respect for humanity as such. Not, god knows, that the ancient world honored labor. With exceptions here and there, it despised, enslaved, and crucified human toil. But there were counter currents, and with the Renaissance in Europe—that new light with which Asia and Africa illumined the Dark Ages of Europe—came new hope for mankind. A new religion of personal sacrifice has been building on five hundred years of the self-effacement of Buddha before the birth of Christ, and the equalitarianism of Mohammed which followed six hundred years after Christ’s birth. A new world, seeking birth in Europe, was also being discovered beyond the sunset.

With this new world came fatally the African slave trade and Negro slavery in the Americas. There were new cruelties, new hatred of human beings, and new degradations of human labor. The temptation to degrade human labor was made vaster and deeper by the incredible accumulation of wealth based on slave labor, by the boundless growth of greed, and by world-wide organization for new agricultural crops, new techniques in industry, and world-wide trade.

Just as Europe lurched forward to a new realization of beauty, a new freedom of thought and religious belief, a new demand by laborers to choose their work and enjoy its fruit, uncurbed greed rose to seize and monopolize the uncounted treasure of the fruit of labor. Labor was degraded, humanity was despised, the theory of “race” arose. There came a new doctrine of universal labor: mankind were of two sorts—the superior and the inferior; the inferior toiled for the superior; and the superior were the real men, the inferior half men or less. Among the white lords of creation there were “lower classes” resembling the inferior darker folk. Where possible they were to be raised to equality with the master class. But no equality was possible or desirable for “darkies.” In line with this conviction, the Christian Church, Catholic and Protestant, at first damned the heathen blacks with the “curse of Canaan,” then held out hope of freedom through “conversion,” and finally acquiesced in a permanent status of human slavery.

Despite the fact that the nineteenth century saw an upsurge in the power of laboring classes and a fight toward economic equality and political democracy, this movement and battle was made fiercer and less successful and lagged far behind the accumulation of wealth, because in popular opinion labor was fundamentally degrading and the just burden of inferior peoples. Luxury and plenty for the few and poverty for the many was looked upon as inevitable in the course of nature. In addition to this, it went without saying that the white people of Europe had a right to live upon the labor and property of the colored peoples of the world.

In order to establish the righteousness of this point of view, science and religion, government and industry, were wheeled into line. The word “Negro” was used for the first time in the world’s history to tie color to race and blackness to slavery and degradation. The white race was pictured as “pure” and superior; the black race as dirty, stupid, and inevitably inferior; the yellow race as sharing, in deception and cowardice, much of this color inferiority; while mixture of races was considered the prime cause of degradation and failure in civilization. Everything great, everything fine, everything really successful in human culture, was white.

In order to prove this, even black people in India and Africa were labeled as “white” if they showed any trace of progress; and, on the other hand, any progress by colored people was attributed to some intermixture, ancient or modern, of white blood, or some influence of white civilization.

This logical contradiction influenced and misled science. The same person declared that mulattoes were inferior and warned against miscegenation, and yet attributed the pre-eminence of a Dumas, a Frederick Douglas, a Booker Washington, to their white blood.

A system at first conscious and then unconscious of lying about history and distorting it to the disadvantage of the Negroids became so widespread that the history of Africa ceased to be taught, the color of Memnon was forgotten, and every effort was made in archaeology, history, and biography, in biology, psychology, and sociology, to prove the all but universal assumption that the color line had a scientific basis.

Without the winking of an eye, printing, gunpowder, the smelting of iron, the beginnings of social organization, not to mention political life and democracy, were attributed exclusively to the white race and to Nordic Europe. Religion sighed with relief when it could base its denial of the ethics of Christ and the brotherhood of men upon the science of Darwin, Gobineau, and Reisner.

It was bad enough in all conscience to have the consequences of this thought, these scientific conclusions and ethical sanctions, fall upon colored people the world over; but in the end it was even worse when one considers what this attitude did to the European worker. His aim and idea was distorted. He did not wish to become efficient but rich. He began to want not comfort for all men, but power over other men for himself. He did not love humanity and he hated “niggers.” When our High Commissioner after the Spanish War appeal to America on behalf of “our little brown brother,” the white workers replied,

He may be a brother of William H. Taft,

But he ain’t no brother of mine.

Following the early Christian communism and sense of human brotherhood which began to grow in the Dark Ages and to blossom in the Renaissance, there came to white workers in England, France, and Germany the iron law of wages, the population doctrines of Malthus, and the bitter fight against the early trade unions. The first efforts at education, and particularly the trend toward political democracy, aroused an antagonism of which the French Revolution did not dream. It was the bitter fight that exacerbated the class struggle and resulted in the first furious expression of Communism and the attempt at revolution. The unity of apprentice and master, the Christian sympathy between rich and poor, the communism of medieval charity, all were thrust into the new strait jacket of thought: poverty was the result of sloth and crime; wealth was the reward of virtue and work. The degraded yellow and black peoples were in the places which the world of necessity assigned to the inferior; and toward these lower ranks the working classes of all countries tended to sink, save as they were raised and supported by the rich, the investors, the captains of industry.

