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Milton Allimadi's The Hearts of Darkness...(6)

Posted in: Essays/Articles
Sep 17, 2007 - 2:55:41 AM

The Hearts of Darkness: How European Writers Created the Racist Image of Africa

Part 6:  Viewing Africa Through Western Writings

by Milton Allimadi

Mr. Allimadi is CEO and Publisher of The Black Star News. This series originally appeared in the Black Agenda Report.

Frederick D. Lugard, an English colonist, informed his contemporaries about the African's susceptibility to domination in Rise of our East African Empire (1897). 

According to Lugard, who had been a fireman in England before winning fame in Africa, "In Africa, there is among the people a natural inclination to submit to higher authority. That intense detestation of control which animates our Teutonic races does not exist among the tribes of Africa."


Lugard's contemporary, James Bryce, concurred with this assessment, in Impressions of South Africa (1897), claiming, the "black man accepts the superiority of the white as part of the order of nature."  This was because the Black man was "too low down, too completely severed from the white, to feel indignant," according to Bryce.


The continent itself was portrayed by white writers as physically inhospitable - a forbidden planet, as Joseph Thomson claimed, in Through Masailand, (1885): "We might imagine that some all-powerful genie held sway over the land and kept some lovely damsel or great treasure deep hidden in the interior, surrounded by a land teeming with horrors and guided by the foul monster of disease, of darkness and savagery."


"James Bryce claimed, in Impressions of South Africa (1897), the ‘black man accepts the superiority of the white as part of the order of nature.'" 


Thomson also shared his contemporaries' preference for Africans with so-called European features, as he revealed, in the same book after he encountered the Masai. "These pure-blooded Masai have the finest physical development," he wrote, "are undoubtedly superior to the others in shape of the head, the less depressed nose, and thinner lips."


His description of the ideal African was very similar to Aphra Behn's 200 years earlier, in Oroonoko, The Royal Slave. "Indeed," Thomson wrote, "but for a prominence of the cheekbones, a tendency to a Mongolian shape and upward slant of the eyes, the chocolate-coloured skin, and the hair with a tendency to become frizzy, they might pass muster as very respectable Europeans."


In contrast to the Masai, Thomson was disappointed and even angered when he came upon the Wa-Kavirondo. They were "by no means attractive in their appearance, and contrasts unfavorably with the Masai." One gets the impression that Thomson wished the Wa-Kavirondo didn't exist at all, when he added, "Their heads are of a distinctly lower type, eyes dull and muddy, jaws somewhat prognathous, mouth unpleasantly large, and lips thick, projecting and everted - they are in fact true negroes."


Sometimes the writer's fantasy was too fantastic, as when Arthur H. Sharp and Ewart S. Grogan, in From Cape to Cairo (1900), were able to observe "ape-like creatures" whose faces, bodies and limbs were covered with wiry hair. According to these authors, "the hang of the long powerful arms, the slight stoop of the trunk, and the hunted vacant expression of the face made up a tout ensemble that was terrible pictorial proof of Darwinism."


Perhaps John Ames, a fictional character created by Sir Bertram Mitford in John Ames, Native Commisioner (1900) summed it aptly for contemporary Europeans, when he declared, "A nigger's a nigger, even if he is high class; all of them should show proper respect to a white man."


"Africans did not exist as human beings with independent thought and aspirations."


SchweitzHatChildEven Europeans who professed love for Africa were paternalistic. Africans were never full-grown men and women, but always remained child-like, in need of European paternalism. They did not exist as human beings with independent thought and aspirations.


Isak Dinesen, author of Out of Africa (1938), wrote that she had "a great affection for the natives" the minute she reached the continent. "The discovery of the dark races was to me a significant enlargement of all my world," she continued. "If a person with an inborn sympathy for animals had come into contact with animals late in life: or if a person with an instinctive taste for woods and forest had entered a forest for the first time at the age of twenty; or if someone with an ear for music had happened to hear music for the first time when he was already grown up; their cases might have been similar to mine."


Dr. Albert Schweitzer, renowned for having abandoned Western civilization and comfort to establish his famous clinic in Lambarene, Gabon, also professed his adoration for the "natives" in his book African Notebook (1939). "I do not deny that they are undisciplined and in many ways unreliable," Schweitzer wrote, "and that many of them give way to the temptation to appropriate other people's property and that all too often they are untruthful; nevertheless what a number of really faithful servants I have discovered in these years, not only among my own men but among the employees of other Europeans!"


