The Belgian Colonization of the Congo



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The Belgian Congo was the name given to the colony established in the Congo, Central Africa, between 1908 and 1960. Colonial rule began towards the end of the 19th century, with King Leopold II of Belgium seeking to establish independent rule over part of the Congo region. Having gathered support from other Western countries by 1885, after winning a large part of the Congo territory at the Berlin Conference held by Otto von Bismarck, Leopold, who had “rapidly developed an almost obsessive interest in overseas affairs” (Vanthemsche 2012 17) named the Congo Basin his own personal colony, or the Congo Free State. However, the ruthless mistreatment and economic exploitation of the indigenous Congolese and their land by the privately organized non-government organization called the “Association Internationale Africaine” (Vanthemsche 2012, 19) led to the establishment of the Belgian Congo in 1908, a colony created primarily to serve a system of economic exploitation, after King Leopold II’s mishandling of the colony came to light, leading to the end of his personal rule and the annexation of the Congo as a Belgian colony. Even though the inhumane conditions created by King Leopold II, such as the neglect of the indigenous Congolese in regards to medical treatment throughout the 1889-90 flu pandemic (Vanthemsche 2012, 25), and the ruthless exploitation and terrorization of natives by the “Force Publique” (Spaas 2013, 72-74) a private army established by King Leopold II, to entice them into labor exploitation, the economic agenda still reigned, as regions in the Congo were forced to become specialized to serve the needs of the Belgian state as well as many private Belgian businesses. The Belgian colonizers favored a system of direct rule by dividing the country into small administration all led by Belgians. This hierarchy normalized the concept of superiority of white people and led to racial segregation. Towards the end of World War II and after, the Belgians expanded their economic gain in the Congo by developing programs which served to extend its labor force, which, subsequently, led to the creation of a Europeanized African middle class, also called the évolués. (Spaas 2013 55)

Belgian Congo
By October 1908, King Leopold II had given up any hope of retaining personal control of any part of the Congo, and on October 18th, the Catholics and half of the Liberal faction within Belgian parliament made changes to the existing situation: “After the fierce struggle between Leopold and the government, Belgium annexed the Congo in 1908: This marked the beginning of the actual Belgian colonisation.” (Vanthemsche 2012, 27) This was largely due to the mistreatment and exploitation of natives, considering King Leopold II had “set up a particularly harsh system of exploitation” with the Congolese being “subjected to a merciless work regime, but also to acts of violence aimed at breaking any vague ideas of resistance.” (Vanthemsche 2012, 23) The annexation of the Congo resulted in some improvement to the treatment of the natives (which was a factor in motivating the votes for annexation within the Liberal party), as the arbitrary use of violence and exploitation was curbed, and the crime of red rubber (Turner 2007, 27) was abolished. However, the economic exploitation of the region remained the primary goal of the Belgian Congo, and as such there was much continuity with King Leopold II’s administration. However, the passing of control of the Congo to the Belgian government marked a transition in which public works, such as healthcare and basic education, became higher priorities and reasons for colonization.

Government, Involvement in Wars and the Évolués 
The Belgian Congo was roughly 80 times larger than Belgium itself. Under the Colonial Charter, the Minister of Colonial Affairs and the Colonial Council held executive power, while the Belgian parliament held legislative power, all from Brussels. The Governor-General was the highest-ranking authority within the Congo, ruling in Boma until 1926, and in Léopoldville after 1926. Vice-Governor-generals ruled over the four (six, after administrative reforms in 1932 which also ‘demoted’ the ViceGovernor-Generals to provincial Governors) administrative provinces, which in turn were divided into districts (of which there were 24 total), which were furthermore divided into territories (managed by territorial administrators), which were finally divided into cheffereies (“chiefdoms”) ruled by chefs coutumiers (“traditional chiefs”) appointed by the Belgian administration. (Vanthemsche 2012, 27-28). The abovementioned councils “were seen to provide the link between the State and the population.” (Dembour 2008, 23) Dembour states further:

“[A]ll requirements imposed on the colonised population, […], were first to be the object of debate in the council of chiefdom.” (24)

During World War I, the Force Publique engaged in open warfare with the German colonial army of German East Africa. In 1916-1917, the Force Publique invaded and occupied German East Africa, with the western portion being ceded to Belgium in the Treaty of Versailles, and in 1924 Belgium also acquired modern Rwanda and Burundi. (Vanthemsche 2012, 114-7) The Force Publique also saw combat in Ethiopia during World War II and was instrumental in achieving the surrender of Italian forces in 1941, while the Belgian Congo itself served as a major source of income to the Belgian government in exile. (Vanthemsche 2012, 129-35) As described by Spaas in her 2013 book How Belgium colonized the Mind of the Congo, “[t]he Belgians refrained from giving true responsibility to the Congolese and kept a clear hierarchy between themselves and the indigenous population by creating the class of évolués”, the term literally meaning, “’evolved’ through education and accepted European values and patterns of behavior.” (55) This, naturally, also led to the establishment of a white, Belgian elite.