In some parts of the world, notably in the Southern states of America, the argument went further than this: frank slavery of black folk was a better economic system than factory exploitation of whites. It was the natural arrangement of industry. It ought to be extended, certainly where colored people were in the majority. For a half a century before 1861 the bolder minds of the South dreamed of a slave empire embracing the American tropics and extending eventually around the world. While their thought did not go to a final appraisement of white laboring classes, they certainly had in mind that these classes must rise or fall; must be forced into the class of employers with political power, or, like the poor whites of the South, be pushed down beside or even below the working slaves.

This philosophy had sympathizers in Europe. Without doubt, a large majority of influential public opinion in England, and possibly in both France and Germany, favored the South at the outbreak of the Civil War and sternly set its face against allowing any maudlin sympathy with “darkies,” half monkeys and half men, in the stern fight for the extension of European domination of the world. Widespread insensibility to cruelty and suffering spread in the white world, and to guard against too much emotional sympathy with the distressed, every effort was made to keep women and children and the more sensitive men deceived as to what was going on, not only in the slums of white countries, but also all over Asia, Africa, and the islands of the sea. Elaborate writing, disguised as interpretation, and the testimony of so-called “experts,” made it impossible for charming people in Europe to realize what their comforts and luxuries cost in sweat, blood, death, and despair, not only in the remoter parts of the world, but even on their own doorsteps.

A gracious culture was built up; a delicately poised literature treated the little intellectual problems of the rich and well-born, discussed small matters of manners and convention, and omitted the weightier ones of law, mercy, justice, and truth. Even the evidence of the eyes and senses was denied by the mere weight of reiteration. The race that produced the ugly features of a Darwin or a Winston Churchill was always “beautiful.” While a Toussaint and Menelik were ugly because they were black.

The concept of the European “gentleman” was evolved: a man well bred and of meticulous grooming, of knightly sportsmanship and invincible courage even in the face of death; but one who did not hesitate to use machine guns against assagais and to cheat “niggers”; an ideal of sportsmanship which reflected the Golden Rule and yet contradicted it—not only in business and in industry within white countries, but all over Asia and Africa—by indulging in lying, murder, theft, rape, deception, and degradation, of the same sort and kind which has left the world aghast at the accounts of what the Nazis did in Poland and Russia.

There was no Nazi atrocity—concentration camps, wholesale maiming and murder, defilement of women or ghastly blasphemy of childhood—which the Christian civilization of Europe had not long been practicing against colored folk in all parts of the world in the name of and for the defense of a Superior Race born to rule the world.

Together with the idea of a Superior Race there grew up in Europe and America an astonishing ideal of wealth and luxury: the man of “independent” income who did not have to “work for a living,” who could indulge his whims and fantasies, who was free from all compulsion either of ethics or hunger, became the hero of novels, of drama and of fairy tale. This wealth was built, in Africa especially, upon diamonds and gold, copper and tin, ivory and mahogany, palm oil and cocoa, seeds extracted and grown, beaten out of the blood-stained bodies of the natives, transported to Europe, processed by wage slaves who were not receiving, and as Ricardo assured them they could never receive, enough to become educated and healthy human beings, and then distributed among prostitutes and gamblers as well as among well-bred followers of art, literature, and drama.

Cities were built, ugly and horrible, with regions for the culture of crime, disease, and suffering, but characterized in popular myth and blindness by wide and beautiful avenues where the rich and fortunate lived, laughed, and drank tea. National heroes were created by lopping off their sins and canonizing their virtues, so that Gladstone had no connection with slavery, Chinese Gordon did not get drunk, William Pitt was a great patriot and not an international thief. Education was so arranged that the young learned not necessarily the truth, but that aspect and interpretation of the truth which the rulers of the world wished them to know and follow.

In other words, we had progress by poverty in the face of accumulating wealth, and that poverty was not simply the poverty of the slaves of Africa and the peons of Asia, but the poverty of the mass workers in England, France, Germany, and the United States. Art, in building, painting, and literature, became cynical and decadent. Literature became realistic and therefore pessimistic. Religion became organized in social clubs where well-bred people met in luxurious churches and gave alms to the poor. On Sunday they listened to sermons—“Blessed are the meek”; “Do unto others even as you would that others do unto you”; “If thine enemy smite thee, turn the other cheek”; “It is more blessed to give than to receive”—listened and acted as though they had read, as in very truth they ought to read—“Might is right”; “Do others before they do you”; “Kill your enemies or be killed”; “Make profits by any methods and at any cost so long as you can escape the lenient law.” This is a fair picture of the decadence of that Europe which led human civilization during the nineteenth century and looked unmoved on the writhing of Asia and of Africa.

Nothing has been more puzzling than the European attitude toward sex. With professed reverence for female chastity, white folk have brought paid prostitution to its highest development; their lauding of motherhood has accompanied a lessening of births through late marriage and contraception, and this has stopped the growth of population in France and threatened it in all Europe. Indeed, along with the present rate of divorce, the future of the whole white race is problematical. Finally, the treatment of colored women by white men has been a worldwide disgrace. American planters, including some of the highest personages in the nation, left broods of colored children who were sometimes sold into slavery.