Schweitzer urged other whites to be patient when dealing with these natives.  "Really to understand the African one must get to know him as a man," he explained. "In greater or less degree he will seem to us strange and unattractive, but one must overlook all that and understand his essential nature. Whoever succeeds in this knows how much there is in him that is good and valuable. What repeatedly impresses me in our natives is their kind-heartedness."


After World War II Africans living in urban areas became more politicized. African veterans had already fought in two of Europe's World Wars in the colonial armies; now they were demanding for the same freedom and liberty that they had shed blood for on behalf of the Empire, as their Black cousins overseas had also done for the United States. European colonists noticed the winds of change in Africa. "Today the word empire is taboo," Charles Dundas, a former British governor of Uganda lamented in African Crossroads (1954). "We may not speak of subject races, they have become backward peoples; colonial rule has become ‘trusteeship.'" (One wonders how he reacted, during the 1960s, when some of these "backward peoples" became presidents of independent states).


"A chapter of world history has herewith been closed," Dundas continued, "Whether another chapter of comparable benefits to the human race will be written may be questioned. Certainly more was done for backward mankind in the era of British colonial rule than in any previous age, and if colonialism is now discredited I believe that its passing will nevertheless be mourned by the simple people of one-time British colonies as the end of a Golden age."


With the imminent demise of this "Golden age" of colonialism, would the "native" writers now be allowed to tell their own stories and write their own histories? How would the Europeans, who had concluded that these "natives" were bereft of vision, history, and artistic capability, react? After reading Amos Tutuola's The Palm Wine Drinkard, the European settler, Elspeth Huxley, offered her opinion. "The Palm Wine Drinkard is a folk tale, full of queer, distorted poetry, the deep and dreadful fears, the cruelty, the obsession with death and spirits, the macabre humor, the grotesque imagery of the African mind," she wrote, contemptuously, in her own book Four Guineas (1954). "African art, if it is genuine, is never comfortable, noble, or serene. It is possessed by spirits and the spirits are malign." 


Huxley's views towards Africans were important because other Western writers respected her and consulted her writings; she was also a contributor to major Western publications, including The New York Times.


"'African art, if it is genuine,' wrote Huxley, ‘is never comfortable, noble, or serene. It is possessed by spirits and the spirits are malign.'"  


In Red Rock Wilderness (1957), Huxley elaborated on her disapproval of the changing political climate in Africa. What was occurring in the continent was a "battle for the continent, and perhaps even more than that, for the survival of the West." She added, gravely, "It is a battle between the forces of reason, progress and civilization and the forces of fear, hatred and tyranny - the forces of darkness." BritSoldiersFort


This was a period of political repression by the colonial authorities in Africa as they resorted to tyranny: the detention of rising African political leaders; exiling of leaders; and, repressive measures such as muzzling of any critical media. On July 1st, 1956, an article by Leonard Ingalls, discussing some of the repression, appeared in The New York Times under the headline "Press in Uganda Court Trouble," laying the blame on the victims.


The article dealt with the prosecution of editors and publishers of Luganda language newspapers opposed to the colonial government. The editor of Gambuze had been fined $140 for allowing the following direct quote to appear in the newspaper: "All of us should strike for self-government. Foreigners pack up and go home. The people of Uganda should unite to clamour for self government and if we are to die then we shall die until we are exterminated."


Ingalls' article noted, "The superintendent of the Criminal Investigation Department of British Colonial Police testified in the case that the quotation amounted to an exhortation to fight to the death." Ingalls reported that two publishers and two editors of another Luganda language paper Emambya-Esage (The Dawn) were awaiting trial on sedition charges for having printed an article under the headline, "How Can Peace Come to the Country While Britain Uses Robbery!"


"The government charged that this incited dissatisfaction and discontent among Africans and promoted feelings of ill-well and hostility among them," Ingall's article added, without discussing how draconian and tyrannical the colonial government's laws were. Ironically, many post-independence African governments later used these very laws to lock up their political opponents. These repressive colonial-era laws, including detentions without trial, remain on the books in many African countries.