Economic Gain as the Belgian Colonizers’ Main Agenda
As the title of this section alludes, economic gain was the main agenda of the Belgian colonizers. The main export being the decreasingly profitable rubber, the colonizers began looking for other resources by the beginning of the First World War. Vanthemsche states that “[t]he Congo became one of the main global producers of copper, cobalt, industrial diamonds, uranium and many other minerals such as gold and tin.” (30) Aside the mining industry, the Belgian colony suffered under a system of forced cultivation of crops for export, which became another venture of great profit for the colonizers and created a food shortage for the colonized: “[…] farmers had to maintain sufficient production for export while simultaneously producing enough for their own needs – quite a difficult task.” (Vanthemsche 2012, 30) The Belgian colonizers took out massive loans from the Belgian government to expand their economic ventures, and during the 1920s, steamship lines and railroads were built to maintain the established system of export and to further Belgium’s economic gain. Urbanization was heavily supported: harbor infrastructure, airports as well as electricity, waterworks and telephone lines were priorities of the Belgian colonizers. The loans were divided into funding from the Belgian government itself as well as private sponsors, such as businesses interested in the highly profitable mining industry. This led to the Belgian colonizers engaging in a form of imperialism interested mostly in economic gain, which was shared by European private shareholders. Vanthemsche states that “[u]ntil the late 1950s, it was impossible to assess the overall significance of the colony in relation to Belgium’s economy” but concludes that the investments made in the Belgian Congo “created a wealth that undoubtedly exceeded the expectations of the founders.” Further, he states: “[T]hey also resulted in a fundamental reorientation of the Belgian economy in relation to rest of the world.” (199) It is undeniable, however, that it was the endeavor of economic gain which ultimately resulted in the depopulation and massacre endured by the native people of the Congo during Belgium’s colonization.

Second Agenda: ‘Civilizing’ the Congo As with other European colonial powers, the concept of a superior European culture was wide-spread, which was an argument easily compatible with the allure of economic gain. As Catholicism had become dominant by 1930, educational systems shifted their focus from traditional native teaching to Western-based values. Religious institutions, most of which were Catholic, also built medical facilities and research centers, which would focus on local diseases. However, throughout this time, social inequality remained a normalized phenomenon and the flaunting of a supposed Western superiority was commonplace. This is why the social inequality in the Belgian Congo was commonly referred to as an “implicit apartheid”, which included segregation as well as other racial restrictions placed upon the native Congolese. (Vanthemsche 2012, 64-8). The establishment of the class of évolués is clearly related to the phenomenon of ‘civilizing the Congo’.

