Write a reflection on the reading provided in the folder attached
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What to include:
(1) Identify the main argument (thesis) in the assigned reading in your own words, in
no more than two sentences.
• Label this ‘Thesis’ and place near the top of the page.
• Do your best to try to identify and summarize the main argument as clearly
and concisely as you can. This is a skill that takes time to develop, but it will
become easier with practice. Although I want you to put the argument into
your own words (rather than quote from the text), you might also reference
specific page number(s) where you think the argument is made most directly.
(2) Craft 2-3 discussion questions based on the reading.
• The questions can be on any aspect of the reading. For example, you could
pose questions about parts that are unclear or that seem contradictory; or
about passages that struck you as particularly interesting or compelling; or
about ideas or other pieces that connect with events currently in the news,
earlier course readings, or class discussions.
• Learning how to ask good questions is a skill that you will develop further as
the semester progresses.
(3) Write a reflection on the reading.
• The reflection can be on any aspect of the reading. This is not an essay and
thus does not need to have a clear argument, be well-organized, or be written
in formal prose. It can be messy, circuitous, full of fits and starts – what
matters is that it thoughtfully engages with the reading.
The point of the reflection is really to get you thinking in a deeper way about the reading
and about your own response to it. Thus, you might write about your reactions to the piece:
did it resonate or conflict with some of your own deeply held assumptions about how the
world works or beliefs about what is right and just? If so, can you identify and name the
author(s) assumptions or commitments? Or, you might try to answer one of the questions
you pose, or elaborate further on it: why you thought it an important question to ask, what
answering it might help us to better understand, etc. Whatever you choose to write about in
the reflections, you are above all encouraged to “write to learn”—to use the reflections as a
space to pose questions, experiment, pursue odd thoughts, make connections, and through
the process come to see the reading and the issues in a different light.
Discourse on Colonialism
Translated by Joan Pinkham. This version published by Monthly Review Press: New York and London,
1972. Originally published as Discours sur le colonialisme by Editions Presence Africaine, 1955.
COPYRIGHT: From a Counter-Racist perspective, this is nothing other than a mechanism employed by
White Supremacists (Racists) that has been designed to control access to information by non-White people.
DISCOURSE ON COLONIALISM ……………………………………………………………………….. 1
AN INTERVIEW WITH AIMÉ CÉSAIRE …………………………………………………………….. 25
Discourse on Colonialism
A civilization that proves incapable of solving the problems it creates is a decadent
A civilization that chooses to close its eyes to its most crucial problems is a stricken
A civilization that uses its principles for trickery and deceit is a dying civilization.
The fact is that the so-called European civilization – “Western” civilization – as it has
been shaped by two centuries of bourgeois rule, is incapable of solving the two major
problems to which its existence has given rise: the problem of the proletariat and the
colonial problem; that Europe is unable to justify itself either before the bar of “reason” or
before the bar of “conscience”; and that, increasingly, it takes refuge in a hypocrisy which
is all the more odious because it is less and less likely to deceive.
Europe is indefensible.
Apparently that is what the American strategists are whispering to each other.
That in itself is not serious.
What is serious is that “Europe” is morally, spiritually indefensible.
And today the indictment is brought against it not by the European masses alone,
but on a world scale, by tens and tens of millions of men who, from the depths of slavery,
set themselves up as judges.
The colonialists may kill in Indochina, torture in Madagascar, imprison in Black
Africa, crackdown in the West Indies. Henceforth, the colonized know that they have an
advantage over them. They know that their temporary, “masters” are lying.
Therefore, that their masters are weak.
And since I have been asked to speak about colonization and civilization, let us go
straight to the principal lie which is the source of all the others.
Colonization and civilization?
In dealing with this subject, the commonest curse is to be the dupe in good faith of
a collective hypocrisy that cleverly misrepresents problems, the better to legitimize the
hateful solutions provided for them.
In other words, the essential thing here is to see clearly, to think clearly – that is,
dangerously – and to answer clearly the innocent first question: what, fundamentally, is
colonization? To agree on what it is not: neither evangelization, nor a philanthropic
enterprise, nor a desire to push back the frontiers of ignorance, disease, and tyranny, nor
a project undertaken for the greater glory of God, nor an attempt to extend the rule of law.