Ingalls also reported that owners of The Uganda Post had been fined $280 for printing a letter that contained the following passage, "There are many reasons why the people of this country wish to govern themselves. Racial discrimination, being made to work like slaves and being cheated in a cunning manner, failure to realize the African was created in the same way as the Europeans are some of the many reasons, so when we hear that other countries are fighting for self-government we should not sit back and watch."


The British were terrified - the reference to "other countries" fighting for independence most certainly referred to Kenya, where the Mau Mau guerrillas were waging war to oust the white settlers who had robbed their farmlands.


By 1952 it was clear that European colonial rule in Africa was doomed: Emmanuel Freedman, The New York Times' foreign news editor instructed William S. White, one of his experienced reporters, to prepare a memorandum outlining how to approach African news coverage. White had just returned from West Africa from where he had filed several reports about the independence movement.


"Should the Times have a staff man in Africa South of the Sahara?" White asked rhetorically in his memo then answered affirmatively. One major story in Africa was "Malanism" or apartheid: At that time, the country's racist policies were synonymous with the name of one of its principle architects, Dr. Francois Malan. A second major story was the British attempt to federate Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), northern Rhodesia (Zambia), and Nyasaland (Malawi). 


The federation strategy was designed to create a buffer between that area and apartheid South Africa, White explained.  If the strategy succeeded, he wrote in the memo, it would "conceivably avert in Africa a racial explosion that might result in denying to the West effective use of the indispensable minerals and strategic position of an absolutely indispensable continent." A third story, White observed, was the British "experiment in native self rule in the Gold Coast," which, if successful, would move the 200 million Blacks a short step "toward freedom."


MasaiPaintedHead The African continent offered a "great story in which no one else in the world is doing very much," and an opportunity "for a journalism of illumination - rather than of rushing off to the cable head with items every 20 minutes - that could not possibly reflect other than great credit on The Times," White wrote. He added: "There is the opportunity for the paper to make a distinguished contribution in public service - and if this is not too pretentious, possibly also a contribution to the security of the Western World."


Who then was the ideal candidate for such a bold and important mission?  "I should say that any staff man we would want to send to Africa would need to be mature and long in experience, first in politics, second in military conceptions, third in social and economic ideas - and such men usually have families," White wrote to his editors. "To send a family man to Africa - much of which is pestilential and nearly all of which is without medical facilities that Americans require for their children - would be a hard and impracticable thing."


It was only fair to let the prospective Africa correspondent know about "all the bad in advance" White advised, and "all the good of it too." He warned that this correspondent would have to face "loneliness, dysentery, the general melancholy of the aura of the continent."


"But it would be a good life too," White continued, "and a good man would be welcomed in the greatest of good comradeship by other good men who are sweating it out down there: The man covering it would be doing not only a unique job but a job that never could be called a boy's errand. Myself, I think he should have some personal knowledge of the colored problem - and in that connection neither be a Bilbo nor a reformer - and that he ought to be a tough, reasonably hard-drinking bachelor." (White's reference to Bilbo was to Mississippi senator Theodore Bilbo, who advocated returning all Blacks to Africa.) 


"At all events," White continued, explaining that the ideal Africa correspondent, "would not be covering luncheon clubs in Toledo. Maybe it could be put to him as Patton put it to his pre-invasion troops in England: ‘Would you rather be in combat, or would you rather tell your children that you spent the war shoveling shit in Louisiana?'"


"The essential picture is that self government is being given to the Africans long before they are ready for it."


White's own article on the British experiment in "native self rule" had been published on May 16th, 1952 in The Times under the headline, "New World of Africa's Gold Coast Arises From Ashes of Colonialism."  The sub-headline had explained, "Although Land is Still British, Black Men Are Master in Their Own House."  According to White, after "rioting in 1948 and again in 1950," the natives had been granted a measure of self-government.  "The black man's brave new world is slowly rising here on the backs of those who once were his white masters and now do his bidding - the British civil service," White wrote.


TimeMagNkrumah "The whole experiment is a fantastic one," White's article concluded, "The essential picture is that self government is being given to the Africans long before they are ready for it and it is being given to them simply because the British decided that after the troubles of 1950 that it is either a white retreat or civil war."


