Featured Artwork: Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga
Colonialism, as summarised so easily by Google in one sentence, would be: The policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers and exploiting it economically.
As I see it, this definition seems like a poisoned apple. It’s incredibly simplified and it looks like it’s hiding some skeletons in its cupboard, which it very much is. For years, colonisation has been a project still under wraps and historians have refused to show its true colours. There are still monuments celebrating the lives of a plethora of slave traders and colonisers. Furthermore, much of the history being taught to the younger generations is white-washed and often doesn’t even mention colonisation and its detriments.
Years of slave trade, human torture, and stealing of resources from many nations just going unknown to the common eye is unfathomable to me. When I see statues of slave traders put up as tourist attractions, I find it difficult to believe this false good-boy image people give these historical figures, and this image unfortunately will also project onto the younger generations growing up in society today. It seems like all the wrongdoings they have done have been filtered out or even made to appear non-existent. For these statues to stand tall and be displayed proudly in front of people seems wrong in every way possible. This gave me a huge epiphany on how much of a negative impact this masquerade has given racism today.
In the 1870s, many European imperialist nations began colonising Africa. With Africa being abundant in resources such as sugar, salt, gold, and copper, these materials helped boost European powerhouses economically. The Europeans managed to easily obtain these resources due to cheap labour. However, after many African nations gained full autonomy over their state post-colonialism, many of them suffered the severe aftermath after years of being robbed of their riches and exploited. Subsequently, this left them suffering from poverty.
However, it didn’t stop there; slave trading was also a big issue during those times and even before. In the 17th century, the Portuguese and Europeans kidnapped many Africans against their will on the shores of Africa. This was called the transatlantic slave trade and this cycle continued well into the 18th and 19th centuries. They brought them in shackles and boats that were unbelievably congested. This was all to build their nations, keep them having their lavish homes, and drowning them with sufficient greenery. Their greed was so intoxicating that they couldn’t even see that they were treating so many of them horribly. They would label them ‘savages’ but their methods of abuse were somewhat normalised. This double-standard notion has been used ever since the beginning, and has been ingrained in many people for years and years. It’s almost like a privilege shield.
Sadly, this didn’t stop there. Following the emancipation of slaves in 1833, the British began turning their attention to India. They had to replace the slaves that were working in the sugar plantations and estates, as they had been liberated. This was ruled an economic disaster and they had to get more workers in a more diluted, less abusive method, such as a contract labour scheme. They would be replacing enslaved Africans in British Empires in Malaya, Fiji, Burma, and many more. These Indians came from the lower Madrasi caste of South India or East India. Most South Indian labourers brought to Malaysia, for example, came to earn a wage that would somehow replace what the British called “their miserable existence in their homelands”, but this was because British colonisation in India caused the peasant class to be pushed further into poverty and they were forced to seek other alternatives to make wages. The British colonists considered them very ‘malleable’ and didn’t demand much in terms of wages and working conditions. William Gladstone, who also imported East Indian labourers for his estate in British Guiana, was informed:
“The natives were perfectly ignorant of the place they agreed to go to, or the length of the voyage they were undertaking.”
These were sea journeys that could last 4 months and would have been incredibly grueling on these Indian immigrants. When they first arrived, they were set with harsh rules and weren’t allowed to leave the estate. They were also only paid a pitiful 1 shilling per day and if they broke any rules, it could lead to a fine of $5 or 2 months imprisonment.
The way I see it, so much of this history has been diluted and not fully fleshed out, which erases the full picture, including the bad parts. The fact that so many brown and black bodies have been mistreated and even played a role in the development of so many nations has gone unnoticed is devastating. The fact that many of the artifacts we see in museums across western nations are stolen goods from Africa and Asian countries shows how inherently whitewashed history is. We make statues celebrating historical figures that have caused so much suffering and pain to so many. What about the African child that was taken against her own will from her mother to Europe to work in harsh conditions to benefit their economy? Where is her name? I don’t see it sprawled across a wooden plaque in gold.
In addition, many racist colonist ideologies still linger in post-colonial society. As an Indian person in Malaysia, when the British arrived they went by the Divide and Rule Policy, so many ethnic groups worked in different sections based on their races. They weren’t allowed to come together and we still see this ethnic divide today. Most of the politics and other issues in this country are also still based on ethnic lines.
We don’t realise it, but we have these notions deep-rooted in our everyday thinking. You clench your bag tightly when you see a Black person or a non-black person of colour walk into an elevator. You lock your doors when they walk past your car. You follow them through a store when you think they’re acting suspiciously. You fear a negative action that they might take towards you and this is based on the numerous amount of stereotypes and assumptions they have been plagued with for years — that they are always somehow lower than you in the hierarchy. When we subconsciously go by these ideas, we are feeding into this colonist-like mindset: Treat people based on the colour of their skin.
This is what we’re trying to get rid of right now, and we will not be able to do it until this background history has been thought in schools and put into the regular education system. Then and only then will they know how far back racial discrimination goes and how crippling it is. It’s time to give up this brainwashing scheme they have set. It is well overdue and deserves to be exterminated.
Sources: The British Library