Cultural and Ethnic Studies

Cultural and Ethnic Studies Paper

Review of Aime Cesaire’s Discourse on Colonialism

Discourse on Colonialism by Aime Cesaire addresses the arguments regarding the impacts of European colonialism. The author uses a strong, definitive, and defiant voice to purport the roles and identities that colonizers assumed in the name of bringing civilization into the New World. Cesaire claims that contrary to people’s beliefs about colonialism, it was not focused on and has never been a philanthropic movement aimed at improving colonized people’s lives. Instead, the motives of colonialists were based entirely on self-centered interests – to gain glory and amass wealth for themselves as well as their nations.


Cesaire commences his argument about colonialism by defining the term as well as blankly pointing out the defects of Western Civilization in its attempt to achieve what it claimed to fight for. He postulates that any civilization which is grudging of recognizing its flaws and it tries to cover them instead of solving problems is a perverted and dying civilization. Furthermore, He asserts that a civilization that assumes urgent problems and uses its principle to deceive and trick people is morally corrupt. In support of his argument, Cesaire states that such civilization “takes refuge in hypocrisy which is all the more odious because it is less and less likely to deceive” (1). Therefore, Cesaire suggests that Western civilization is liable to the crimes committed to colonized peoples because it conspired to perpetrate brutalities; therefore, it should be held accountable for them. Cesaire continues to argue that two hundred years of materialistic rule has left European nations spiritually and morally unpardonable.

Cesaire goes on to quote several writings of supporters of colonialism in which the whites are depicted as immanently intelligent and more civilized compared to other races. He refutes the argument made by colonial representatives that their rules are aimed at evangelical missions or benevolent enterprises. He contradicts this by showing that the tyrannical rulers are engaged in businesses aimed at expanding the economic status of their societies. Contrary to the colonizers’ humanist strategies, these approaches have continued to deny the colonized people their sense humanity. Drawing on the theoretical analysis of Marxism, Cesaire avows that the two hundred years of amassing wealth has left the Western civilization unable to resolve the two major problems it has created, that is, the problem of working-class people (proletariat) as Marxist calls it and the colonial problem which has left Europe indefensible. He states that “the colonized know that they have an advantage over them. They know their temporary masters are lying” (1). Cesaire criticizes colonialism by arguing that irrespective of the colonizers’ feeling of victory, the colonized people who live under suppression and persecution know that Europe is defenseless. Therefore, in this matter, colonialism is nothing less than a combination of misrepresented issues that colonizers suggest in order to conceal the unimaginable solutions they provide. Cesaire asserts that bourgeois rule will always lead to Nazism in the capitalistic European culture.

Subsequently, in contrast to the famous argument that colonialism is a philanthropic movement aimed at bringing good to the colonized, Cesaire argues that the Western colonization is “neither evangelization nor a philanthropic enterprise” (2). On the contrary, civilization was propelled and controlled by ignorant and tyrannical colonialists. Moreover, the colonizers sought to explore, dominate, and exploit their subjects, thus, driving the world towards the state of antagonistic economic competition. According to Cesaire’s analysis, colonialism is a recent phenomenon. In support of his argument Cesaire states that early European explorers such as Pizarro, Cuzzo, Cortez, Cambulic, and Marco Polo never practiced civilization in their journey. They did not say that they were advocates of evil committed by Western civilization, for instance, plundering, and killing. Neither did they claim that they were of a superior order. Instead, civilization was mainly contributed to by Christianity pedantry that laid down the trickery equation “Christianity= civilization, Paganism-Savagery” (2). From this equation emerged repercussions of racism and colonialism, which mostly affected the Negroes, yellow people, and Indians. Conversely to the argument brought forward by supporters of colonialism that it paved way for bringing people together as well as nations, Cesaire states that colonization has not succeeded in bringing people any closer to one another. He goes on to postulate that the contact supporters claim was brought about by civilization has indeed taken on a different path of development thereby declining its effectiveness in terms of bringing different worlds together. As a result, such civilization has created a situation where no human value has been achieved.

Furthermore, Cesaire goes on to lament the negative effects of colonization on colonized societies. He argues that its aims were to brutalize, degrade, and most importantly de-civilize the colonized peoples. As Cesaire asserts in his argument, it tolerates the worst kind of human brutality. The author states that the so-called civilized nations, for example, France, have been de-civilized to a point that they neglect the human instinct of choosing what is good over what is wrong. In support of his irrefutable claim, Cesaire affirms that when a Madagascan girl is raped or a citizen tortured, countries like France are contented with those facts, ignoring human values. Therefore, he postulates that every time colonizers commit such inhumane crimes against the colonized societies, the colonizer’s country degrades and corrodes its humanity as well as its purported aims of colonization. Thus,, one may conclude Cesaire’s argument regarding de-civilization by strongly affirming that colonization encourages racial superiority pride against the seemingly inferior communities, and in turn, gradually turns into savagery, thus, degrading entire continents, and by extension, all humankind.