When Ghana finally won its formal political independence from Britain, The New York Times announced it under the banner headline "Negro Nation of Ghana Is Born in Africa," on March 6th, 1957.  "A new Negro nation was born at midnight," the article reported. The main story was accompanied by a shorter profile of the new prime minister. "Kwame Nkrumah was the first Negro to become Prime Minister of a British colony," the article said. "Mr. Nkrumah, a goldsmith's son was born in primitive bush country forty-seven years ago. Now he heads the first black dominion in the Commonwealth."


Racism and Black Inferiority Complexes


Several centuries of racist representations of Africa have created various types of inferiority complexes and self-hatred amongst Black people all over the world. One remarkable demonstration of this malady was an article, "A Black Man in Africa," by Keith Richburg, an African American reporter for The Washington Post.


Richburg, who had been The Post's Nairobi-based Africa correspondent, covered the Rwandan genocide of 1994. In "A Black Man in Africa," he described his reaction when he watched "discolored, bloated bodies floating" down a river towards Tanzania. He recalled the "revulsion," "sorrow," and "pity," he felt for the victims of the massacres. Most importantly, Richburg wrote, he realized how he was extremely fortunate. Had his ancestors not been blessed by being captured and shipped into slavery 400 years earlier,  "There but for the Grace of God go I." Had he not been rescued by slavery, Richburg wrote that he "might have instead been one of them or have met some similarly anonymous fate in any one of the countless ongoing civil wars or tribal clashes on this brutal continent. And so I thank God my ancestor made that voyage." 


"A Black Man in Africa," was published in the April 10th-16th, 1995 issue of The Washington Post's National Weekly Edition. It never would have been published had it been written by a white person. It was easier for the newspaper's editors to print it, outrageous and uninformed as it was, because it contained the views of a Black man and thereby insulated the newspaper from accusations of racism. The article later formed the basis of Out of America (1997), a book based on the same theme; the corrosiveness of African barbarity on human beings.


But Richburg could not have been as ignorant regarding the horrors of slavery, as his article indicated. One need only consult some of the depictions in C.L.R. James' The Black Jacobins, where he described how French masters in Haiti used to pack dynamite into the anus of rebellious slaves and then blow them up, to recall the horrors.


"The Antilles Black, Frantz Fanon explained, believed himself to be ‘more "civilized" than the African, that is, he is closer to the white man.'"


Black self-hatred and the desire to be affiliated with the dominant race is a more credible explanation of Richburg's condition: Frantz Fanon has analyzed and discussed the psychopathology of people such as Richburg in a number of his books, including Black Skins, White Masks (1952). Media stereotyping of Blacks over the centuries have conditioned many Black people into developing inferiority complexes that often cause some to believe the only way they can escape their affliction is by severing links with their Blackness or any trace of their African heritage. Fanon discussed how he had encountered Congolese who tried to pass off as if they were Antilles Blacks, and Antilles Blacks who were enraged when they were mistaken for Senegalese. The Antilles Black, Fanon explained, believed himself to be "more ‘civilized' than the African, that is, he is closer to the white man."


Remarkably, Richburg in his 1995 article, "A Black Man in Africa," unwittingly revealed the roots of his pathology - it was passed on directly from his family who had migrated to Detroit first from the Caribbean, and then from the South. "It was drummed into me that South Carolina Blacks, like my family, owned their homes and rarely rented," Richburg boasted in the article. "They had small patches of yard in the front and kept their fences mended. They came from Charleston, Anderson, Greenville, sometimes Columbia. They saved their money, went to church on Sunday, bought their kids new clothes at Easter and for the start of the school year. They kept their hair cut close, to avoid the nappy look." In other words, Richburg, like the Antilles Blacks Fanon described, was trying to explain that his family, and his upbringing, had been practically white.


But let Richburg describe the "other" Blacks he was warned to avoid, in his own words. ‘"Don't cross Woodward Avenue,' we were told, because those Blacks over there came from Alabama," he recalled in his essay. "They talked loudly, they drank heavily, and they cursed in public. They had darker skin and nappier hair. They did not own homes, they rented, and they let the grass in the front run down to dirt, and their fences are all falling apart."  Richburg added, "They were, as my father would have called them back then ‘niggers' - South Carolina Blacks being good colored people."