To admit once for all, without flinching at the consequences, that the decisive actors here
are the adventurer and the pirate, the wholesale grocer and the ship owner, the gold
digger and the merchant, appetite and force, and behind them, the baleful projected
shadow of a form of civilization which, at a certain point in its history, finds itself obliged,
for internal reasons, to extend to a world scale the competition of its antagonistic
Pursuing my analysis, I find that hypocrisy is of recent date; that neither Cortez
discovering Mexico from the top of the great teocalli, nor Pizzaro before Cuzco (much less
Marco Polo before Cambaluc), claims that he is the harbinger of a superior order; that
they kill; that they plunder; that they have helmets, lances, cupidities; that the slavering
apologists came later; that the chief culprit in this domain is Christian pedantry, which laid
down the dishonest equations Christianity=civilization, paganism=savagery, from which
there could not but ensue abominable colonialist and racist consequences, whose victims
were to be the Indians, the yellow peoples, and the Negroes.
That being settled, I admit that it is a good thing to place different civilizations in
contact with each other that it is an excellent thing to blend different worlds; that whatever
its own particular genius may be, a civilization that withdraws into itself atrophies; that for
civilizations, exchange is oxygen; that the great good fortune of Europe is to have been a
crossroads, and that because it was the locus of all ideas, the receptacle of all
philosophies, the meeting place of all sentiments, it was the best center for the
redistribution of energy.
But then I ask the following question: has colonization really placed civilizations in
contact? Or, if you prefer, of all the ways of establishing contact, was it the best?
I answer no.
And I say that between colonization and civilization there is an infinite distance; that
out of all the colonial expeditions that have been undertaken, out of all the colonial
statutes that have been drawn up, out of all the memoranda that have been dispatched by
all the ministries, there could not come a single human value.
First we must study how colonization works to decivilize the colonizer, to brutalize
him in the true sense of the word, to degrade him, to awaken him to buried instincts, to
covetousness, violence, race hatred, and moral relativism; and we must show that each
time a head is cut off or an eye put out in Vietnam and in France they accept the fact,
each time a little girl is raped and in France they accept the fact, each time a Madagascan
is tortured and in France they accept the fact, civilization acquires another dead weight, a
universal regression takes place, a gangrene sets in, a center of infection begins to
spread; and that at the end of all these treaties that have been violated, all these lies that
have been propagated, all these punitive expeditions that have been tolerated, all these
prisoners who have been tied up and “interrogated, all these patriots who have been
tortured, at the end of all the racial pride that has been encouraged, all the boastfulness
that has been displayed, a poison has been instilled into the veins of Europe and, slowly
but surely, the continent proceeds toward savagery.
And then one fine day the bourgeoisie is awakened by a terrific reverse shock: the
gestapos are busy, the prisons fill up, the torturers around the racks invent, refine,
People are surprised, they become indignant. They say: “How strange! But never
mind-it’s Nazism, it will. pass!” And they wait, and they hope; and they hide the truth from
themselves, that it is barbarism, but the supreme barbarism, the crowning barbarism that
sums up all the daily barbarisms; that it is Nazism, yes, but that before they were its
victims, they were its accomplices; that they tolerated that Nazism before it was inflicted
on them, that they absolved it, shut their eyes to it, legitimized it, because, until then, it
had been applied only to non-European peoples; that they have cultivated that Nazism,
that they are responsible for it, and that before engulfing the whole of Western, Christian
civilization in its reddened waters, it oozes, seeps, and trickles from every crack.
Yes, it would be worthwhile to study clinically, in detail, the steps taken by Hitler
and Hitlerism and to reveal to the very distinguished, very humanistic, very Christian
bourgeois of the twentieth century that without his being aware of it, he has a Hitler inside
him, that Hitler inhabits him, that Hitler is his demon, that if he rails against him, he is
being inconsistent and that, at bottom, what he cannot forgive Hitler for is not crime in
itself, the crime against man, it is not the humiliation of man as such, it is the crime against
the white man, the humiliation of the white man, and the fact that he applied to Europe
colonialist procedures which until then had been reserved exclusively for the Arabs of
Algeria, the coolies of India, and the blacks of Africa.