William Howitt (1792–1879), an English Quaker, visited Australia and the East early in the nineteenth century and has left us a record of what he saw. Of the treatment of women in India he wrote:

The treatment of females could not be described Dragged from the inmost recesses of their houses, which the religion of the country had make so many sanctuaries, they were exposed naked to public view. The virgins were carried to the Court of Justice, where they might naturally have looked for protection, but they now looked for it in vain; for in the face of the ministers of justice, in the face of the spectators, in the face of the sun, those tender and modest virgins were brutally violated. The only difference between their treatment and that of the mothers was that the former were dishonoured in the face of the day, the latter in the gloomy recesses of their dungeon. Other females had the nipples of their breasts put in a cleft bamboo and torn off. What follows is to shocking and indecent to transcribe! It is almost impossible, in reading of these frightful and savage enormities, to believe that we are reading of a country under the British government, and that these unmanly deeds were perpetrated by British agents, and for the purpose of extorting the British revenue.1

It would be unfair to paint the total modern picture of Europe as decadent. There have been souls, that revolted and voices that cried aloud. Men arraigned poverty, ignorance, and disease as unnecessary. The public school and the ballot fought for uplift and freedom for the Negro were extended. But this forward-looking vision had but partial and limited success. Race tyranny, aristocratic pretense, monopolized wealth, still continued to prevail and triumphed widely. The Church fled uptown to escape the poor and black. Jesus laughed—and wept.

The dawn of the twentieth century found white Europe master of the world and white peoples almost universally recognized as the rulers for whose benefit the rest of the world existed. Never before in the history of civilization had self-worship of a people’s accomplishment attained the heights that the worship of white Europe by Europeans reached.

Our poets in the “Foremost Ranks of Time” became dithyrambic: “Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay!” In home and school the legend grew of this strong, masterful giant with mighty intellect, clear brain, and unrivaled moral stamina, who was conducting the world to the last heights of human culture. Yet within less than half a century this magnificent self-worshiping structure had crashed to the earth.

Why was this? It was from no lack of power. The power of white Europe and North America was unquestionable. Their science dominated the scientific thought of the world. The only writing called literature was that of English and French writers, of Germans and Italians, with some recognition of writers in Spain and the United States. The Christian religion, as represented by the Catholic Church and the leading Protestant denominations, was the only system of belief recognized as real religion. Mohammedans, Buddhists, Shintoists, and others were all considered heathen.

The most tremendous expression of power was economic; the powerful industrial organization and integration of modern industry in management and work, in trade and manufacture, was concentrated in England, France, Germany, and the United States. All Asia and Eastern Europe was an appendage; all Africa, China, India, and the islands of the sea, Central and South America and the Caribbean area were dominated by Europe, while Scandinavia, Holland, and Belgium were silent copartners in this domination.

The domination showed itself in its final form in political power either through direct rulership, as in the case of colonies, or indirect economic power backed by military pressure exercised over the backward nations. It was rather definitely assumed in the latter part of the nineteenth century that this economic domination was but a passing phase which in time would lead to colonial absorption.

Particularly was this true with regard to Asia. India was already a part of the British Empire, and Burma. Indonesia was Dutch and Indo-China, French. The future of China depended upon how Europe would divide the land among the British Empire and the Germans, American trade, Italy, France, and Russia. It was a matter simply of time and agreement. General consent had long since decided that China should no longer rule itself.

With regard to the South American countries there was the determination that they must obey the economic rule of the European and North American system. The world looked forward to political and economic domination by Europe and North America and to a more or less complete approach to colonial status for the rest of the earth. Africa of course must remain in absolute thrall, save its white immigrants, who would rule the blacks.

The reason for this world mastery by Europe was rationalized as the natural and inborn superiority of white peoples, showing itself not only in the loftiest of religions, but in a technical mastery of the forces of nature—all this in contrast to the low mentality and natural immorality of the darker races living in lovely lands, “Where every prospect pleases, and only Man is vile!”—as the high-minded Christians sang piously. But they forgot or never were told just how white superiority wielded its power or accomplished this dominion. There were exceptions, of course, but for the most part they went unheard.

