Today, I watched a documentary called Concerning Violence. It ever so vividly illustrated colonialism in Africa through film footage from the 1970’s. The script used to tell this story was Frantz Fanon’s, “The Wretched of the Earth”; narration was done by Lauren Hill. I actual have this book. I bought it after I took a class on terrorism. Most of the terrorist groups we studied were fighting against colonialism. Frantz Fanon’s background and viewpoints intrigued me. I bought the book and never read it. It is sitting in a pile with the rest of my old school books collecting dust. Today, without even turning a page his words came to life.
When we think of terms like slavery, oppression and colonization we tend to think of the past. As Americans that was our country’s past. As African Americans that is our ancestral past. For many Africans, it was just yesterday (figuratively of course). I remember boycotting Reebok with my mother in the 90’s because they supported apartheid. The footage in the film was taken from the early 1970’s. In it you get to see slavery, oppression and colonialism as it happens. It is mind blowing to say the least.
One of the many things that I found interesting in the film was the parallel in viewpoints about oppression and the oppressor between Frantz Fanon and Paulo Freire. Freire writes, “Analysis of extensile situations of oppression reveals that their inception lay in an act of violence” (Freire, P., p. 44). Fanon writes, “Colonialism is not a thinking machine, nor a body endowed with reasoning faculties. It is violence in its natural state and it will only yield when confronted with greater violence” (Fanon, F., p. 165).
Slavery, oppression and colonialism in this context can be used interchangeably because they have virtually the same meaning. To enslave a person is to oppress them. To colonize someone else’s land you must oppress them. This system has been in place ever since man learned to walk and discovered that his neighbor’s grass is greener on the other side. This leads me to question why we think the systematic institution of enslavement has stopped?
Let’s have a for instance. I am the authority figure, the governing factor, the master and I remove you from your home at age 12 and place you in a small isolated space providing only the bare necessities. This new environment is submerged in violence due to the inhumane treatment, mental instability and the constant struggle for control between the oppressed and the oppressors. This is a place that is made to kill your spirits so you will accept your new normal. It is a system of submission. Now, can you guess what situation I am describing? Is it . . .
A.) The colonization of the western United States where native people were both forcible removed slaughtered and institutionalized through Christianity and American education?
B.) The colonization of South Africa by the Dutch who decided to re-name themselves Afrikaans and claim the land as their own. Native people were forcibly moved to shantytowns with only the ability to work as servants on the fertile farm land they once owned.
C.) A juvenile detention center in Luzerne county Pennsylvania where juveniles were removed from their parents care, tried, sentenced and shackled for minor offenses. The investors in the privately run facility collected money off of every head that filled the detention center.
The answer is D.) All of the above. Each situation involves oppression, enslavement and colonization. You may think, “How does our modern criminal justice system reflect colonialism?” Step 1: A person is forcibly removed from their home and family. Step 2: The person is detained and shackled. Step 3: The person is placed in their new confined living quarters with most of their rights striped away. Step 4: An overseer is inserted to ensure compliance and submission. Step 5: Profits are generated through contracts with investors, corporations and stockholders.
I am in no means implying that criminals do not need to be locked up for the safety of our society. A sound criminal justice system is a necessity for keeping order in civilized society. I am simply pointing out the similarities in the framework of our
justice system and colonialism. As I said before the terms slavery, oppression and colonialism are interchangeable. You cannot have one without the other. When we take a look at our modern civil society we must ask ourselves if any of it is actually modern, or civilized for that matter. Or, are we implementing the same system of oppression that has been used since the dawn of time and calling it justice?