Master’s Voice: The re-colonisation calls of Bruce Gilley and our paralysis of analysis

Let me say, straight out the box, I have no issue with Professor Bruce Gilley for the same reason I was pleased that Donald Trump won the US elections.

I see the storm brewing online and the many calls for retraction, apologies and so on. Reaction was swift, as was to be expected; a look at the responses on social media shows that many people living in the Caribbean and in Asia stopped short of burning him in effigy.

Photo: Portland State professor Bruce Gilley is author of the controversial “Case for Colonialism.”

But in my opinion, Bruce should not have to apologise for a damn thing. No more than Donald should.

Two words: honesty and clarity. There are no euphemistic words concealing racist/sexist beliefs coming from those two. No politically correct, nice-sounding eloquence masking foreign imperialistic agendas, such as what we normally get from career politicians like Hillary Clinton, David Cameron or Teresa May and, yes, from Barack Obama too, especially him.

No, Gilley was straight, no chaser!

Let’s be clear, I have some degree of disdain for the likes of Professor Gilley, the academic who seems to have taken the position that colonialism wasn’t all bad, that academics and radical thinkers in post-Independence countries have done their people more harm than good by dispensing with and disparaging colonial rule when they should have been, as he put it, “reclaiming colonial modes of governance…recolonising some areas; and by creating new Western colonies from scratch.”

Anyone who comes talking that shit in 2017 is not going to get any respect from me.

Photo: Bruce Gilley’s “Case for colonialism…”

But I am cool with him saying that; the fact is, as we say in Trini-talk, he doing he wuk. He is doing his job and serving his purpose just like American Enterprise Institute, the Mises Institute and Breitbart News.

From the time he used the word “modernity,” he told me all that I needed to know. You have to be a complete idiot if you think that the history most Americans and Western Europeans were/are exposed to presents objective, dispassionate facts. Martin Bernal, during the Black Athena furore called it what it is: a feel-good curricula for whites, so I have no issue with Gilley.

My scorn is more directed towards people who came from colonial/post-Independence societies and still subscribe to such assness. What I feel towards Gilley is nowhere close to what I feel for local people who have said the same thing.

We’re approaching the celebration of our Republic Day, and there seems to be—as there were on the eve of our Independence celebration—calls from various quarters for us to ask the British to take back over and run the country.

On the one hand, it is not so hard to see why such calls are being made: collapsing institutions, flailing economies, poverty, escalating violent crime—almost with impunity—stemming mostly from corrupt “white collar” criminal activities. No wonder why a Euro-American academic decided to present a paper calling for re-colonisation.

Photo: A cartoon depicting colonialism.

But where is the deep analysis from us as to why we have failing, corrupt institutions? Where is all the research material into the dynamics and nature of colonial rule?

How many teachers/lecturers in this country have been holding discussions about books like Mahmood Mamdani’s Citizen and Subject, which examined how Europe colonised and governed Africa, how they created what is called Divide and Rule as well as a template legal system cynically known as Customary Law—there was nothing customary or traditional about it—and then have their pupils make comparisons to how Europe colonised the Americas?

Are these people so naïve that they honestly think that the intent of the colonisers was to develop this society to be self-sufficient? Did they even believe that the British and the French really wanted to give up their colonies after World War II?

The French fought Ho Chi Minh tooth and nail to hold onto Viet Nam and the Brits were forced by the US to give up many of their colonies. Winston Churchill is on record as saying that he had no intention of presiding over the break-up of the Empire and therefore “What we have, we keep.”

Photo: An artist’s depiction of colonialism.

I expect Gilley to state that what people like us need to do is to “reclaim colonial modes of governance”—that’s the exact same cultural arrogance encoded in a different form in UN treaties and other international “agreements” that pretend to be dispassionate and universal but actually come from specific Western patriarchal ideas that are essentially putting people from the global South into new forms of bondage.

The point of this ramble is that Gilley is not at fault here; we are. And by “we” I really mean many of our educated elites who “went to big institution” as Black Stalin sang but whose heads are filled only with foreign models and epistemologies.

Our flailing and failing institutions and our apparent desire to hoist the Union Jack—or Old Glory, since Uncle Sam is closer—up again have a lot to do with a collective failure to implement a culture of critical localised thinking that should have started from primary, if not elementary level schooling. For that, I indict Dr Eric Williams and many of his generation…. to a point.

They did use a decrepit system of schooling and churching and still managed to undermine the colonial system. But they were forever trapped in that very system and saddled us with what had little to do with any real education: the British were very clear that that was not their intent.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s first Prime Minister, Dr Eric Eustace Williams.
(Courtesy Information Division)

Williams’ generation could have changed it, yet they kept it and have us all to this day flaunting certificates to show how bright we are as a result of education schemes that teach us very little about ourselves.

Professor Gilley is merely part of a long process of fabricating narratives to justify the genocide, enslavement and a culture of exploitation and appropriation.

Even if one has not seen Shashi Tharoor’s deconstruction of the usual excuses justifying the colonising of India, one must understand why it’s important that Europe and Euro-America convince themselves and their subjected peoples that colonisation was this great thing and that it was necessary to save the rest of the world from savage barbarism.

It is necessary because, like 500 years ago, they still need access to and control of mineral resources to drive their economies. So they need to keep the countries of the global South where much of these mineral resources are found in states of fragmentation and dependence.

Colonisation was never about improving the well-being of native peoples; it is worth the effort to read the early literature from Spanish, Portuguese and English settler-colonists.

Photo: A second look at globalisation…

I suggest you read what both Juan de Sepulveda and Bartolome de Las Casas had to say about this civilising mission and compare it to debates in the US Congress at the turn of the 20th Century.

