– by Shenali D. Waduge –
“White man’s burden” was a phrase coined by author Rudyard Kipling in 1899. It referred to the idea that white races in Europe and the United States had a responsibility to educate and Christianize “uncivilized” and “primitive” peoples of the world. ‘Burden’ implied a moral rationale lending it a Christian duty to justify British and American imperialism overseas at a time wherein British sphere of colonial influence spanned the globe. The geographical reach of the British Empire led to the metaphorical statement that ‘the sun never sets on the British Empire’. The underlying notion has always been that colonized indigenous people of Africa, Asia, North and South America, South Pacific and the Caribbean were incapable of self-government. Yet, even as a satire the poem denotes the arrogance of the Christian West to presume they could take charge of the destiny of other people. It was also a warning that European nations would bring blame and hatred – it did and still continues. The Eurocentric view of the world prevails unfortunately even amongst non-Western nations and particularly among those non – whites who embraced the white man’s religion selling their birthright for a mess of pottage. If White Christian West thought it was their moral responsibility to civilize cultures of non-Europeans it is now time for a leader to emerge on behalf of the discriminated, plundered nations to represent the black, brown and yellow man in taking up the ‘non-white man’s burden’ and President Rajapakse who defied West’s orders to halt the military offensive against LTTE should not miss this great and unique opportunity to proclaim the close of a chapter of mental servitude born out of centuries of western imperialism. President Rajapakse should show defiance by calling for a public apology and due reparations from the colonial west, and in raising the standard of the oppressed become a hero throughout the world in defense of the non-white man and woman.
Kipling’s ‘White Man’s Burden’ – Rajapakse’s Non-White Man’s Burden
Incidentally, the ‘Black Man’s Burden’ was written by H. T. Johnson just 2 months after Kipling’s poem was published. Johnson goes on to say that the Europeans were overly violent and seeking to take over the world with ‘bullets, blood or death’. To Johnson the Black Man’s Burden was to deal with Europeans who were trying to conquer them whereas Kipling seems to think the reward the Europeans got for trying to civilize the ‘Black Man’ was ‘hate of those ye guard’.
Adding a bit of satire was Ernest Crosby who wrote ‘The Real White Man’s Burden’ http://www.learner.org/courses/amerhistory/resource_archive/resource.php?unitChoice=16&ThemeNum=1&resourceType=2&resourceID=10142.
The black man’s struggle and suffering has never encapsulated accurately the feelings and emotions of people forced to live as they did under the jackboot of the Christian Western nations. Slavery was just one aspect of the horrific inhumane treatment meted out to a race of people, stolen from their homelands, broken apart from their families and thrust into a lifestyle that inhibited their every move. The whites were quick to stereotype non – white people. We cannot fathom the mindset of these slave owners yet remain puzzled that these crimes have never taken the international stage of accountability and in the least acknowledgment. Almost always the European response is to claim these crimes belong to history and close the chapter. Yet, white people have ensured that no part of their role in colonial history has ever been passed down to their children and very few are aware how European countries gathered to divide Africa amongst themselves without consulting anyone from Africa. Tribes, people and families were simply divided by a line or border. The Europeans did the same to Asia. Today school children in England, France, Spain, Portugal, Netherlands, among western countries have very little idea of the dark chapter of 500 years of western colonialism, and of the genocide and crimes against humanity committed against non – white races by their forefathers. What is made available to school children in Europe and USA is a totally white – washed history of European colonialism which is very much in step with the anachronistic world view presented in verse by Rudyard Kipling.
Western society also engages in “intellectual protectionism” the argument that only those within the western culture could usefully discuss it. That is why the writings of non – white intellectuals never become part of teaching material for school children in England and other western countries, and the opinions of non – whites are rarely published as leading feature articles in the western media. Racism against non-whites very much prevails though we are foolish to fall for exterior whitewashing. We now need to wake up to reality. Placing a handful of non-white officials on the international arena is useless if these non-whites are functioning to ONLY white agendas? UNHRC head is just one good example, present and former UN head is another.