Howitt, for instance, wrote from personal knowledge as well as research on the colonial question and described some phrases of the pressure of Europe on the rest of the world in the centuries preceding the nineteenth. Speaking of the Indians of America, Howitt said:

All the murders and desolation of the most pitiless tyrants that ever diverted themselves with the pangs and convulsions of their fellow creatures, fall infinitely short of the bloody enormities committed by the Spanish nation in the conquest of the New World, a conquest on a low estimate, effected by the murder of ten millions of the species! After reading these accounts, who can help forming an indignant wish that the hand of Heaven, by some miraculous interposition, had swept these European tyrants from the face of the earth, who like so many beasts of prey, roamed round the world only to desolate and destroy; and more remorseless than the fiercest savage, thirsted for human blood without having the impulse of natural appetite to plead in their defence!2

Howitt turned to the Portuguese in India:

The celebrated Alphonso Albuquerque made the most rapid strides, and extended the conquests of the Portuguese there beyond any other commander. He narrowly escaped with his life in endeavouring to sack and plunder Calicut. He seized on Goa, which thenceforward became the metropolis of all the Portuguese settlements in India. He conquered Molucca, and gave it up to the plunder of his soldiers. The fifth part of the wealth thus thievishly acquired was reserved for the king, and was purchased on the spot by the merchants for two hundred thousand pieces of gold. Having established a garrison in the conquered city, he made a traitor Indian, who had deserted from the king of Molucca and had been an instrument in the winning of a place, supreme magistrate; but again finding Utimut, the renegade, as faithless to himself, he had him and his son put to death, even though a hundred thousand pieces of gold, a bait that was not easily resisted by these Christian marauders, was offered for their lives. He then proceeded to Ormuz in the Persian Gulph, which was a great harbour for the Arabian merchants; reduced it, placed a garrison it, seized on fifteen princes of the blood, and carried them off to Goa. Such were some of the deeds of this celebrated general, whom the historians in the same breath in which they record these unwarrantable acts of violence, robbery, and treachery, term an excellent and truly glorious commander! He made a descent on the isle of Ceylon, and detached a fleet to the Moluccas, which established a settlement in those delightful regions of the cacao, the sago-tree, the nutmeg, and the clove. The kings of Persia, of Siam, Pegu, and others, alarmed at his triumphant progress, of the Malabar coast. With less than forty thousand troops, the Portuguese struck terror into the empire of Morocco, the barbarous nations of Africa, the Mamelucs, the Arabians, and all the eastern countries from the island of Ormuz to China.3

Turning to the Dutch, Howitt continued:

To secure the dominion of these, they compelled the princess of Ternate and Tidore to consent to the rooting up all the clove and nutmeg trees in the islands not entirely under the jealous safeguard of Dutch keeping. For this they utterly exterminated the inhabitants of Banda, because they would not submit passively to their yoke. Their lands were divided amongst the white people, who got slaves from other islands to cultivate them. For this Malacca was besieged, its territory ravaged, and its navigation interrupted by pirates; Negapatan was twice attacked; Cochin was engaged in resisting the kings of Calicut and Travancore, and Ceylon and Java were made scenes of perpetual disturbances. These notorious dissensions have been followed by as odious oppressions, which have been practiced at Japan, China, Cambodia, Arracan on the banks of the Ganges, at Achen, Coromandel, Surat, in Persia, at Bassora, Mocha, and other places. For this they encouraged and established in Celebes a system of kidnapping the inhabitants for slaves which converted that island into a perfect hell.4

Howitt then turned to England in India:

Unfortunately, we all know what human nature is. Unfortunately, the power, the wealth, and the patronage brought home to them by the very violation of their own wishes and maxims were of such an overwhelming and seducing nature that it was in van to resist them. Nay, in such colours does the modern philosophy of conquest and diplomacy disguise the worst transactions between one state and other, that is not for plain men very readily to penetrate to the naked enormity beneath.5

*   *   *  *   *

But if there ever was one system more Machiavellian—more appropriative of the shew of justice where the basest injustice was attempted—more cold, cruel, haughty, and unrelenting than another—it is the system by which the government of the different states of India has been wrested from the hands of their respective princes and collected into the grasp of the British power.6

*   *   *  *   *

The first step in the English friendship with the native princes, has generally been to assist them against their neighbours with troops, or to locate troops with them to protect them from aggression. For these services such enormous recompense was stipulated for, that the unwary princes, entrapped by their fears of their native foes rather than of their pretended friends, soon found that they were utterly unable to discharge them. Dreadful exactions were made on their subjects, but in vain. Whole provinces, or the revenues of them, were soon obliged to be made over to their grasping friends; but they did not suffice for their demands. In order to pay them their debts or their interest, the princes were obliged to borrow large sums at an extravagant rate. These sums were eagerly advanced by the English in their private and individual capacities, and securities again taken on lands or revenues. At every step the unhappy princes became more and more embarrassed, and as the embarrassment increased, the claims of the Company became proportionably pressing. In the technical phraseology of moneylenders, ‘the screw was then turned,’ till there was no longer any enduring it.7

We may turn now to the conquest of Africa. The Portuguese, Dutch, and British decimated the West Coast with the slave trade. The Arabs depopulated the East Coast. For centuries the native Bantu, unable to penetrate the close-knit city-states of the Gulf of Guinea, had slowly been moving south, seeking pasture for their herds and protecting their culture from the encroachment of the empire-building in the black Sudan.

In the nineteenth century black folk and white—Hottentot, Bushman and Bantu, French, Dutch, and British—met at the Cape miscalled “Good Hope.” There ensued a devil’s dance seldom paralleled in human history. The Dutch murdered, raped, and enslaved the Hottentots and Bushmen; the French were driven away or died out; the British stole the land of the Dutch and their slaves and the Dutch fled inland. The incoming Bantu, led by Chaka, the great Zulu chieftain, fell on both Dutch and English with a military genius unique in history.

