Colonization ≠ Human Values in Cesaire’s Discouse on Colonialism

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In his piece “Discourse on Colonialism”, Aime Cesaire blatantly and repeatedly states how colonialism has turned colonizers into the thing they aimed to conquer: filthy, bloody savages. Throughout his piece, Cesaire establishes that ironically these colonizing entities have established and turned into what they criticize others for the most. His arguments ring true not only throughout the history of race in America in his publication in late 1900’s but in the contemporary US where neo-nazi’s are praised for their politeness while they condemn and argue for the “cleansing” of society. Cesaire’s views of those “cultures” and “civilizations” that withdraw into themselves reveal important commentary that can be applied to and see in America’s contemporary events.

Early on in his essay Cesaire says it loud and clear: Colonization was a force that was driven purely by capitalist gain and the masters who enslaved others did not do so for any other means other than economic gain. On page 32, he says that “the colonized kn[e]w that they h[ad] an advantage over” those in “Indochina…Madagascar…Black Africa… [and] in the West Indies” (Cesaire). The colonizers ruled over what they sought to conquer but they were “weak…masters” (Cesaire). These “masters” did so in the belief that their civilizations were justified and were acting in “good faith”. Plain and simple, Cesaire answers “no”. Colonization was not synonymous with pure, moral, and ethical civilizations. Europe, in its colonization, was not “a crossroads…that [became]…the locus of all ideas, the receptacle of all philosophies… [or] the best center for redistribution of energy” (Cesaire). These were the insights colonizers used to help them sleep at night. To help the French keep calm the “violence, race hatred, and moral relativism”, these ideas were buried and spread that every ‘savage’ and ‘pagan’ country conquered was a new world saved. Cesaire does not mince words and does not allow room for escaped blame; before those who allowed Nazism “Were its victims, they were its accomplices” (Cesaire).

 

Cesaire’s piece rings true in this particularly violent and cruel time in America. While it is a national moral debated if it’s ever OK to punch a Nazi, dealing with a part of America civilization that wishes to keep its culture pure and to itself is a part of American racial and colonization discourse (Binckes). While 45 refuses to acknowledge minorities on their day of remembrance, and a nationally recognized neo-Nazi who has repeatedly advocated for a “peaceful ethnic cleansing’ and a white supremacist ran his car over an anti-fascist protestor, as a society we are still debating about the politeness of these issues. Instead of recognizing the violence that is caused by “race hatred” (Cesaire) and the violence that came with colonization, we are asking if there was a politer way to hand issues like Charlottesville or if anti-fascist protesters could have gone about it another way. 45 has said in the after math of the violence in Charlottesville that there “’You have a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent’”; never does he distinguish between the two (Astor, Caron, and Victor). 45 might as well be prescribing to the rhetoric of colonizers.

 

Cesaire’s “Discourse on Colonialism” is not just a response piece to harmful views of yesteryears – it rings true to contemporary America. While it may be an overstep to compare current Neo-Nazi’s and 45 to yesteryear colonizers, the ideology remains: to colonize meant to insert human values into a civilization that colonists deemed “Savage” or dehumanized. However, as Cesaire states, it is critical for cultures to blend as “a civilization that withdraws into itself atrophies” (Cesaire).


Astor, Maggie, Caron, Christina, and Victor, Daniel. “A Guide to the Charlottesville Aftermath”. The New York Times, Aug. 23, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/13/us/charlottesville-virginia-overview.html. Accessed 10 September 2017.

Binckes, Jeremy. “The new national debate: Is it ever OK to punch a Nazi?”. Salon, Jan. 23, 2017, http://www.salon.com/2017/01/23/the-new-national-debate-is-it-ever-ok-to-punch-a-nazi/. Accessed 10 September 2017.

Cesaire, Aimé. Discourse on Colonialism. Monthly Review Press, 1972.

Lombroso, Daniel and Appel Baum, Yoni. “’Hail Trump!’: White Nationalist Salute the President-Elect”. The Atlantic, Nov. 21, 2016, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/11/richard-spencer-speech-npi/508379/. Accessed 10 September 2017.

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