And that is the great thing I hold against pseudo-humanism: that for too long it has
diminished the rights of man, that its concept of those rights has been – and still is – narrow
and fragmentary, incomplete and biased and, all things considered, sordidly racist.
I have talked a good deal about Hitler. Because he deserves it: he makes it
possible to see things on a large scale and to grasp the fact that capitalist society, at its
present stage, is incapable of establishing a concept of the rights of all men, just as it has
proved incapable of establishing a system of individual ethics. Whether one likes it or not,
at the end of the blind alley that is Europe, I mean the Europe of Adenauer, Schuman,
Bidault, and a few others, there is Hitler. At the end of capitalism, which is eager to outlive
its day, there is Hitler. At the end of formal humanism and philosophic renunciation, there
And this being so, I cannot help thinking of one of his statements: “We aspire not to
equality but to domination. The country of a foreign race must become once again a
country of serfs, of agricultural laborers, or industrial workers. It is not a question of
eliminating the inequalities among men but of widening them and making them into a law.”
That rings clear, haughty, and brutal and plants us squarely in the middle of
howling savagery. But let us come down a step.
Who is speaking? I am ashamed to say it: it is the Western humanist, the “idealist”
philosopher. That his name is Renan is an accident. That the passage is taken from a
book entitled La Refonne intellectuelle et morale, that it was written in France just after a
war which France had represented as a war of right against might, tells us a great deal
about bourgeois morals.
The regeneration of the inferior or degenerate races by the superior races is
part of the providential order of things for humanity. With us, the common man is
nearly always a declasse nobleman, his heavy hand is better suited to handling the
sword than the menial tool. Rather than work, he chooses to fight, that is, he returns
to, his first estate. Regere imperio populos, that is our vocation. Pour forth this allconsuming activity onto countries which, like China, are crying aloud for foreign
conquest. Turn the adventurers who disturb European society into a ver sacrum, a
horde like those of the Franks, the Lombards, or the Normans, and every man will be in
his right role. Nature has made a race of workers, the Chinese race, who have
wonderful manual dexterity and almost no sense of honor; govern them with justice,
levying from them, in return for the blessing of such a government, an ample
allowance for the conquering race, and they will be satisfied; a race of tillers of the soil,
the Negro; treat him with kindness and humanity, and all will be as it should; a race of
masters and soldiers, the European race. Reduce this noble race to working in the
ergastulum like Negroes and Chinese, and they rebel. In Europe, every rebel is, more
or less, a soldier who has missed his calling, a creature made for the heroic life, before
whom you are setting a task that is contrary to his race – a poor worker, too good a
soldier. But the life at which our workers rebel would make a Chinese or a fellah happy,
as they are not military creatures in the least. Let each one do what he is made for,
and all will be well.
Hitler? Rosenberg? No, Renan.
But let us come down one step further. And it is the long-winded politician. Who
protests? No one, so far as I know, when M. Albert Sarraut, the former governor-general
of Indochina, holding forth to the students at the Ecole Coloniale, teaches them that it
would be puerile to object to the European colonial enterprises in the name of “an alleged
right to possess the land one occupies, and some sort of right to remain in fierce isolation,
which would leave unutilized resources to lie forever idle in the hands of incompetents.”
And who is roused to indignation when a certain Rev. Barde assures us that if the
goods of this world “remained divided up indefinitely, as they would be without
colonization, they would answer neither the purposes of God nor the just demands of the
Since, as his fellow Christian, the Rev. Muller, declares: “Humanity must not,
cannot allow the incompetence, negligence, and laziness of the uncivilized peoples to
leave idle indefinitely the wealth which God has confided to them, charging them to make
it serve the good of all.”
I mean not one established writer, not one academician, not one preacher, not one
crusader for the right and for religion, not one “defender of the human person.”