The black Bantu had almost won the wars when a mulatto native discovered diamonds. Then English and Dutch laid bare that cache of gold, the largest in the world, which the ocean thrust above the dark waters of the south five million years ago. Enough; the greed of white Europe, backed by the British Navy, fought with frenzied determination, world-wide organization, and every trick or trade, until the blacks were either dead or reduced to the most degrading wage bondage in the modern world; and the Dutch became vassals of England, to be repaid by the land and labor of eight million blacks.

Frankel, the complacent servant of capitalists and their defender, has written: “The wealth accruing from the production of diamonds in South Africa has probably been greater than that which has ever been obtained from any other commodity in the same time anywhere in the world.”8

This was but a side enterprise of Britain. By means of its long leadership in the African slave trade to America, Great Britain in the nineteenth century began to seize control of land and labor all over Africa. Slowly the British pushed into the West and East coasts. They overthrew Benin and Ashanti. A British governor of Ashanti later admitted:

The earliest beginnings, which had their inception in the dark days of the slave trade, cannot but hold many things that modern Englishmen must recall with mingled shame and horror. The reader will find much to deplore in the public and private acts of many of the white men who, in their time, made history on the Coast; and some deeds were done which must forever remain among the most bitter and humiliating memories of every Britisher who loves his country and is jealous of its fair name.9

The French conquered Dahomey and the remains of the Mandingo, Haussa, and other kingdoms. The British pitted Christianity against Islam in East Africa and let them fight it out until at last Uganda became a British protectorate.

In Abyssinia the natives drove back British, Egyptians, and Italians, and the Mahdi with his black Mohammedan hordes came in from the west and drove England and Egypt out of the Sudan. The threat of the French and their possible alliance with Abyssinia brought the British back with machine guns.

It is said that Kitchener’s warfare against the followers of the Mahdi was so brutal that even the British Tories were revolted. His own brother-in-law said of him: “Well, if you do not bring down a curse on the British Empire for what you have been doing there is no truth in Christianity.” His desecration of the Mahdi’s tomb even Winston Churchill called a “foul deed.” And when Kitchener found that even the promoters of the inexcusable war could not swallow this last, he tried to put the blame of the desecration onto Gordon’s nephew by making absolutely false accusation.10 Everywhere is the sordid tale of deception, force, murder, and final subjection. We need hardly recall the Opium War in China, which the British, followed by the Americans and French, made excuse for further aggression.

The singular thing about this European movement of aggression and dominance was the rationalization for it. Missionary effort during the nineteenth and early twentieth century was widespread. Millions of pounds and dollars went into the “conversion of the heathen” to Christianity and the education of the natives. Some few efforts, as in Liberia and Sierra Leone, were made early in the nineteenth century to establish independent Negro countries, but this was before it was realized that political domination was necessary to full exploitation.

Slowly the Sudan from the Atlantic to the Nile was conquered. Slowly Egypt itself and the Egyptian Sudan passed under the control of Europe. The resistance of Nubia and Ethiopia was almost in vain down into the twentieth century. West Africa fought brilliantly and continuously. But in all this development the idea persisted in European minds that no matter what the cost in cruelty, lying, and blood, the triumph of Europe was to the glory of God and the untrammeled power of the only people on earth who deserved to rule; that the right and justice of their rule was proved by their own success and particularly by their great cities, their enormous technical mastery over the power of nature, their gigantic manufacture of goods and systems of transportation over the world. Production for production’s sake, without inquiry as to how the wealth and services were distributed, was the watchword of the day.

For years the British imperial government avoided direct responsibility for colonial exploitation. It was all at first “free enterprise” and “individual initiative.” When the scandal of murder and loot could no longer be ignored, exploitation became socialized with imperialism. Thus, for a century or more the West India Company, the Niger Company, the South and East Africa Companies, robbed and murdered as they pleased with no public accounting. At length, when these companies had stolen, killed, and cheated to such an extent that the facts could not be suppressed, governments themselves came into control, curbing the more outrageous excesses and rationalizing the whole system.

Science was called to help. Students of Africa, especially since the ivory-sugar-cotton-Negro complex of the nineteenth century, became hag-ridden by the obsession that nothing civilized is Negroid and every evidence of high culture in Africa must be white or at least yellow. The very vocabulary of civilization expressed this idea; the Spanish word “Negro,” from being a descriptive adjective, was raised to the substantive name of a race and then deprived of its capital letter.