Furthermore, Cesaire makes a point to the effect that it is hard to refute accusations regarding the colonialists’ reaction to the Nazi war against the Jewish community. The colonial powers hypocritically reacted only after they felt threatened by the Nazi rule. In addition, instead of critiquing the war as colonialism, they referred to it as Nazism or fascism. Indeed, despite the hypocrisy European nations depicted by claiming that they did not participate in Nazism, the fact remains that both fascism and Nazism were rooted in colonialism. Cesaire supports this view by stating that before Nazis invaded Europeans, “they were its accomplices” (3). When Nazism was spreading to non-European countries, Europeans did not see it a big deal. They had turned their backs on the atrocities that were being meted out on other nations, thus, continuing to degrade themselves. The perpetrators of European colonialism only started raising alarm when Nazism started spreading into different European countries. Cesaire argues that the white man reacted to Nazism only because Hitler’s brutality was ultimately directed at the white community.

In addition, Cesaire argues that the pseudo-humanism nature of European nations led to the degradation of human rights. They got concerned about the afflictions that their fellow white men underwent and assumed the pain non-European nations were feeling as a result of undergoing the same treatment. Therefore, Cesaire declares that when European nations talk about fighting for human rights, their concept of defining the term is incomplete, biased, and narrow. In qualifying this argument, he quotes from leaders of today such as Rev. Muller who states that “humanity must not cannot allow incompetence, negligence, and laziness of the uncivilized peoples…” (4). Cesaire also reaffirms similar statements made by influential Europeans who in their speeches imitate what Hitler would have said were he alive. Irrespective of such individual and religious leaders acknowledging that they practiced diminished colonialism, they ignored the effects of Western colonialism. Therefore, Cesaire concludes that colonialism is barbaric because it inflicts pain in humans in the name of protecting them.

Indeed, Cesaire’s argument about the barbarism of colonialism cannot be denied. To support this claim, he quotes from Colonel de Montagnac, a conqueror of Algeria: “I have some heads cut off, not the heads of artichokes but the heads of men” (5). In their quest for cultural, racial, linguistic, and national purity, European nations continued to build the structure by the paving way for Nazism which was indirectly encrypted under the name colonialism. Cesaire argues that they are supposed to be remorseful of their actions because a normal human being should have the desire to achieve equal civilization that connects people in the right way. Instead, colonialists depicted barbarism when they confessed their actions as well as gave inhumane orders, such as killing everyone, women and children included. He also sheds light on how colonization dehumanized and de-civilized the colonialists by turning them into inhumane beings whose actions were beyond imagination.

Cesaire continues to reveal that colonialists frequently portray their sense of superiority over societies, notably Asians, Indians, and Africans through thingification. They believe that these countries are incapable of possessing a civilization or a culture that is equal to them. Thus, they exercise control and power over them through forced taxation, rape, forced labor, and cultural degradation. Moreover, their religion has been smashed, their artistic heritage destroyed, yet they claim to be bringing progress and “achievements” (6). Apparently, to Europeans, colonialism brings better medical care, disease control, as well as improved living standards. Nonetheless, Cesaire strongly labels it as an injustice rule characterized by the killing of innocent people (for example, sacrificing them in Congo Ocean) denying them the right and freedom to live as well as depriving them of their human rights all in the name of justice. These are clear indications of barbarism and injustices perpetrated by the civilized European colonizers.

Furthermore, Cesaire argues that colonialism does not destroy its colonies. Instead, both old and new tyrants join hands in oppressing them. Colonialism drains culture, religion, and arts, of the colonized societies while simultaneously confiscating their lands. Basing his views on Marxist theory, Cesaire argues that colonialism belittles people to disqualify them from owning lands and properties so that they can become slaves in a process known as proletarianization. Through colonization, European countries contributed to the underdevelopment experienced in African countries by not only confiscating their lands but also slowing down their rate of economic progress. Instead of destroying local tyrannical rule, European joined hand and cooperated with the tyrants in driving African countries backward. In the real sense, African countries had not been left behind in terms of making contact with the outside world. It is the intervention of colonialists that made them to become victims of corrupt financiers whose core objective was to develop their own countries. To support his argument, Cesaire states that the colonialist European countries declined the demand for infrastructural developments such as schools and roads from indigenous people from Africa and Asia. They significantly contributed to these continents lagging behind economically, yet they continued to claim that colonization brings progress. According to Cesaire, colonialism was also evident in the United States. He restates his stand that colonialism cannot bring progress but the ruination of the European nations. Comparing the works of ethnographers and imperialism, he selectively chooses passages that depict the racial biases manifested by European nations. He states that the United States may become a great threat in restoring human values as it has become the policeman of the world, thus, exercising power in all the world’s nations.

Besides, Cesaire argues that colonization came to destroy native communities. He posits that before the colonialists invaded African countries, people like the Madagascans were administrators, poets, and artists. The French community thought that its citizens were superior and were supposed to rule and dominate the black and yellow people. They failed to realize that colonized communities had a rich, refined, and exquisite culture of their own. Cesaire continues to support his argument about a civilized African prior to the arrival of the Europeans by saying that “the idea of the barbaric Negro is a European invention” (11). Therefore, although theologians, corrupters, hoaxers, and hoodwinkers knew the truth about colonialism, they secretly support the corrupt colonialism. Cesaire states that by supporting the evils committed by colonial perpetrators, they equally became accountable for the consequences of colonial revolutionary actions.