Nowhere was there any recognition that the indigenous peoples they were encountering were autonomous, with their own culture and social structure. It was all about seeing other people’s lands and enriching themselves; the only debate was how best to go about it.

Hell, colonialism wasn’t even about improving the well-being of their own people: people forget that at the height of British and American industrialisation thousands of people in those countries were living in slums and eating out of bins. To unionise was to invite naked violence at the hands of the local police and/or hired thugs.

Further, our slavish dependence on foreign foods goes back a long way; Melville Herskovits’ book Trinidad Village informs us as far back as when the book was written in 1939 that we had been made to all but abandon local food production and rely instead on foreign imports.

By the end of colonial rule, there were some improvements in creature comforts, yes, and transportation—that was originally developed to carry mineral resources and food out of the colonies. But when one examines the journals of many early travellers and navigates in between the condescension, one can pick out descriptions of complex social structures, effective means of food production and soil preservation even among the so-called “simple” societies.

Photo: Africa’s industrial history.

Books like African Background to Medical Science by Charles Finch, MD, or Ivan Van Sertima’s Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern need to be read. This was based on thousands of years of knowledge passed down.

High carbon steel smelting existed in Africa long before it did in Europe—yet, note the technology was NOT used for war—and the very sails and navigation equipment that brought the European to the “New” World was not even European.

Gilley’s paper was nothing more than just sophisticated racism, I eh arguing that; hell, I’d cuff him to f**k down if I were face-to-face with him. But that would merely confirm—wouldn’t it?—another of the cultural biases that run strong in Eurocentric societies: the innate violence of black and brown people.

As Sander Gilman explains to us in detail in Difference and Pathology: Stereotypes of Sexuality, Race, and Madness, it’s just one of the many myths they had to fabricate in order to assure themselves of their superiority. A study of that book will provide some very good insights into the nature of the old racist “scientific” narratives that today still inform the ways we have all—police included—been taught to understand black and brown bodies as “naturally” predisposed to violence and hypersexuality.

Be that as it may, peoples of the global South should not expect people like him to write proper examinations of our history and the dysfunctional states many of them are in.

Photo: United States President Donald Trump (left) and his former advisor and Breitbart News executive chairman Steve Bannon.
(Copyright Getty)

Independent analyses of history, through indigenously crafted forms of knowledge production, are what may inform us that Dr Williams was not necessarily the great messiah he is touted to be.

We’ll learn that although he wasn’t too favoured by the Brits, he wasn’t nearly as radical as the figures in the Labour movement, many of whom were all about empowering from the grassroots level.

History through such books as The Politics of Labour and Development in Trinidad by Ray Kielly, The History of the Working Class in Trinidad and Tobago in the 20th Century by Bukka Rennie and Butler versus the King, edited by W Richard Jacobs, may just inform us how the British, partly through Albert Gomes, had to blunt that radicalism and progressiveness in the Labour movement and encourage Fabian-style trade unionism instead. That was their definition of “responsible” trade unionism.

It’s nice that some white scholars and journalists are honest to mention that their countries destabilised their former colonies, and killed off or toppled many progressive leaders who would have taken their countries forward by leaps and bounds. But ultimately, it’s for us to make the final interpretations.

Photo: Two spectators take a selfie during Trinidad and Tobago’s 2016 Independence Day Parade celebrations.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)
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  1. Food, seconds plus dessert for thought. Deep stuff.

  2. This is obviously meant to be thought-provoking, Mr Gilkes, but somewhere along the line the thought part dropped out; I find that it’s hard to read all the way through and not feel at the end a mixture–in equal parts–of anger and sadness.

    • Well, Mr. Best, you and I feel pretty much the same way (actually, I’m just cynical now really).

      For me, this is how I interpreted or refashioned Lloyd’s dismissal of both Adam Smith and Karl Marx: neither side speaks to my reality. I’m angry and sad because the picture is a bad one. For me, the whole debate over liberal and conservative is absolute pointless rubbish. I am personally glad for people like Bruce Gilley (as I am for Donald Trump) because *they* take the mask off that the liberal side wears; the liberal side that exists north of the Equator possesses views and ideas that are no less racist, no less sexist, no less universalist or imperialist and, like many on the Republican side, honestly believe in what they do and say!

      This is why I now find myself making frequent references to the Valladolid Debate of 1550 between Juan de Sepulveda and Bartholome de Las Casas: two sides of the same racist, imperialistic coin arguing not *should* the West dominate other peoples and siphon off their resources, but *which* is the best way to do it. It’s astonishing how this type of debating was to repeat itself among abolitionists, when the US Congress was debating over the Philippines in the 1890s, US Congress before every single intervention *since their colonising of the Philippines; even how we deal with “crime” and poverty here in Trinbago.

      I’m angry, so to speak, because it doesn’t appear that this is adequately discussed in the way I outlined it, in most schools, if they are discussed at all. So links like this are – I really hate to put it this way – almost casting pearls……

      The point is, it’s like as Helon Francis sang last year, the emphasis is on winning arguments over which political side tief more and who have ‘stink mouth.’

      • Your instincts tell you that to add the last two words is to court danger. So do mine. But I would be surprised if you didn’t provoke a mention of the same animal when someone takes the trouble to read a part of the column–long columns run counter to the omnipresent spirit of e-literacy that rules the Internet roost–and then dismisses it as only good enough for cleaning a sty and its denizens.

        Education is a herculean task, bro. Keep the faith.

        • The myth writers–the ones from ANCIENT Greece, not the ones you refer to in your column–do not tell us whether King Augeus had any other animals the state of whose habitat would also have required that the god’s son divert a river to have any chance of getting it clean.

          There’s a chance, I guess, so let me ask: You have any gods in the direct line that produced you? You should check if you never have…. Look what Faris found out.

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