Then come efforts to bring harmony and co-operation and unity—among the exploiters. A newspaper correspondent who had received world-wide publicity because of his travels in Africa was hired by the shrewd and unscrupulous Leopold II of Belgium to establish an international country in central Africa “to peacefully conquer and subdue it, to remold it in harmony with modern ideas into National States, within whose limits the European merchant shall go hand in hand with the dark African trader, and justice and law and order shall prevail, and murder and lawlessness and the cruel barter of slaves shall be overcome.”11

Thus arose the Congo Free State, and by balancing the secret designs of German, French, and British against each other, this state became the worst center of African exploitation and started the partition of Africa among European powers. It was designed to form a pattern for similar partition of Asia and the South Sea islands. The Berlin Congress and Conference followed. The products of Africa began to be shared and distributed around the world. The dependence of civilized life upon products from the ends of the world tied the everyday citizen more and more firmly to the exploitation of each colonial area: tea and coffee, diamonds and gold, ivory and copper, vegetable oils, nuts and dates, pepper and spices, olives and cocoa, rubber, hemp, silk, fibers of oil sorts, rare metals, valuable lumber, fruit, sugar. All these things and a hundred others became necessary to modern life, and modern life thus was built around colonial ownership and exploitation.

The cost of this exploitation was enormous. The colonial system caused ten times more deaths than actual war. In the first twenty-five years of the nineteenth century famines in India starved a million men, and famine was bound up with exploitation. Widespread monopoly of land to deprive all men of primary sources of support was carried out either through direct ownership or indirect mortgage and exorbitant interest. Disease could not be checked: tuberculosis in the mines of South Africa, syphilis in all colonial regions, cholera, leprosy, malaria.

One of the worst things that happened was the complete and deliberate breaking-down of cultural patterns among the suppressed peoples.

Europe was staggered at the Leopoldian atrocities, and they were terrible indeed; but what we, who were behind the scenes, felt most keenly was the fact that the real catastrophe in the Congo was desolation and murder in the larger sense. The invasion of family life, the ruthless destruction of every social barrier, the shattering of every tribal law, the introduction of criminal practices which struck the chiefs of the people dumb with horror—in a word, a veritable avalanche of filth and immorality overwhelmed the Congo tribes.12

The moral humiliation forced on proud black people was illustrated in the British conquest of Ashanti. The reigning Asantahene had never been conquered. His armies had repeatedly driven back the British, but the British finally triumphed after five wars by breaking their word and overwhelming him by numbers and superior weapons. They promised him peace and honor, but they demanded a public act of submission.

This, of course, was a terrible blow to Prempi’s pride. It was a thing that no Ashanti king had ever done before, except when Mensa voluntarily made his submission by deputy in 1881; and was the one thing above all others that he would have avoided if he could. For a few moments he sat irresolute, nervously toying with his ornaments and looking almost ready to cry with shame and annoyance; but Albert Ansa came up and held a whispered conversation with him, and he then slipped off his sandals and, laying aside the golden circlet he wore on his head, stood up with his mother and walked reluctantly across the square to where the Governor was sitting. Then, halting before him, they prostrated themselves and embraced his feet and those of Sir Francis Scott and Colonel Kempster.

The scene was a most striking one. The heavy masses of foliage, that solid square of red coats and glistening bayonets, the artillery drawn up ready for any emergency, the black bodies of the Native Levies, resting on their long guns in the background, while inside the square the Ashantis sat as if turned to stone, as Mother and Son, whose word was a matter of life and death, and whose slightest move constituted a command which all obeyed, were thus forced to humble themselves in sight of the assembled thousands.13

Perhaps the worst thing about the colonial system was the contradiction which arose and had to arise in Europe with regard to the whole situation. Extreme poverty in colonies was a main cause of wealth and luxury in Europe. The results of this poverty were disease, ignorance, and crime. Yet these had to be represented as natural characteristics of backward peoples. Education for colonial must inevitably mean unrest and revolt; education, therefore, had to be limited and used to inculcate obedience and servility lest the whole colonial system be overthrown.

Ability, self-assertion, resentment, among colonial peoples must be represented as irrational efforts of “agitators”—folk trying to attain that for which they were not by nature fitted. To prove the unfitness of most human beings for self-rule and self-expression, every device of science was used: evolution was made to prove that Negroes and Asiatics were less developed human beings than whites; history was so written as to make all civilization the development of white people; economics was so taught as to make all wealth due mainly to the technical accomplishment of white folks supplemented only by the brute toil of colored peoples; brain weights and intelligence tests were used and distorted to prove the superiority of white folk. The result was complete domination of the world by Europe and North America and a culmination and tempo of civilization singularly satisfactory to the majority of writers and thinkers at the beginning of the twentieth century. But it was a result that was hollow, contradictory, and fatal, as the next few year quickly showed.

The proof of this came first from the colonial peoples themselves. Almost unnoticed, certainly unlistened to, there came from the colonial world reiterated protest, prayers, and appeals against the exclusion of the majority of mankind from the vaunted progress of the world. The world knows of such protests from the National Congress of India, but little has been written of the protests of Africa. For instance, on the Gold Coast, British West Africa, in 1871, some of the kings and chiefs and a number of educated natives met at Mankesim and drew up a constitution for self-government. There members of the Fanti tribe were alliance with England and had supported the British against the Ashanti in the five long wars. They now proposed an alliance with Britain to establish self-government. This constitution, the Mfantsi Amanbuhu Fekuw or Fanti Confederation, agitated in 1865, organized in 1867, and adopted in 1871, consisted of forty-seven articles, many of which were subdivided into several sections. Some of the principal articles were as follows:

Article 8. That it be the object of the Confederation

§ 1. To promote friendly intercourse between all Kings and Chiefs of Fanti, and to unite them for offensive and defensive purposes against their common enemy.