European nations went on to ‘colonize’ the world’s information, painting Europe as the shining beacon of good, noble and everything that was right, while the rest of the world was painted as dark, savage and desperately in need of enlightenment. This theme is best articulated in Orientalism (1978), by Edward W. Saïd and later followed by several others. It was first published as a foundational text for the academic field of Post-colonial Studies, wherein the denotations and connotations of the term “Orientalism” were expanded to describe what Saïd saw as the false cultural assumptions of the “Western World”, facilitating the cultural misrepresentation of the “The Orient”, in general, and of the Middle East, in particular.
Saïd, interpreted the term Orientalism as describing the “subtle and persistent Eurocentric prejudice against Arabo–Islamic peoples and their culture”; cultural prejudices that were derived from a long tradition of romanticized images of Asia and of the Middle East, and which, in practice, functioned as implicit justifications for the colonial and the imperial ambitions of the European powers and the U.S.
‘Sepoy’ Press in Sri Lanka
The Asian press and particularly in Sri Lanka never deal effectively with issues on colonialism, apology and reparations. Further the local media suppressed international news concerning demands made by 14 former colonized countries in Africa and the Caribbean seeking compensation from European countries for plunder and exploitation including mass murder.
Is this not why the local Sri Lankan media is increasingly being referred to as the ‘sepoy press’ ever ready to betray their own country and people?
Challenging the rules of Law: Colonial Crimes
It is now time for the non – white countries in the Commonwealth to consider showing mettle and calling quits if need be. Finger pointing cannot be a one-way street. If former colonies led by Great Britain can point fingers they should be ready to accept fingers pointing back at them. There are many fingers to do so – in fact virtually 80% of the world had been oppressed at one stage or the other. For 500 years or so the non-whites have been subjected to repeated cultural rape and have been victims of racism, apartheid and slavery with the white man continuously demonstrating their raw cognitive, military and social superiority using everything from fire to religion. This became the white man’s doctrine for Africa, Asia, Northern, Central and South America.
Demography is turning against the white man
There are approximately 1.376 billion ‘white’ people in the world, approximately 20.25% of the world’s population. 80% of the global population is non – white. The percentage of the whites is rapidly diminishing and it is said that their global percentage would decline to a single digit within the next fifty years. Liberal theories have ended up denting progeny further with white men marrying men and women marrying women causing further chaos and states and nations foolish enough to legally endorse such. The non-white nations must not be fooled into adopting the same in their nations.
White man created the modern economic system in the 17th century. The white man also created the Protestant Ethic and the spirit of Capitalism translated it meant an arrogant greed, exploitation of labor and land and genocide of indigenous people through enslavement. These white men continue to think themselves as heroic and virtuous and rarely like to admit their wrongs and instead have chosen to blame the victims. It is they who indulge in the finger pointing blame game making it into a fine art.
It was no surprise that with each conquest the white man proceeded to impart on all of his conquered subjects the white man’s will – his science, his art, his philosophy, his language, his governance structure, the appreciation of his women as the de facto standard of beauty, his technology, his education, thereby matriculating the rest of the world over the next 400 years into his standards. The world thus became defined by European White-Standards. The white man has changed the way we think according to how they want us to think. Thus our education systems, our politics, our governments, our clothing, the technology we use, the sports we play and new western cultures including music are all following European white standards. Thus, they have succeeded in making the playing field uneven. But it has also resulted in an inferiority and superiority complex with non-whites always wanting to measure up and please the white-man. This is best illustrated among Indian expatriates and Indian politicians of the ruling party as well as a handful in Sri Lanka and their identities are not too difficult to miss.
Should we then be surprised how the legal system, i.e. municipal and international, has been designed to pursue post – colonial crimes but totally ignore the colonial crimes of Europeans? The criminal justice system cannot exclude taking to trial leaders of western nations simply because the laws in use are designed by them!