Present-Day Effects of the Belgian Colonization
During the 1940s, colonial authorities began to grant some of the elite within the Congolese population, the évolués, who first had to display evidence of their assimilation with European culture, moderate civil liberties, such as theoretical equal legal protection. However, indifference in Brussels and hostility from Belgian colonists stymied any serious effort to grant the native population more liberty. However, increasing pressure from within the United Nations during the 1950s eventually saw moves toward Congolese political independence, with the first municipal elections in which Congolese people were allowed to vote and run for office occurring in 1957. As the population began to organize itself socially and politically, two different forms of nationalism emerged as the major political movements. On one hand were the supporters of territorial nationalism who wished to see the Belgian Congo become a politically unified state, while on the other were supporters of ethno-religious and regional nationalism who wished to see the territory divided into smaller autonomous regions. In 1958, demands for independence quickly radicalized and gained momentum, with leftist Patrice Lumumba gaining popularity, despite vehement opposition from Belgium. In 1959, a prohibited political demonstration sparked a riot, which led King Baudouin to declare that Belgium would work toward full independence of the Congo. With resistance to colonial rule mounting, the Congo was granted full independence on 30 June 1960. A week after independence, there was a rebellion within the Force Publique against the largely Belgian officers, and throughout the country Europeans were increasingly the target of violence, leading to the evacuation of more than 80,000 Belgians by the Belgian military and the United Nations (Vanthemsche 2012 202-3). Dreams of a unified Congo were quickly shattered as the rebellion leaders split, with Lumumba being captured and executed (with Belgian aid) by separatists from Katanga. A series of rebellions and separatist movements destabilized the region until 1964-65, shortly after which army colonel Joseph Désiré Mobutu seized power in a coup d’état. Mobutu enjoyed wide support in the West due to his strong anti-communist stance, and in 1966 he began a campaign of Congolese ‘authenticity’ (which included removal of colonial names for localities within the country). In the 1970s, Mobutu further radicalized the government, installing a one party-system and becoming a dictator is effect, while also renaming the country Zaïre. However, in the 1980s Mobutu lost his wide support base in the West with the collapse of the Soviet Union and was chased from power by a rebel force lead by Laurent-Désiré Kabila in 1997, leading to the renaming of the country as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Kabila was succeeded by his son Joseph Kabila, who was confirmed president in 2006 in the first nationwide free elections since 1960 (Vanthemsche 2012, 204-7) Vanthemsche summarizes the demise of the Congolese in the post-independence Congo as follows: “Chaos, misery, exploitation of the masses: These notions summarise quite well the terrible fate of the Congo’s population since its independence. The vast majority of the Congolese experienced no improvement in their quality of life after independence; quite the contrary in fact. The infrastructures for education, health and the economy in which the Belgians had taken such pride were destroyed much more quickly that they had been constructed. The question therefore arises whether there was a causal relationship between the decolonization of the Congo and the country’s sudden demise. Does this sad observation a posteriori in any way justify the colonization or prove that decolonization was a mistake, as some argue?” (201-2)
Of course, Vanthemsche does not answer his own question with “yes”, but rather goes on to point the finger at the colonizers who, according to him, likely created the conditions which are now apparent by means of “rejection of the formation of a native elite and the protection of the Congo against foreign influences.”

The Democratic Republic of the Congo remains heavily influenced by its colonial history. Political strife and instability along with military conflict continue to plague the region as the country struggles to find its identity as a modern nation state amid sectarian violence rooted in the power vacuum left by the Belgian colonial government. The economy is still largely dependent on mining as, it was in the colonial past, and still maintains close economic ties with Belgium. The organizational structure of the education and judiciary systems remains the same, and the government maintains a strong centralizing and bureaucratic tendency. Even assertions or attempts of a ‘rediscovery’ of a distinct Congolese identity and culture can be seen as a reaction to the Congo’s colonial history, serving as an example of the way the colonial experience suffuses and influences everyday life.


  • Dembour, Marie-Bénédicte. Recalling the Belgian Congo: Conversations and Introspection. New York: Berghahn Books, 2008.
  • Freund, Bill. The Making of Contemporary Africa: The Development of African Society since 1800. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984
  • Spaas, Lieve. How Belgium Colonized the Mind of the Congo: Seeking the Memory of an African People. Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2007.
  • Turner, Thomas. The Congo Wars: Conflict, Myth & Reality. London: Zed Books, 2007.
  • Vanthemsche, Guy. Belgium and the Congo 1885-1980. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s The Danger of a Single Story & Raising the Subaltern in the Practice of De-colonization

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The Danger of a Single Story is a speech of the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The excerpt to be analyzed portrays the social and psychological threat of neglecting the voices of groups of people from literary discourse, as well as the importance of the postcolonial literary field as a way to counteract the master-narratives which have been dominating literature all over the world, an effort which began as a systematic method to subjugate and devalue the voices of whole groups of people, which affect society as well as the individual to this day. The excerpt gives insight to the psychological and social effects of colonization in a very personalized way. Adichie explains, that although she grew up on a university campus in Nigeria, the books she was reading when she was a child were all British and American, which ultimately influenced her understanding of the standard for a human being through the depiction of the characters in the books. Their habits, appearance and world views, however foreign to the Nigerian girl reading the story, were held as the standard for an understanding of herself and, with that, her relation to that which she perceived as the other, the question then being: Who is the other in this case? Does she feel a division of identity? This split in an understanding of self, as that which is foreign but also that which is felt to be the natural self, is discussed by many scholars, one of them being W.E.B Du Bois, who proposed the concept of “double consciousness” in his 1903 book The Souls of Black Folks.