§ 2. To direct the labours of the Confederation towards the improvement of the country at large.

§ 3. To make good and substantial roads throughout all the interior districts included in the Confederation.

§ 4. To erect school-houses and establish schools for the education of all children within the Confederation and to obtain the service of efficient schoolmasters.

§ 5. To promote agricultural and industrial pursuits, and to endeavour to introduce such new plants as may hereafter become sources of profitable commerce to the country.

§ 6. To develop and facilitate the working of the mineral and other resources of this country.

Article 12. That this Representative Assembly shall have the power of preparing laws, ordinances, bills, etc., of using proper means for effectually carrying out the resolutions, etc., of the Government, of examining any questions laid before it by the ministry, and by any of the Kings and Chiefs, and, in fact, of exercising all the functions of a legislative body.

Article 21 to 25 deal with education.

Article 26. That main roads be made connecting various provinces or districts with one another and with the sea coast. …

Article 37. That in each province or district provincial courts be established, to be presided over by the provincial assessors.

Article 43. That the officers of the Confederation shall render assistance as directed by the executive in carrying out the wishes of the British Government.

Article 44. That it be competent to the Representative Assembly, for the purpose of carrying on the administration of the Government, to pass laws, etc., for the levying of such taxes as it may seem necessary.14

This was the so-called Fanti Federation, and in punishment for daring to propose such a movement for the government of an African British colony, the participants were promptly thrown in jail and charged with treason.

This attitude toward native rights and initiative has continued right down to our day. In 1945 the colored people of South Africa, speaking for eight million Negroes, Indians, and mixed groups, sent out this declaration to the proposed United Nations:

The non-European is debarred from education. He is denied access to the professions and skilled trades; he is denied the right to buy land and property; he is denied the right to trade or to serve in the army—except as a stretcher-bearer or servant; he is prohibited from entering places of entertainment and culture. But still more, he is not allowed to live in the towns. And if it was a crime in Nazi Germany for an “Aryan” to mix with or marry a non-Aryan, it is equally a criminal offence in South Africa for a member of the Herrenvolk to mix with or marry with the slave race. … In the majority of instances there is a separate law for Europeans and a separate law for non-Europeans; in those rare cases where one Act legislates for both, there are separate clauses discriminating against the non-Europeans. While it is true that there are no Buchenwald concentration camps in South Africa, it is equally true that the prisons of South Africa are full to overflowing with non-Europeans whose criminality lies solely in the fact that they are unable to pay the poll-tax, a special, racial tax imposed upon them. But this law does not apply to the Aryan; for him there is a different law which makes the nonpayment of taxes not a criminal, but a civil, offence for which he cannot be imprisoned.

 

But if there is no Buchenwald in South Africa, the sadistic fury with which the Herrenvolk policemen belabour the non-European victim, guilty or not guilty, is comparable only to the brutality of the S.S. Guards. Moreover, the treatment meted out to the non-European in the Law Courts is comparable only to the fate of the non-Aryan in the Nazi Law Courts. But the fundamental difference in law and morality is not only expressed in different paragraphs of the Legal Statues, it lies in the fundamentally different concept, of the value of the life of a non-European as a compared with the value placed upon the life of a European. The life of a non-European is very cheap in South Africa, as cheap as the life of a Jew in Nazi Germany.

From the foregoing it is clear that the non-Europeans of South Africa live and suffer under a tyranny very little different from Nazism. And if we accept the premise—as we hope the Nations of the World do—that peace is indivisible, if we accept that there can be no peace is indivisible, if we accept that there can be no peace as long as the scourge of Nazism exists in any corner of the globe, then it follows that the defeat of German Nazism is not the final chapter of the struggle against tyranny. There must be many more chapters before the peoples of the world will be able to make a new beginning. To us in South Africa it is indisputable that there can be no peace as long as this system of tyranny remains. To us it is ludicrous that this same South African Herrenvolk should speak abroad of a new beginning, of shaping a new world order, whereas in actuality all they wish is the retention of the present tyranny in South Africa, and its extension to new territories. Already they speak of new mandates and new trusteeships, which can only mean the extension of their Nazi-like domination over still wider terrain. It is impossible to make a new start as long as the representatives of this Herrenvolk take any part in the shaping of it. For of what value can it be when the very same people who speak so grandiosely abroad of the inviolability of human rights at home trample ruthlessly underfoot those same inalienable rights? It is the grossest of insults not only to the eight million non-Europeans of South Africa, but to all those who are honestly striving to shape a world on new foundations, when the highest representative of the Herrenvolk of South Africa, Field-Marshall Smuts, who has devoted his whole life to the entrenchment of this Nazi-like domination, brazenly speaks to the Nations of the World of the “sanctity and ultimate value of human personality” and “the equal rights of men and women.”15

This does not say that all European civilization is oppression, theft, and hypocrisy; there has been evidence of selfless religious faith; of philanthropic effort for social uplift; of individual honesty and sacrifice. But this, far from answering the indictment I have made, shows even more clearly the moral plight of present European culture and what capitalistic investment and imperialism have done to it.

