W.E.B. DuBois, The World and Africa: An inquiry into the part which Africa has played in world history.
“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 a 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 the poverty was not simply the poverty of the slaves of Africa and the peons of Asia, but the poverty of the mass of 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 given than to receive’—listened and acted as though they had read, as in very truth they ought to have 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 writing of Asia and of Africa”
“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 American 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.”
“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.”
“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 came 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.’
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 all 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 deliberated 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.”