Quoting from M. Gourou’s book, Cesaire states that “the tropical environment and the indigenous societies have suffered from the introduction of techniques that are ill-adapted to them…” (13). He adds that before the coming of Europeans, African countries were already civilized. In his view, it is satirical for Mannoni to assert that European colonialism was purposely focused on a divinely and benevolent mission. In Mannoni’s book, people like Madagascans are said to have been known for their rebel nature towards French occupation However, Madagascans started expecting too much from and looking up to the French as their gods to the point where expected them to provide everything. In this regard, Cesaire criticizes Mannoni’s views regarding Africans as absurd. Mannoni’s stated that Africans should consider it a favor that Europeans brought civilization to them.  He also supports Western civilization by asserting that the colonized countries were complaining about “imaginary oppression” (15), whereas in real sense, these indigenous nations should be grateful towards those who introduced Western civilization to them. Cesaire opposes Mannoni’s view that the blame the failure of civilizations should not be on Europeans, but rather, on the colonized Madagascans because it was aimed at bringing peace. Another argument that he fiercely contends is that atrocities associated with civilization were mere exaggerations because the French conducted their arrests according to the law. To counteract this argument, Cesaire asserts that European nations considered African societies as a vacuum that existed in historical stagnation, meaning that they were inhabited by inferior people.

According to Cesaire, the French community could not fathom the idea that any other community that lacks French’s blood could be integrated into the family.  Although the French claimed that theirs was a divine and evangelical mission to bring peace and freedom to all, the idea that black and yellow individuals could be assimilated into their way of life was unimaginable. Moreover, these views were motivated by the community’s strong sense of superiority over the colonized communities. Stoler affirms that according to Europeans, interacting and cross-breeding with Africans would lead to the degeneration and moral decay of their culture (80). To them, non-European communities were merely subjects to be dominated and controlled. He observes that ironically, the French people did not accept to assimilate into another culture, yet they expected other cultures to assimilate into their own. The author calls this a racial crisis, noting that the French bourgeoisie did contrary to what it claimed civilization to be. In his view, a civilization that considers blood as the foundation of unity while ignoring the beauty of embracing and accommodating every individual regardless of race and culture is a dying and decadent civilization.

Moreover, the author is of the view that for every individual who was in support of Western civilization as a justification for colonialism, the message conveyed was full of Adolf Hitler’s tone. Those individuals ignored the evils that were being committed through colonialism as well as its tyrannical and materialist rule. Instead of bringing human progress to the colonized countries, Western civilization has spurred racism, slavery, and war between the superior nations (colonizers) and the indigenous communities. Furthermore, he attributes the bourgeoisie rule to the dehumanization of the human values of the non-European countries. Besides, Cesaire refutes the argument made by M. Caillois that science was invented by the West. According to Caillois, primitive thinking originated from the Western borders; thus, it made Africans incapable of thinking for themselves or even discovering something new. In Cesaire’s assessment of historical developments during the colonial era, the minds of people like M. Caillois mirrors that of typical western tyrannical rulers who devalued humanity and its values. Furthermore, Cesaire opines that the Western civilization is full of barbaric and ignorant of humans,  a point he emphasizes by quoting Gobineau’s words, “ The only history is white” (20) and M. Caillois assertion that “the only ethnography is white” (20). In their argument, it is only the white community that qualifies to study others and not vice versa. In Cesaire’s view, this reflects a community that is led by self-pride and disregard for other people’s cultural heritage.

The author concludes by refuting the view of many supporters of the United States who consider the nation a liberating force. On the contrary, Cesaire sees it as a force behind the spread of imperialism. He warns those trying to break from colonialism as well as rejecting the Eurocentric view of life that they should be aware of the United States. He views the country as a symbol of the mechanization that was brought into the modern world after the two world wars. In support of his argument, Cesaire asserts that barbarism merged during the colonialism because countries like the United States supported many of its European counterparts despite being enemies. This move contributed to the latter’s rise to power, and by extension, its self-appointed role of world liberator. In conclusion, Cesaire hopes that colonialist Europe would become an example in overcoming the dying civilization by bringing great progress. Failure to that, Cesaire prophesies a fall for the European civilization. He continues to state that salvation for Europe will only occur if the continent undergoes a revolution to do away with the dehumanization that has been perpetuated by the bourgeoisie and to eliminate the proletariat problem caused by the Western civilization. Overall, Cesaire criticizes the human interpretation of colonialism because it deprived the colonized societies of their human values by subjecting them to pain and savagery. Lastly, Cesaire emphasizes that colonialism does not make colonialists better people; instead, it de-civilizes them, making them behave inhumanely towards their fellow human beings.

Works Cited

Césaire, Aimé. Discourse on Colonialism. New York: NYU Press, 2000. Print.

Stoler, Ann Laura. Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. Print.

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