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  • Jahnavi Kirkire

Oppression: The Past Explains Our Present

"An Empire on Which the Sun Never Sets"

The Oxford English Dictionary was first published between 1884 and 1928. Since then, there have been supplemental additions to keep the dictionary current. Established in the United Kingdom, the dictionary is generally considered the definitive record of the English language. Because of the topic of this article, I chose to define colonization under this dictionary, where it is “the action or process of establishing a colony or colonies in a place,” with an included caveat about the intent of the aggressor to “appropriate the area settled and to assert political control over any indigenous inhabitants.” With that in mind, let’s dive into the past, present, and future of colonization - beginning with the fact that a British dictionary still governs the English language, hundreds of years after the end of early modern colonization.

The word “colonization” sparks intense feelings in multiple people. It can be painful to hear or something to be ashamed of, but the feelings associated with it are almost always negative. Its history is filled with bloodshed, and although we don’t usually discuss it, there are different types of colonization that we must identify in history.

  • We begin by identifying a devastating form - settler colonialism. A form of oppression that broke down Algeria, settler colonialism follows the practice of replacing the indigenous population of a nation with an invasive settler society that eventually takes over the nation overall. Native Algerians were brutally tortured, displace, and murdered in the French conquest of the nation, resulting in the Francophied country that Algeria is today. Today, Algeria’s entire society is based on a French governance model, because indigenous people weren’t given the choice to live their own lives. Algeria is just one example of a bloody colonial history, and as we move into the next form of colonialism, it is important to note what colonization indeed looked like in the context of history.

  • We move into exploitation colonialism, which, as evidenced by the name, is a form of colonialism in which the invasive society uses force to control another country to exploit its resources. Brute force and torture were primary methods to subjugate the people of the exploited country - and the most notable example is Belgium’s draining of the nation now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Belgium State sucked the Congo dry of its resources and enslaved indigenous people to achieve economic success in the rubber industry. People in the Democratic Republic of the Congo still feel the effects of exploitative colonialism - the modern Congo has suffered from deficits and scars of the 19th century.

  • Finally, we examine surrogate colonialism. This system is evidenced by a colonial power ruling another from afar, where most of the settlers do not belong to the same ethnic group as the ruling power. An arguable example would be the colonization of South Africa, where most of the original colonized settlers were not of the same ethnic group as their oppressors. While those colonized may not have been as brutally beaten into submission, they were repressed and forced into a position of dependence on people who did not think and believe as they did. Just as harsh as other forms of colonization, surrogate colonization forced more of a legacy than we believe.

These three forms are a drop of water in the sea of the colonial history of the world. In discussing it, we cannot forget the empire that held the distinction of being the largest in the world. The description that the “sun never sets on the British empire,” has seen much change and evolution in recent months. A nation that maintained a commonwealth even after the end of pre-modern colonization, Britain’s empire never truly ended with traditional colonization. However, with the recent death of the queen, we must examine the future of empire and colonization as we know it. Queen Elizabeth II served as the final link to a historical empire that governed the lives of over half of the world. Her reign ending marked the possible end of the empire, and now, we are faced with the fallout of a legacy of oppression. Colonization will never be justifiable - and yet, we lived in a world where a monarchy did just that. How do we reconcile today with our history? We understand, learn, and move forward to a more just and equitable world. No longer will we allow subjugation, and no longer will we allow ‘empire’ to begin again.


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