Postcolonial literature seeks to counteract this effect of colonization and systematic racism, in general, to raise the voices of those who have been disadvantaged. The process of decolonization is of particular importance in this regard. Described by Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin as “the process of revealing and dismantling colonialist power in all its forms” and noting that “[t]his includes dismantling the hidden aspects of those institutional and cultural forces that had maintained the colonialist power and that remain even after political dependence is achieved” (Ashcroft et al. 1998, 63), decolonization in relation to literature, simply put, is the systematic devaluing of the master-narrative and exposing of the “hegemonic process of control” (63), by means of Writing Back, a form of literary resistance and protest to material and mental colonization experienced by the oppressed. Potential social dangers of a more radicalized form of decolonization could be pro-decolonization resistance movements such as the Fanonist ideas brought up, for example, by the anti-colonial sympathies expressed by Frantz Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth, proposing that an “anti-colonial sentiment might address the task of decolonization”, and seeing its task as “exchanging roles with the white colonial dominating class without engaging in any radical restructuring of society” (Ashcroft et al. 2000, 91), a concept which would have to propose utilizing the tools of the oppressor. A lighter approach is thereby taken by the postcolonial method known as Writing Back, or what is also referred to as counter-discourse, which Helen Tiffin describes as “inescapable and vital tasks” and “subversive maneuvers”, the “rereading and rewriting of the European historical and fictional record” (Tiffin 1995, 99).

However, what must be taken into account when speaking of a postcolonial method is the capacity for the intellectual capable of ‘giving a voice’ to speak for the oppressed. This is outlined by Gayatri Spivak when she poses the title-question to her 1994 essay Can the Subaltern Speak?, and asserts that “[i]t is impossible for contemporary […] intellectuals to imagine the kind of Power and Desire that would inhabit the unnamed subject of the Other of Europe” (75) She describes here the difficulty as well as the importance of “rewriting […] the utopian structural impulse as ‘rendering delirious that interior voice that is the voice of the other in us’” (104), or simply put, reformulating and restructuring the underlying understanding of self within classes and groups outside of an elite. In this way, the excerpt describing the fate of a small Nigerian girl to get to know herself from a perspective of the ‘elite’ rather than the subaltern, or the oppressed, is representative of exactly this process. Providing the environment or aiding in the elimination of the “interior voice” mentioned above is the task of decolonization. The ways in which to successfully make it happen are a matter of personal opinion and frequently discussed in postcolonial discourse.


  • Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffith and Helen Tiffin. Key Concepts in Post-Colonial Studies. London and New York: Routledge, 1998.
  • Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths and Hellen Tiffin, Post-Colonial Studies: The Key Concepts (Second Edition). New York: Routledge, 2000
  • DuBois, W.E.B. “The Souls of Black Folk.” A Norton Critical Edition. Eds. Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Terri Hume Oliver. Norton: 1999.
  • Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Colonial Discourse and Postcolonial Theory. Eds. Patrick Williams, Laura Chrisman. Columbia University Press: New York, 1994.
  • Tiffin, Helen. “Post-Colonial Literatures and Counter-Discourse.” The Postcolonial Studies Reader; 2nd Edition. Ed. Bill Ashcroft. London and New York: Routledge, 1995.

Internet Sources

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Racist Commercials?

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The 2011 commercial for the German Kytta-Salbe, an all-natural pain-relieving ointment, follows the exploitative, misguided, Eurocentric representation of a middle-aged Native-American man’s path through nature, facing obstacles such as rocks to be climbed and river trails to be passed over. A female narrator declares the significance and healing powers of nature, specifically in counteracting physical discomfort. In seeming pain from climbing the rocks and following an interjected explanation by the narrating woman regarding Kytta-Salbe’s natural healing powers, the man declares that a Native-American does not acknowledge pain1, implying his frequent use of the Kytta-Salbe helping him in staying true to that identity. Having described it as an exploitative, misguided, Eurocentric representation, or rather misrepresentation of Native-American culture, I will now have to attempt to prove it.

