Because I am so amazed that British people don’t know about Colonialism, I keep grilling them on the subject. One night I was feeling particularly saucy so I decided to begin the hefty task of educating. I asked, “Do you know what Colonialism is?” and one replied “Of course I do!” I further prompted him to explain what he thought it was. He started off by saying, “Well, it all started in a place called Plymouth and then the religious separatists got on the Mayflower and landed in America somewhere…” I stopped him and told him he wasn’t wrong, but that’s not the kind of colonialism I’m referring to. America did used to be a colony, but the difference was that it was England’s people, not an entirely new ethnic group, making the treatment of those in America less severe.
What I meant when I said colonialism was the Imperialism ideals of the powerful countries during the 1700-1800’s and even up to present day. England is known, (at least by Americans) as being one of the most infamous colonizers in the world. England usurped India, North America, Parts of Africa, and Some parts of Asia (Hong Kong). Each time England left their imprint on the places they took over. The impact can be seen economically, politically, socially, religiously, racially, and developmentally across all places. This is of course a sugar-coated version of what Imperialism really was. England, Germany, France, Belgium, and many other countries in Europe discovered the rich resources in Africa and decided to claim territories as their own, as well as the people living there. Natives were forced to work in the fields and convert to Christianity. Others were shipped off to America and Europe as slaves.
In school I learned about the brutality of this time period. The members of the ethnic groups were threatened and beaten, called savages and even killed. If a crime was committed, their hand would be cut, or they might even be executed. Missionaries, believing they were truly helping the “savages,” would force the children into Christian schools and forget their previous religion. Culture was squashed and everything that was not Western was seen as primitive. After years of stealing the resources, most of the continent of Africa had turned into a dry arid desert. Africa used to be lush rainforests like the Amazon. When each country finally decided to relinquish their claim, the instability created a lot of corruption. Furthermore, most resources were exhausted and countries were poor. To make matters worse, many powerful countries and private companies said to these developing countries, ‘If you allow us access to your natural resources, we will help you build roads and infrastructure.’ This offer allows countries to have modern technology and better living conditions at a faster rate, but at a large price. The cost is always being under the thumb of larger countries.
The US is one of the culprits as well. America bought millions of slaves from Africa in the 1800’s as well as the resources that were harvested from the continent. Although America did not have a direct stake in the territory, the products and resources were enough incentive for the US to ignore the injustices. When colonization was finally dissolved in Africa, the US was one of the countries that offered to ‘help’ these new African nations by giving aid for a price.
This review of the historical context is what I learned in school from middle school onward combined with my personal take on the event. From listening to people from other nations speak about their knowledge of the event. It sounds as though they were only taught what everyone else did wrong, and skimmed over their own countries crimes. The British knew about the slave trade with connection to America. I’m sure they were taught that Britain had some slaves but nowhere near the amount America had. I’m not sure they were taught where the slaves came from, or how they became slaves in the first place. Who were the ones who stole them from their homes and put them on cramped little boats to be shipped away to their death?
Disappointing does not describe the level of urgency that the issue of historical education requires. I strongly believe that everyday a nation and people are changing, meaning they are not the same as yesterday. Admitting ones mistakes and moving on to make sure it never happens again is the honorable and most beneficial choice for the world. Since so many people do not know the crimes of their own country, it is likely that these crimes will happen again to some extent. Furthermore, people will be ignorant as to why each nation is they way it is today. Who influenced the success and failures of each group?
I know there are things that are missing in my education that I can’t even imagine and therefore missed in this little rant. I hope that someone will educate me on my bias toward America and bring me into the global view. It is hard to correct something you don’t even know is only part of the story.