Because of the stretch in time and space between the deed and the result, between the work and the product, it is not only usually impossible for the worker to know the consumer; or the investor, the source of his profit, but also it is often made impossible by law to inquire into the facts. Moral judgment of the industrial process is therefore difficult, and the crime is more often a matter of ignorance rather than a deliberate murder and theft; but ignorance is a colossal crime in itself. When a culture consents to any economic result, no matter how monstrous its cause, rather than demand the facts concerning work, wages, and the conditions of life whose results make the life of the consumer comfortable, pleasant, and even luxurious, it is an indication of a collapsing civilization.

Here for instance is a lovely British home, with green lawns, appropriate furnishings and a retinue of well-trained servants. Within is a young woman, well trained and well dressed, intelligent and high-minded. She is fingering the ivory keys of a grand piano and pondering the problem of her summer vacation, whether in Switzerland or among the Italian lakes; her family is not wealth, but it has a sufficient “independent” income from investments to enjoy life without hard work. How far is such a person responsible for the crimes of colonialism?

It will in all probability not occur to her that she has any responsibility whatsoever, and that may well be true. Equally, it may be true that her income is the result of starvation, theft, and murder; that it involves ignorance, disease, and crime on the part of thousands; that the system which sustains the security, leisure, and comfort she enjoys is based on the suppression, exploitation, and slavery of the majority of mankind. Yet just because she does not know this, just because she could get the facts only after research and investigation—made difficult by laws that forbid the revealing of ownership of property, source of income, and methods of business—she is content to remain in ignorance of the source of her wealth and its cost in human toil and suffering.

The frightful paradox that is the indictment of modern civilization and the cause of its moral collapse is that a blameless, cultured, beautiful young woman in a London suburb may be the foundation on which is built the poverty and degradation of the world. For this someone is guilty as hell. Who?

This is the modern paradox of Sin before which the Puritan stands open-mouthed and mute. A group, a nation, or a race commits murder and rape, steals and destroys, yet no individual is guilty, no one is to blame, no one can be punished!

The black world squirms beneath the feet of the white in impotent fury or sullen hate:

I hate them, O I hate them well!

I hate them, Christ, as I hate hell!

If I were God, I’d sound their knell,

This day!

The whole world emerges into the Syllogism of the Satisfied: “This cannot be true. This is not true. If it were true I would not believe it. If it is true I do not believe it. Therefore it is false!” Only an Emerson could see the paradox:

O all you virtues, methods, mights;

Means, appliances, delights;

Reputed wrongs, and braggart rights;

Smug routine, and things allowed;

Minorities, things under cloud,

Hither take me, use me, fill me,

Vein and artery, though ye kill me.

In 1945 Jan Smuts, Prime Minister of South Africa, who had once declared that every white man in South Africa believes in the suppression of the Negro except those who are “mad, quite mad,” stood before the assembled peoples of the world and pleaded for an article on “human rights” in the United Nations Charter. Nothing so vividly illustrates the twisted contradiction of thought in the minds of white men. What brought it about? What caused this paradox? I believe that the trade in human beings between Africa and America, which flourished between the Renaissance and the American Civil War, is the prime and effective cause of the contradictions in European civilization and the illogic in modern thought and the collapse of human culture. For this reason I am turning to a history of the African slave trade in support of this thesis.

Endnotes

1 William Howitt, Colonization and Christianity (London: Longman, Orme, Brown, Green & Longmans, 1838), pp. 280–81.

2 Ibid, p. 61.

3 Ibid, pp. 176–77.

4 Ibid, p. 194.

5 Ibid, p. 209.

6 Ibid, p. 210.

7 Ibid, pp. 213–14.

8 S. Herbert Frankel, Capital Investment in Africa (London: Oxford University Press, 1938), p. 52.

9 W. Walton Claridge, A History of the Gold Coast and Ashanti (London: John Murray, 1915), Vol. I, p. ix.

10 Cf. Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, My Diaries (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1921), Vo. I, pp. 311, 313, 317, 319, 322, 323–24. The brother-in-law was Sir William Butler.

11 J. Scott Keltie, The Partition of Africa (London: Edward Stanford, 1895,), p. 132.

12 Harris, Dawn In Africa, p. 66.

13 Claridge, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 413.

14 Ibid., Vol. I, pp. 617–18.

15 A Declaration to the Nations of the World issued by the Non-European United Committee, Cape Town, South Africa, 1945.

Edited by John A. Williams and Charles F. Harris • Amistad 2: Writings on Black History and Culture • Copyright © 1971 by John A. Williams, et al. • Vintage Books Edition, February 1971 • New York, NY

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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