The issue of representation is covered extensively in postcolonial discourse analysis. More than anything, perhaps, a postcolonial perspective presupposes the understanding that beyond investigation of what we see and what we don’t see, exists a space of “mediations which intervene between reality and representation” (Stam & Spence, 111). This space is ridden with thought structures which are not only psychologically engrained in the individual but also embedded in social behavior, therefore having the cyclic potential to perpetuate it as well. However, it can be assumed that many German people would watch the commercial without questioning its cultural significance regarding a past of colonization or its psychological and social impact regarding a present of lasting mental and social effects. The colonial intertext connected to the Kytta-commercial is a vast history of stripping Native Americans of mental and physical resources, as defined by Stam & Spence as a common signifier of “colonial image making” (110). The twisting and blatant denial of colonial history and the fact that Native American culture has largely been wiped out by, first and foremost, colonial powers, but also more recently, self-serving political agendas and neglectful institutions, as well as the mental colonization of culture, in and outside of America, regarding the silenced state of Native American culture makes for a complete exploitation of stereotypes in the case of the Kytta-Salbe commercial. It is a fiction based on the colonial machinery of thought, which becomes apparent when taking one close look at the man’s dulled-down and modernized, supposedly Native American appearance, which is reduced to the Eurocentric vision of what is handsome and appropriate about Native American culture, such as long hair, intricate jewelry, masculine facial features and a strong, fit physical appearance, which goes along perfectly with the quote used to ‘sell’ Kytta-Salbe. Contrary to much of the “paradigmatic filmic encounters of whites and Indians in the western” (Stam & Spence, 111) including mostly “images of encirclement” (111), the spectator is positioned here on a level of friendship and understanding. The modernized and westernized Native American seems relatable in appearance and language. This is where the aspect of a mediation between reality and representation is most distorted. The apologist German standard of colorblindness in the defeating of racial stereotypes has led to much of the positive stereotyping common in media and culture, in general. The danger of positive stereotyping is its potential erasure of responsibility from the mind of the spectator leading to an ignorance of the effects of colonialization altogether, therefore making it harmful to both the oppressed and the oppressor, as described by Stam & Spence: “We should be equally suspicious of a naïve integrationism which simply inserts new heroes and heroines, this time drawn from the ranks of the oppressed, into the old functional roles that were themselves oppressive, much as colonialism invited a few assimilated ‘natives’ to join the club of the ‘elite’…” (110)

The westernized appearance, the well-spoken-ness and the relatability of the Native American, and his service to the creators of Kytta-Salbe as spokesman for ‘all-things-natural’ in medicine (an image obviously tied to Native American culture, while completely ignoring the fact that all of that has been systematically taken from Native American people by colonial powers) makes for a shocking misrepresentation of Native Americans while doing extremely well in outlining a European ignorance toward the issue of stereotyping. To briefly outline the dangers of positive stereotyping, here, the romanticization (and simultaneous disregard of the struggles) of Native American culture as well as the commercial exploitation of sociallyengrained thought patterns, I will now draw on Edward Said and Homi Bhaba to explore the underlying mental processes behind it. Said’s description of the relationship between the Orient and the Occident as “a relationship of power, of domination, of varying degrees of a complex hegemony […]” (Said 2006, 26) acknowledges the act of distortion and assimilation of images of the Orient as an imbalance of power, or as he calls it “positional superiority”(26), as both consciously utilized as well as engrained in subconscious processes, but its overarching danger being a “distribution of geopolitical awareness into aesthetic, scholarly, economic, sociological, historical and philological texts” and well as a “will or intention to understand, […] manipulate, even to incorporate, what is a manifestly different world” (Said 2006, 26). Homi Bhaba extends upon Said’s concept by putting into focus the synchronic aspects of this power imbalance by exploring the ambivalence in regards to the formulation of a “reformed, recognizable Other, as a subject of a difference that is almost the same but not quite”, with his concept of mimicry (Bhaba 1994, 122), which signifies the colonial assertion and exercise of power while simultaneously claiming the right to assimilate aspects of the Other’s culture, which are held to be worthy of such assimilation. In the case of the Kytta-Salbe commercial, the formulation of Self and Other as on even terms and friendly, hides within it a position of superiority while simultaneously establishing Western supremacy and the inherit authority to judge and strip Native American culture of all that is unacceptable by Western society, leaving only the Europeanized version of Native American culture, which serves to entertain.

Works Cited 

  • Bhaba, Homi. “Of Mimicry and Man.” The Location of Culture. New York: Routledge, 1994. 94-120, 121-131.
  • Said, Edward W. “Orientalism.” The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. Eds. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffith and Helen Tiffin. London and New York: Routledge, 2006, 24-27.
  • Stam, Robert and Louise Spence. “Colonialism, Racism and Representation.” The PostColonial Studies Reader. Eds. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffith and Helen Tiffin. London and New York: Routledge, 2006, 109-112.

Internet Sources

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Edward Said’s ‘Orientalism’ and Walther Mignolo’s Ideas on Modernity and ‘Border Thinking’


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Edward Said’s Orientalism 
Orientalism is a concept proposed by Edward Said in his essay with the same name and later extended upon by himself as well as many other academics. Said initially explains that Orientalism, first and foremost, is a construction regarding the view of the Orient created by Eurocentric thought processes (Ashcroft et al. 2000, 153). Further, it outlines the relationship between European domination and that which is created by such a force, by exposing a “positional superiority” (Said 2006, 26), which is abused by oppressive authorities (Said 2006 25) as well as embedded in the subconscious processes of both self and other, meaning, the individual, either Western or non-Western as well as its social environment. Orientalism provides a vast field of study which investigates the material and the immaterial substance of representation in discourse (Said 2006, 25), the causes and the effects of a colonialist ‘past’ in literary discourse (Said 1994, 54-5) as well as opening doors for future possibilities (Said 2006, 27), while acknowledging its fluidity regarding the concept of stereotyping and representation, in general.