So who were Richburg's heroes then when he was a young man growing up in Detroit? He wrote about going with his brother to watch movies where he would see "a group of British soldiers against attacking Zulu tribesmen."  That sentence alone revealed his warped and distorted state of mind. The Zulus, who were simply defending themselves are referred to by Richburg as "attacking Zulu tribesmen," as if they were the aggressors.


Richburg finally conceded, not surprisingly: "We took turns cheering for the British side and the Zulus. Neither of us really wanted to cheer for the losers.  Whoever was rooting for the Africans usually sat sullenly, knowing what fate held in store for him or her. Then came the credits and the heady knowledge that when the movie played again, after a cartoon break, you would be able to cheer for the British once more." Richburg's essay, and his subsequent book, could have been summarized into the following sentence (which is mine): See, I, too, have refined white sensibilities and upbringing and except for the misfortune of my Black skin, I too might have been white.


"Exchanging one identity for another is as valid a ploy as distancing oneself from failure, loyalty being the litmus test of one's commitment to one's community," Nurrudin Farah, the Somali author wrote, in a review of Richburg's book, in Ishmael Reed's KONCH magazine. 2AfricansBuildBridge


"These are treacherous times, when cowards take pride in declaring their cowardice, their subversive stance, when traitors come out of the woodworks, boastfully declaiming, ‘Thank goodness for slavery!'" Farah added: "He is a man without the makeup to take a courageous stand. Richburg is a slave singing the eulogies of his master."


"Blue eyes, the people say, frighten the negro."


Frantz Fanon recalled the pathetic and revealing case of a Martinique writer named Mayotte Capecia, who discussed her frustration at having not been born white, in her book Je Suis Martiniquaise (1948); Capecia's experience, and agony, is similar to Richburg's. "I should have liked to be married, but to a white man," the tormented Black woman wrote. "But a woman of color is never altogether respectable in a white man's eyes. Even when he loves her." Elsewhere, while explaining her love for a particular white man, she wrote, "All I know is that he had blue eyes, blond hair, and a light skin, and that I loved him." To which Fanon, in his always-effective style, simply observed, "Blue eyes, the people say, frighten the negro."


Capecia recalled how "proud" she felt when she discovered that her grandmother had been white. "So my mother, then, was a mixture? I should have guessed it when I looked at her light color," she wrote, triumphantly. "I found her prettier than ever, and cleverer, and more refined. If she had married a white man, do you suppose I should have been completely white?...And life might not have been too hard for me?"  It's very easy to picture Capecia sighing, and pressing a photograph of her light-skinned mother against her bosom after she wrote those words.


Capecia was bitterly disappointed when she saw "Green Pastures," a movie based on a 1936 book by the same title, in which God and the angels were portrayed as Black people. "How is it possible to imagine God with negro characteristics?" she declared angrily. "This is not my vision of Paradise.  But, after all, it was just an American film."


Fanon concluded that the following story best-suited people such as Capecia:


"One day St. Peter saw three men arrive at the gate of heaven: a white man, a mulatto, and a negro."


‘What do you want most?' he asked the white man.




"And you?' he asked the mulatto.




"St. Peter turned then to the negro, who said, with a wide smile: ‘I'm just carrying these gentlemen's bags.'"


Fanon's parting words to Capecia were, "Depart in peace, mud-slinging storyteller." The same words apply to Richburg; he was The Washington Posts' version of Homer Bigart who had been sent to Africa by The New York Times three decades earlier.

© Milton G. Allimadi

Part 1:  How Europeans Created the Racist Image of Africa

Part 2:  Blackness as Bestiality

Part 3:  A European Meets a 'Savage' Intellectual

Part 4:  The New York Times as Apartheid's Apologists

Part 5:  The Mahdi Defeats Gen. Charles Gordon

Part 6:  Viewing Africa Through Western Writings

Part 7:  Time Magazine Denigrates Congo Nationalism

Part 8:  Why Africans Are Not Tribesmen


The Hearts of Darkness: How European Writers Created the Racist image of Africa

Published by The Black Star Publishing Co.
P.O. Box 64
New York, N.Y., 10025

To order the book call (212) 481-7745 or visit  The Hearts of Darkness


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