And yet, through the mouths of the Sarrauts and the Bardes,,the Mullers and the
Renans, through the mouths of all those who considered – and consider – it lawful to apply
to non-European peoples “a kind of expropriation for public purposes” for the benefit of
nations that were stronger and better equipped, it was already Hitler speaking!
What am I driving at? At this idea: that no one colonizes innocently, that no one
colonizes with impunity either; that a nation which colonizes, that a civilization which
justifies colonization – and therefore force – is already a sick civilization, a civilization that is
morally diseased, that irresistibly, progressing from one consequence to another, one
repudiation to another, calls for its Hitler, I mean its punishment.
Colonization: bridgehead in a campaign to civilize barbarism, from which there may
emerge at any moment the negation of civilization, pure and simple.
Elsewhere I have cited at length a few incidents culled from the history of colonial
Unfortunately, this did not find favor with everyone. It seems that I was pulling old
skeletons out of the closet.
Was there no point in quoting Colonel de Montagnac, one of the conquerors of
Algeria: “In order to banish the thoughts that sometimes besiege me, I have some heads
cut off, not the heads of artichokes but the heads of men.”
Would it have been more advisable to refuse the floor to Count d’Herisson: “It is
true that we are bringing back a whole barrelful of ears collected, pair by pair, from
prisoners, friendly or enemy.”
Should I have refused Saint-Arnaud the right to profess his barbarous faith: “We lay
waste, we burn, we plunder, we destroy the houses and the trees.” Should I have
prevented Marshal Bugeaud from systematizing all that in a daring theory and invoking the
precedent of famous ancestors: “We must have a great invasion of Africa, like the
invasions of the Franks and the Goths.”
Lastly, should I have cast back into the shadows of oblivion the memorable feat of
arms of General Gerard and kept silent about the capture of Ambike, a city which, to tell
the truth, had never dreamed of defending itself: “The native riflemen had orders to kill
only the men, but no-one restrained them; intoxicated by the smell of blood, they spared
not one woman, not one child… At the end of the afternoon, the heat caused a light mist
to arise: it was the blood of the five thousand victims, the ghost of the city, evaporating in
the setting sun.”
Yes or no, are these things true? And the sadistic pleasures, the nameless delights
that send voluptuous shivers and quivers through Loti’s carcass when he focuses his field
glasses on a good massacre of the Annamese? True or not true? 1 And if these things are
true, as no one can deny, will it be said, in order to minimize them, that these corpses
don’t prove anything?
For my part, if I have recalled a few details of these hideous butcheries, it is by no
means because I take a morbid delight in them, but because I think that these heads of
men, these collections of ears, these burned houses, these Gothic invasions, this
steaming blood, these cities that evaporate at the edge of the sword, are not to be so
easily disposed of. They prove that colonization, I repeat, dehumanizes even the most
civilized man; that colonial activity, colonial enterprise, colonial conquest, which is based
on contempt for the native and justified by that contempt, inevitably tends to change him
who undertakes it; that the colonizer, who in order to ease his conscience gets into the
habit of seeing the other man as an animal, accustoms himself to treating him like an
animal, and tends objectively to transform himself into an animal. It is this result, this
boomerang effect of colonization that I wanted to point out.
This is a reference to the account of the taking of Thuan-An which appeared in Le Figaro in September 1883 and is
quoted in N. Serban’s book, Loti, sa vie, son oeuvre. “Then the great slaughter had begun. They had fired in doublesalvos! and it was a pleasure to see these sprays of bullets, that were so easy to aim, come down on them twice a
minute, surely and methodically, on command… We saw some who were quite mad and stood up seized with a dizzy
desire to run… They zigzagged, running every which way in this race with death, holding their garments up around
their waists in a comical way . . . and then we amused ourselves counting the dead, etc.”
Unfair? No. There was a time when these same facts were a source of pride, and
when, sure of the morrow, people did not mince words. One last quotation; it is from a
certain Carl Siger, author of an Essai sur la colonisation (Paris, 1907):
The new countries offer a vast field for individual, violent activities which, in the metropolitan
countries, would run up aga …
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