Commonwealth Values cannot exclude Colonial Crimes
There are more skeletons in the closet of the Christian West than they have us believe. It is now opportune to bring those out for the rest of the world to know. The crimes of Europe and America should no longer be kept hidden from the younger generation of the West. They must know how their ancestors treated fellow humans in such inhuman ways. Thus, their school syllabus must include these home truths just as the history books of former colonies must cover every act of crime committed by the colonial rulers and the manner the native heroes defended their lands and people. Sri Lanka’s history books for public and international children must re-align the history of the country and give its due place to the indigenous culture and these texts must be written not by liberal or secular academics but by patriots who love Sri Lanka and not another country. A relook at all officials currently designing the school textbooks is a must. Equally important is to ensure that the consultants and advisors to Sri Lanka’s education ministry are not of the same anti-Sri Lanka category either. The Jewish children are taught by their elders to never forget the Holocaust (committed by European Christians). This principle holds true for other subject races also.
Human Rights cannot exclude Colonial Crimes
The laws of prescription do not apply to war crimes and crimes against humanity. There cannot be a time bar or perpetrator exclusion for criminal justice and as such the human rights of millions of people across 2/3 of the world need to be upheld in international fora dealing with international crimes.
It was the European Christians who killed the Jews. It was these same European Christians who murdered and plundered Africa, Asia, Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean and these very same people are now without any qualm of conscience, preaching to the world about human rights totally ignoring their crimes repeated across continents over 100 of years. Where is the justice for these crimes? When will be the justice for these crimes and should it not be opportune to now refuse to accept Western hegemony, West’s bogus formulas of peace, reconciliation, accountability and transparency unless these same terminologies are used on them to demand their accountability first.
We need a leader to make that call in defense of the world’s oppressed and on behalf of the millions murdered by the West, nations plundered and nations’ borders redrawn and divided according to the West’s opportunistic requirements.
We need a leader to stand up on behalf of the entire oppressed world and use the West’s own international forum and platform to make that rallying call and President Rajapakse would well do to take up that challenge.
By remaining silent and quiet we are simply behaving as most of our forebears did during the colonial period and collaborating with this dark past.
We need to change the colonial narrative.
We need to break free from the trappings of colonialism and neo – colonialism.
We cannot claim to have come of age as a free, independent sovereign country unless we are prepared to speak the unspeakable and call spade a spade.
The Greatest Good comes after the Greatest Evil
The white man has now reached the end of his rule. Number of white men on earth is plummeting by the day. It is predicted that they will be just 9% of the total world population by 2060 (down from 27% in 1950) – study by Mark Stradley/National Policy Institute. The black, brown, yellow people are now rising to reclaim what is truly theirs.
The people of the former colonies have been victims of white rule both during colonial rule and thereafter as targets of western economic systems and now presently being subject to bogus accusations of human rights violations being another avenue for oppression. It is now time to say we have had enough. With none of the white man’s crimes coming into the open, investigated, oppressors held accountable and put on the dock and without moral inclination or imperative to even do so what good does a one-sided international legal system serve?
In hosting the Commonwealth of Heads in Sri Lanka, the President of Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapakse needs to go beyond pomp and pageantry, simply to make a spectacle of pleasing the White West that we are following to the word their creed and cult.
We must make best use of the opportunity on behalf of all the oppressed nations and demand that equality of justice means that Britain and all other colonial rulers including the Catholic and Protestant Church admit, account and apologize for their crimes and compensate 80% of the world.
The world has been in search of a leader conscious of traditional cultural roots, representing the indigenous natives and proud of the civilizational heritage to stand up and say loud ‘rectify your criminal past first’ ‘account for your crimes first’.
Sri Lanka must now break free of the ‘bayagulla’ gutless, spineless, cowardly diplomacy that has stalked the corridors of the Ministry of External Affairs since the grant of ‘independence’ in 1948.
President Mahinda Rajapakse, like former Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev, who on February 25, 1956, at the 20th Communist Party Congress held in Moscow, delivered a speech, denouncing Stalin’s purges and thereby ushering in a less repressive era in the Soviet Union, must table without fear or hesitation the crimes committed by Britain upon the members representing the Commonwealth of Nations and demand justice for these crimes as well as crimes committed by the British in Sri Lanka. He will be surrounded by nations who had ben victims of colonial oppression and they would salute and regard him a hero for doing so.
Yurugu: An African Centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior by Marimba Ani – unmasks the global white supremacy.
King Leopold’s Ghost : A story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild – history of the Belgian colonization of Congo.