A present-day example of Orientalism is the critically-acclaimed television series Homeland, which, regardless of its portrayal of the many individual shades of numerous people following the Islamic faith, still manages to boil them all down to one overarching symbolic reference: danger. The series follows a young CIA-operations officer now working for the counter-terrorism division and getting involved in different conspiracies to find a traitor whom she believes to have joined Al-Qaeda. The way in which the series portrays the other, in this case being anyone of Islamic faith reinforces the mental connotation of a threat. While being hailed a drama, which depicts a supposed “political reality”, the camera lingers in neighborhoods in Iraq which appear ‘scary’ and ‘chaotic’, through layers of distorted spectator influencing via cinematography such as utilizing music and sounds, as well as camera angles to provide the viewer with a “paranoid and defensive” gaze (Beaumont, 2012). By working with these techniques of cinematic dilution or distortion the creators of the series force the viewer to engage in processes of subconscious meaning-making which is how ideas of superiority which influence both colonized people as well as Westerners to acknowledge the superiority of Western society. In this way, it clearly shows the way in which, even to this day, Eurocentric thought processes remain dominant, how geographic superiority is still reinforced, and how institutions, in this case, media representatives are still spreading an image of Western supremacy by means of influencing the minds of viewers.

Walther Mignolo’s Ideas on Modernity & Border Thinking
Mignolo’s ideas on modernity are closely tied to the concept of neo-colonialism, which is described by Altbach as “a new, subtler, but perhaps equally influential kind of colonialism”, which differs from colonialism “in that it does not involve direct political control” or a “continuation of past practices” (Altbach 1995, 381). Mignolo extends upon this concept to investigate the idea of modernity by saying that “’modernity’ is a European narrative that hides its darker side, ‘coloniality’”, also saying that when we speak of global modernity, what we really mean is global coloniality (Mignolo, 39). Mignolo describes modernity as heavily influenced by the narrative which established white, male supremacy: enlightenment. The way in which this relates to modernity is that it has established an essentialized human norm, with everything existing outside of it being implicitly viewed and treated as mentally and physically inferior. Nowadays this is done by means of flaunting liberal and democratic ideals while moving within a framework of capitalism, a global economic system born out of the ideals and methods of colonialism, liberal ideals of progress now hiding within them subconscious processes established during the time of colonialism (Mignolo, 40-2).

As a way to counteract the effects, Mignolo offers his ideas on ‘border thinking’, a form of decolonization, first established by Gloria Anzaldua in her book Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, which asserts that a decolonization could be possible if the borders between nations became a mental metaphor for a space where Eurocentric ideals could be nullified by understanding and being aware of them. Mignolo states that “[b]eing part of the modern-world system and entrenched unabashedly with European modernity, a global future lies in working toward the rejection of modernity and genocidal reason, and the appropriation of its emancipating ideals.” (42) He outlines the connection between decoloniality and border thinking by stating that “border thinking is the epistemic singularity of any decolonial project” and that decoloniality should be approached by exploration of “[i]mmigrant consciousness” as it represents the “dispersion of colonial and border thinking” (Mignolo 2011, I). In this way, tying thought-processes to the concept of borders as spaces for critical thinking and non-European practices leaves a new, untouched territory where the effects of the Enlightenment era and European colonization are being re-evaluated and redefined. This, of course has the potential for heightened awareness which can then be spread to others. Mignolo explains that it is vital for this space to be weary of European influence and led by non-European but multi-faceted views, acknowledging that modernity is not a European creation, because concepts regarding modernity and tradition have been investigated more frequently by non-European intellectuals (43-4), an important skill
needed to rewrite the narratives created by colonialization and the supposed establishment of European superiority. In brief, in order to “de-colonise the colonial matrix of power” (49) future needs to be viewed as something to be re-evaluated and re-constructed with the colonial past in mind

Works Cited

  • Altbach, Philip G.: “Education and Neocolonialism.” The Postcolonial Studies Reader, 2nd Edition. Eds. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, Helen Tiffin. London/New York: Routledge, 1995.
  • Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffith and Helen Tiffin. Key Concepts in Post-Colonial Studies. London and New York: Routledge, 1998.
  • Mignolo, Walter D. “Coloniality: The Darker Side of Modernity”. 2009. 39-49.
    Said, Edward W. „Orientalism.“ In: Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffith and Helen Tiffin (Eds.) The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. London and New York: Routledge, 2006, 24-27.
  • Said, Edward W. ”Introduction.” Culture and Imperialism. New York: Knopf, 1994, xixxviii.

