When I visited the British Museum and the Tower of London (home to the Crown Jewels) when I was in seventh and later eighth grade, I was confused. I saw artifacts, diamonds, books, and weapons from all corners of the world, concentrated under two roofs. And, even in my middle school mind, with little international political understanding, I asked myself and my family one question: “So when are all of these things being returned?”
In the nearly seven years since that first visit to the British Museum, I’ve grown to understand and develop what I feel like is a more thorough perspective on how these items came to the UK. All of the theft and exploitation for circumstances I didn’t quite understand were so obvious to me then. I saw all of this history, this culture, even human beings themselves, on display for the west to see what pillaging had taken place. Growing up, I never understood how dire and how challenging conditions were in Ethiopia even when my grandparents remained repeatedly proud of “never having been colonized.” But what I knew was that the vision for Ethiopia and Eritrea that were truly independent and could truly serve their citizens were non-existent in the world we live in today.
Within the first 40 days of his term, President Joe Biden ordered a strike to bomb Syria. US government officials continue to make attempts to delegitimize Venezuela’s democratically elected President Nicolas Maduro in favor of a US state department-backed figure Juan Guaido, amidst the many sanctions already targeting the Venezuelan people harming the lives of thousands who do not have access to lifesaving medicine. In the Congo, western mining companies use child labor to extract cobalt to build the devices we are tying these final papers on and to build batteries for a “green” future. What do all of these exploitative, anti-democratic, anti-humanitarian practices have in common? They serve as examples of the ways neocolonialism, the modern evolution of colonialism, has taken form.
Militarized forces and economic sanctions are forms whereby, similar but unique to colonialism, global powers informally enforce their hegemony for the preservation of the global racial capitalist hierarchy. Colonialism, its predecessor, has its origins in the forced occupation and coercion of peoples that can include the practices of genocide, mass propagandization, and other means to seize the means of production to exploit sovereign peoples. If we are to understand the evolution and ways in which neocolonialism has continued to remain intact, the study of its roots, the study of colonialism as a whole, is essential. In order to liberate the working-class masses of peoples, developing the necessary consciousness and collective understanding of why people have been oppressed and what systems continue to oppress people today are essential to building towards a world for which capitalism and all of its exploitative methods can be ended.
In writing the two previous paragraphs (which ended up in a final paper this past quarter), I spent a lot of time trying to come up with my reflections in classes whereby these ends, these struggles against imperialism and neocolonialism persist even when we may never learn about them. Haitians are still protesting every single day against the US-installed leadership and demanding free and fair elections. They are fighting for self-determination in a world that will not allow true sovereignty for any African peoples or peoples in the Global South more broadly. Others have covered the history and the narratives that have come together about Haiti far better than I could, such as Q back in 2017 or Elaine Briere in the film HAITI BETRAYED. Black Alliance for Peace’s resource page as well does a thorough job breaking down these histories too. This, all amidst Biden’s mass deportation of Haitians that were fleeing conflict started by the west, all amounts to a situation that could not more aptly show the deadly effects of imperialism today.
Those few paragraphs above that went into a final paper were written to a prompt about why we should care about colonialism and why we should study its effects. While I’m very much a novice and just getting started with my deep, rigorous study of imperialism, I do know this: its study has remained integral to revolutionary struggles everywhere. It was not some niche field of study at universities; it was a daily, constant reality for which billions of people still live today. It’s not some abstract concept where lives and material conditions are not continuously at stake. That’s how it’s too often addressed and brought up time and time again in our classrooms and daily conversations. The study and understanding of colonialism are how we can contextualize the neocolonialist and imperialist efforts taking place worldwide. Let us envision, but most of all, work to build a world where self-determination becomes a reality for us all.
Being Noah Tesfaye #176: Haiti in a World of Neocolonialism and Imperialism
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