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  • Writer's pictureAlanna Grayce

Episode 30: Who said colonialism was ok? We did.

Ok guys I am really excited about this. This is the topic that inspired what would become this podcast, and I think it’s a really important one- it is also really timely, you know, for November. On multiple levels honestly.

So, for those who might not know exactly what colonialism entails, let me lay it out for you really quickly. Colonialism is defined as control by one power over a dependent area or people- so, when one nation subjugates another and exploits it, typically while forcing its own culture upon the subjugated people.

Colonialism has been practiced for thousands of years- the ancient Greeks and Romans, the ancient Egyptians. These empires established colonies outside of their borders drawing on the resources of the conquered to increase their power. Around the 15th century, what we know as “modern colonialism” began- this is the stereotypical Portuguese trade routes, Spanish Inquisition, Christopher Columbus stuff. I think that a lot of people think of third world countries when they think of those that were colonized, or they think of like Africa and the Philippines. Maybe they remember India was colonized by Britain- did you know that is why cobras are so plentiful these days? Butterfly effect amiright?

But, did you know Ireland was a British colony? They don’t fit the same stereotypes a lot of those other countries do, right? The Brits took their land, though- took their titles, gave their ancient birthright to Scots and Brits who were loyal to the crown. Took their resources and enslaved them. How was this justifiable? These were neighbors, essentially. These were cousins.

We ask these questions of Ireland, because those people look like us. They're a lot of our ancestors! But then... why don't we ask how it was justifiable in the other places?

Why did the soldiers sent by Spain with Pizarro, Cortes and Ponce de Leon- why did they go along with it? Were they just following orders??? WHY DID SPAIN GO ALONG WITH IT? They thought South America was full of savages, they thought the Philippines was fine to steal. Why did the French think it was fine in Haiti or Rwanda, or the Dutch in Nassau and St Maarten and Indonesia and the Cape of Good Hope?

I was thinking about all of this one day- because, you know, that’s a normal thing to spend our time contemplating. And ultimately I came to this question: why did people support this kind of violence? Why was it acceptable?

So obviously in the time ranges we are talking about, race was a huge factor. Race had a LOT to do with perception of humanity even. During the ENLIGHTENMENT, which we all know still left a lot to be desired, racial classifications were used to justify enslavement of “inferior races”, aka non whites. Using race as a determining factor in a person’s humanity (which apparently existed on a scale) made a lot of people feel better about doing shitty things.

Religion also played a part. The mostly Christian or Muslim (sometimes otherwise) conquerors introduced these new religions, often times forcing them upon the people and creating new cultural systems which threw the native cultures out the window. We’ve seen this heavily in Africa, for example, where Christianity led many Africans to move away from traditional cultural values and they’ve lost pieces of their ancient culture. It’s really sad, because that is such a part of identity in so many places. Their basic understanding of the world was taken from them and replaced with something new- No wonder the colonized often lost their way!

But the fact that these people did not worship these “major” religions, that made them less than in the eyes of the colonizers as well. It made them inferior because clearly, if they don’t worship my God, they are stupid and animalistic and heathen, and it doesn’t quite matter what we do to them, right? PLUS, if we try to convert them and they don’t accept because they probably don’t even know what we are talking about or doing, and they don’t want to give up thousands of years of tradition and faith in one conversation- obviously it really doesn’t matter what we do to them then, because they choose to be heathens.

And then also, we have to consider how LITTLE the people back home knew about what was going on. It’s not like now, one of the more woke conquistadors couldn’t pull out his phone and livestream the atrocities so everyone knew what pieces of crap these guys were, ya know? The people just knew these great adventurers were coming back with loads of treasure, they were being honored by the king and queen, they had stories of these savages trying to kill them so they bravely defended themselves. They made themselves heroes, and most of them probably believed that. Because to them, they had found themselves some riches and they had rid the world of nothing more than a rodent problem. Most of them didn’t have the education or the perspective to think of this as an atrocity against other humans, decimating an ancient civilization- and the people at home certainly didn’t all the information to be able to come to that conclusion either.

But the thing is- things like this still happen. Literally they happen today. They happened 80 years ago in Hitler’s Germany and campaign across Europe, it happens in the Congo, it happens in Native American reservations…and it will continue happening as long as one group of people decides that another is less human than them, and thus less deserving of resources, rights and life. We think that we are above that- be we aren’t. We do this in our country, all around the world- everyone does. Because we want to make our own lives better, and if that’s at the expensive of another life, well so be it.

So now- we have found ourselves in the same spot that those Spanish citizens did hundreds of years ago. Except, instead of worshipping the soldiers who committed these atrocities, we worship the politicians and the businessmen who made the decisions and sent soldiers to do their dirty work. We have found ourselves on the other side of the wall in the Milgram experiment, do we do what the “doctor” tells us even as we know we are shocking someone to death, or do we make our own decisions and stop the shocks?

Sadly, I don’t think these terrible things will ever truly stop. But if we LET OURSELVES become aware, and we start voting with our dollar and with our ballot against these same kinds of atrocities, maybe then we will see some kind of improvement. The people of Enlightenment Spain, Britain, Portugal- they had little say in these matters- but we do. The people who have been trod upon- they had no say in the matter. But now, we can amplify their voices.

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