Although many world powers have been known to spread their influence throughout history in many barbaric ways, British colonialism is one of the most infamous. Britain spread its culture and hunger for power, invading parts of Africa, India, Australia, and others. Great Britain has been establishing colonies since the 16th century, fueled by their fierce competition for resources and power with France. The most well-known exploiter of these colonies in the East India Company, which was England’s monopoly on all of the trade throughout the British colonies, including the American colonies and parts of India. According to an article titled “British Empire” on the Encyclopedia Britannica, “In accordance with the mercantilist philosophy of the time, the colonies were regarded as a source of necessary raw materials for England and were granted monopolies for their products, such as tobacco and sugar, in the British market” (Encyclopedia Britannica).
Over time, however, the colonies developed in the eyes of the British into not just economic opportunities, but cultural ones. The people of England deemed it necessary to push their lifestyle onto the other cultures of the world, without any thought of how inhumane colonization can be. The English church also wanted to spread to the other countries of the world, wanting to convert the natives away from their own cultural beliefs and toward Christianity. In Jean and John Comaroff’s article “Christianity and Colonialism in South Africa,” it is pointed out that according to the British, “the natives lived in sloth and moral chaos” (Comaroff 13) because they did not follow the western European norm of “the nuclear family, the private estate, and marriage as a sacred contract between individuals” (Comaroff 13). The article goes on to claim that “Protestant ideology presupposed the monogamous household as the elemental unit of production and consumption…the evangelists took pains to denounce [the African practices] as polygyny and the ‘collective’ ownership of resources” (Comaroff 13). The whites of England genuinely believed that by forcefully replacing the African natives’ livelihoods with their own culture, they were “taming” them, and helping them become more civilized.
Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness explores Britain’s colonization of Africa through the eyes of an English male and tells a deeply disturbing story of how the colonists viewed anyone that did not share their value. The main character refers to the African natives more than once as “shapes,” which proves that he did not completely see them as people, and only saw them as a separate skin tone. Even though Conrad has received many criticisms that his work and he are racist, like in a New Yorker article “The Trouble With Heart of Darkness,” where the novella is described “[not as a story] in which a white man’s fears of the unknown are accurately represented, but as a general slander against Africans, a simple racial attack” (Denby). I believe both of these accusations from Denby could be true; Conrad was a critic of his own people and himself. He clearly told it how it was: how the white man of colonialist Britain saw the non-Western natives as “savages” that needed to be tamed, how the natives and unknown lands were feared deeply, how the white man was raised to foster a superiority complex for their motherland and bloodlines.
Hanif Kureishi’s short story “My Son the Fanatic” tells another story about the racism throughout colonialist Britain but through the eyes of a new arrival in England: a young Indian family of two. The father and son struggle with their conflicting emotions about living in a new, strange place; the father wanting to adapt to the English way of life and the son wanting to stick to his Indian roots. This sad story describes how pressurized minorities felt in a Western culture dominated society, where it was a “fit in or else” mentality. When the son asks his father “So who’s the fanatic now?” (Kureishi) after being beaten by him, it reveals how the father was twisted under English ideals that ingrained a deep fear inside of him that he was not able to escape from, even at the cost of his own son. Fear went both ways for postcolonial Britain: the white man feared the unknown during their world conquests, and the minorities feared the day they would be swallowed whole by the Empire.
Postcolonial Britain was a rough time to be a minority with Western culture being forcefully injected into anything that was not “appropriate” or Christian. However, we as a world are learning from the mistakes of its forefathers, and are working fast to develop into a world that is culturally free and kind to all.
Encyclopedia Britannica – British Empire
Jean and John Comaroff - Christianity and Colonialism in South Africa
David Denby – The Trouble With Heart of Darkness
Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
Hanif Kureishi’s “My Son the Fanatic”