Internet Sources

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Call for Submissions: THE PARADOX Literary Magazine Second Issue



After putting out the first issue of THE PARADOX Literary Magazine, we are ready to accept submissions for the second issue.
​This issue will be exploring CHANGE as a guiding concept. What is change? What kind of emotions does it stir up? How does one approach change?
Just as the last issue’s topic “fear”, change is a concept which is often faced with mixed emotions. However, here THE PARADOX, we believe that change can represent a kind of freedom which is illuminated by creative expression.
This is what this literary magazine is all about. Exploring all aspects of experience within our body, mind and soul and sharing it with anyone interested in seeing the world in a new light.

​THE PARADOX is a literary magazine which seeks to promote creative expression of all types.
​We believe in the fundamental truth that existence is ruled by absurdity & that creative expression is the only way to reconcile human emotion & everyday life.
​We don’t believe in rules or limitations of any kind and hope to ultimately become a playground for the inner child within every artist.
We are specifically interested in articles, personal essays, poetry & prose, as well as art & photography which deals with topics such as culture, philosophy & psychology which offers new ways of looking at the contradictions of the human experience.
We believe in the value of creative expression! Not only its cultural and historical relevance but also its personal, therapeutic value.
​In a world of absurdity and contradiction, creative expression is a way to make sense of the senseless.
​Join us on our path to embrace the paradox of existence by sending us your work.
Do you want to submit?
​​We read blind! We don’t care who you are, because we believe everyone has something beautiful to say!
So please title your email subject line “Name of your work – Genre (Poetry/Prose/Art/Photography)”.
​We don’t work with previously published content. This includes blogs, personal websites and social media.
​However, we are happy to include previously published work in our blog!
All rights revert to author upon publication in THE PARADOX.
THE PARADOX retains first electronic rights to all work and retains the right to archive the work on our website online.
Simultaneous submissions are accepted, but we request that you to let us know at the earliest if your work is accepted for publication elsewhere.
All responses of acceptance and rejection will be sent 3 weeks after the submission deadline.
Submission Deadline for the Fall Issue of THE PARADOX is October 31st 2018!

The magazine will be ready for on-demand printing on December 31st.

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The Paradox Review is calling for Submissions

the unknown

“Be part of this wonderful collaborative effort! We are looking for creative expression of any kind to submit.
​As the title implies, this issue will be exploring ‘the unknown’ as a guiding principle for the exploration of the paradox of life.
‘Exploring the unknown’ is a concept which is often faced with panic and terror. However, here at The Paradox Review, we believe that the unknown represents a kind of freedom which is illuminated by creative expression.
This is what this literary journal is all about. Exploring the unknown within our body, mind and soul and sharing it with anyone interested in seeing the world in a new light. The unknown does not have to be frightening. Let’s open our minds to let it liberate us!”

​THE PARADOX REVIEW is a literary review and blog which seeks to promote creative expression of all types.
​We believe in the fundamental truth that existence is ruled by absurdity & that creative expression is the only way to reconcile
​human emotion & everyday life.

​We don’t believe in rules or limitations of any kind and hope to ultimately become a playground for the inner child within every human,
​every artist.

We are specifically interested in articles, personal essays, poetry & prose, as well as art & photography which deals with topics such as culture, philosophy & psychology which offers new ways of looking at the contradictions of the human experience.


We believe in the value of creative expression! Not only its cultural and historical relevance but also its personal, therapeutic value.
​In a world of absurdity and contradiction, creative expression is a way to make sense of the senseless.
​Join us on our path to embrace the paradox of existence by sending us your work.

Do you want to submit


​​We read blind! We don’t care who you are, because we believe everyone has something beautiful to say!
So please title your email subject line “Name of your work – Genre (Poetry/Prose/Art/Photography)”.
​We don’t work with previously published content. This includes blogs, personal websites and social media.
​However, we are happy to include previously published work in our blog!
All rights revert to author upon publication in THE PARADOX REVIEW.
THE PARADOX REVIEW retains first electronic rights to all work and retains the right to archive the work on our website online.
Simultaneous submissions are accepted, but we request that you to let us know at the earliest if your work is accepted for publication elsewhere.

All responses of acceptance and rejection will be sent 3 weeks after the submission deadline.
Submission Deadline for the Spring Issue of  “Exploring the Unknown” (our literary journal) is January 31st 2018!


