Narrow-minded attitudes about the image of Africa are prevalent in today’s world. Narratives of Africa are confined to the stereotype portrayals pushed by the West – that Africa’s biggest, uniform characteristic is chaos. But the pervading racism exhibited in the world has its ugly foundations in the slave trade and colonialism.
The main articulated premise of the slave trade was the idea that black people were inferior to Caucasians in every way. The major thought was that Africans were irreversibly barbaric and familiar to a savage lifestyle. With this in mind, the Europeans were under the impulsive urge to conquer black people for the fruition of their grand capitalist designs. The history entrenched in the eras of the slave trade and colonialism makes white people perpetuate the negative perceptions about Africa hinged in deep-rooted racism.
As Africans and Europeans were brought into contact with each other by “trade, empire, and migration,” the Africans were viewed through the warped lens of racism. This had commenced from the 15th century and these experiences had solidified the European notion that Africans were naturally inferior to Europeans. The British were heavily biased against Africans, forming wild and stereotypical images of Africa. The slave trade was a window for these racial opinions to be justified – the natural order was that of “the survival of the fittest.”
Social Darwinism fanned the flames of imperialism which was founded on the thinking that all aspects of life, be it human, plant, or animal life, are guided by the constant struggle in which the weak were subjugated by the strong. Herbert Spencer, an ardent follower of Social Darwinism, asserted that this was the natural, default position of existence which could not be altered by “charities, welfare policies or legislative actions.”
This thinking – that whites are ahead of black people – stirred concerted effort to widely disseminate propaganda that slavery was totally correct. Theories were circulated through books, pamphlets, cartoons, and speeches. It only took the enormous moral energy of abolitionists to make slave trade illegal and morally incorrigible.
It also took the spirited will and determination of the slaves of the Caribbean to bring the era of the slave trade to an end. The slave trade came to an end through legislative intervention but the ideas that Africans are supposed to be subservient to white people did not die. If anything, these ideas were reinvigorated. Those ideas are present today.
The United States is a prime example of how this thinking only serves to uphold the marginalization of black communities. The black communities in the US and the Caribbean islands are descendants of slaves and the legacies of the slave trade are commonplace. Opportunities for black people remain limited and many are stuck in public housing projects where existence is a daily battle. It is an existence where one’s dignity is prone to being undermined in profound ways.
For Africa, the effects are felt are on a grand scale. Former colonizers continue to extract resources out of Africa and at the same time leaving the continent more impoverished. They are still handing out foreign aid to African countries, killing the capacity for those countries to produce on their own. The legacies of colonialism are manifesting in the conduct of the imperial forces. Colonialism has been neatly substituted with neo-colonialism.
As these lines of thoughts exist, the onus is on black people to own their narratives and tell their own stories. The way History is disseminated through the education system lacks objectivity. Wild stereotypes about Africa are still fueling the racism in the world. Africa’s leaders should ensure that foreign policies shaped under the dictates of racial thinking must not subdue them.
The racist undertones evident in the headlines pertaining to COVID-19 in Africa also mirror the negative images of Africa that exist today. The low rate of infections in Africa had “baffled” scientists. This only goes to show that the ideas surrounding the slave trade and colonialism still find space in today’s world.