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Empowerment and Protest in Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly”



“When the four corners of this cocoon collide
You’ll slip through the cracks hopin’ that you’ll survive
Gather your wit, take a deep look inside
Are you really who they idolize?
To pimp a butterfly”

In a 2015 interview with MTV, young Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar introduced his third LP To Pimp a Butterfly. Excited to hear that someone had figured out the significance of the album title To Pimp a Butterfly, which was initially supposed to be called “Tu Pimp a Caterpillar”, he says: “That was the original name […] because the abbreviation was Tupac, Tu.P.A.C” (Markman 2). So, what overwhelmed his desire to honor his idol Tupac Shakur, whom he symbolically interviews in the song Mortal Man? Markman quotes Lamar as saying,
“[M]e changing it to Butterfly, I just really wanted to show the brightness of life and the word pimp has so much aggression and that represents several things. For me, it represents using my celebrity for good. Another reason is, not being pimped by the industry through my celebrity.” (7)
Lamar’s album is a personal journey. It’s an embodiment of a personal struggle which resonates an internal conflict brought on by external forces. And, above all, it’s a blueprint for a possible path to empowerment. But how is empowerment achieved? This question can and will not be answered by this thesis. However, attempts will be made to outline Lamar’s approach.
Empowerment and protest are not mutually exclusive. Perhaps it can even be claimed, that a personal journey of empowerment builds the foundation for any further cultural protest, while a ‘protesting’ of internal and external forces, which are the influencing factors behind individual conditioning, are necessary to achieve empowerment. Consequently, the two interlinked themes of protest and empowerment are common in rap music, a creative style which can be foundationally linked to those two subjects. African-American cultural protest is rooted in a history of injustice and persecution, throughout which, music has been a platform for creative expression, used to uplift, to cope, to educate, and, thereby, to empower. More than just aiding in the heightening of one’s self-confidence, however, empowerment has the potential to lead to a greater cultural consciousness as well: a cultural consciousness of resistance, built on an identity which is upheld unapologetically, thereby directly linking it to active protest and social change.
Lamar’s critically acclaimed album has been described as an enormous success. Produced by high-profile hip hop producers such as Dr. Dre, Sounwave, Terrace Martin and many others, released by Top Dawg Records, Aftermath Records and Interscope Records and recorded in studios all over the United States, the album is versatile and multi-layered in many ways. More than just highlighting the political and social discontentment of contemporary African-American communities, it is the assertion of this thesis, that the lyrical content of Lamar’s album engages in complex structural break-downs, which systematically unfold levels of political and social relevance on, both, a personal level, and, almost by default, on a cultural level. These break-downs are based on a concept of duality:
[Lamar] frequently raps about the duality of his life, a hero for all of hip-hop, but also a man with faults. These faults are visible in his music, every boastful line of success can be accompanied by a line declaring his fear of judgement. (Bowman 1)
Stylistically, To Pimp a Butterfly has been referred to as an “ambitious avant-jazz-rap statement” (Helman 1), due to its specific sound which draws on jazz and funk music, and flaunts its innovative use of poetics and vernacular. Lamar’s work also incorporates spoken word poetry, which clearly sets it apart from many other rap albums. Casey Michael Henry of The Los Angeles Book Review defines the album as, both, original, as well as being a contemporary revival of African-American postmodernism when he calls it the “fully realized apotheosis of a new kind of postmodern rap ‘mega’ or ‘concept’ album” (2) in his 2015 review.
Lyrically, To Pimp a Butterfly describes not only Lamar’s personal journey of empowerment, but also a desire for a more self-aware cultural consciousness of resistance. This entanglement of subjects is highlighted by juxtaposed themes, which are divided into three steps of development. Lamar shares his path with his listeners, while warning of those external and internal influences which seek to keep young African-Americans from the kind of inner reflection which has the potential to end in an empowered movement. Lamar’s personal journey of empowerment, “from cocoon to butterfly”, as implied in the title of this thesis, and used throughout the album as metaphors for developmental stages, is directly linked to the theme of cultural protest outlined by the metaphor “from Compton to Congress”, implying its social impact.
In brief, it is the assertion of this thesis, that the lyrical content, and the specific use of vernacular, poetics and musical style in Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly highlight a tripartite development towards an empowered African-American identity in the form of Lamar’s personal journey, which is achieved by juxtaposing several binary themes which are comprised of a dual perspective at interrelated subjects which are all tied to the two overarching concepts of protest and empowerment. Therefore, it is the aim of this research paper to investigate Lamar’s creative expression in To Pimp a Butterfly with a focus on the vernacular, poetics, and musical style, as well as exploring patterns to be found in the lyrical content and the two spoken word poems of the album representative of 1) interlinked binary relations and 2) tripartite developmental stages towards empowerment.

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