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2008-05-21

Xenophobia in South Africa

Wikipedia is a marvel. At any given moment, a Wikipedia article might contain good information, vandalism, lies, or mistakes. But by watching the process through which a Wikipedia article is built, you can usually obtain a spectacular overview of the different points of view on a subject. The neutral point of view policy is not always followed, but when it is it results in a marvelous source of unbiased information.

Today is not one of those days.

Bias is sitting on the front page of Wikipedia, in the form of a headline which reads "At least 22 people are killed as a wave of anti-foreign violence spreads across South Africa." The bias is subtle. You might miss it. Statistically speaking, you're likely to possess some of this same bias yourself, without even realizing it.

The bias is most evident in a link from within the headline. The word "anti-foreign" is linked to the article on "Xenophobia." Xenophobia, of course, is a fear of things foreign. And here's the bias: Anglo-saxonism!

What prompted the violence in South Africa? Why would anyone rise up and begin taking lives? Wikipedia's answer is deceptively simple, and biased: the South Africans are rioting because they have xenophobia. They just don't like foreigners. Those backward Africans!

It really isn't too hard to obtain a historical perspective which will shed a lot more light on this headline than simply "xenophobia." It doesn't take much reading to discover that White Europeans have been overrunning every piece of the globe, killing and subjugating other people, since at least the days of the Roman Empire. Britain in particular is one of the most bloodily guilty nations in history, if a nation can be held "guilty" rather than the murdering individuals themselves. At one time, the British Empire covered 22% of the globe. Long before a murderous anti-Semitic lunatic in Germany dreamed of dominating the globe, murderous lunatics in Britain had basically done it. For millenia Europeans have worshiped the lie of the "Pax Romana" and dreamed of being the special, anointed people who will bring it to pass again. Many of them have been only too happy to use the same methods as Rome: bloodthirsty conquest.

(Please don't think when I say "Europeans" I'm tarring all Europeans with the same brush. I simply mean that, historically speaking, many Europeans have been ruled by murderers bent on conquest. During that time, the vast majority of people have simply been trying to live their own lives and not get killed. The common man does not profit from conquest; it is only the politically powerful who reap the benefits of war. When I say "Europeans," I mean "some Europeans," not "all Europeans." Furthermore, I'm not suggesting that only Europeans are guilty; the Pax Romana delusion and disease have certainly spread to many other nationalities. It's just that in this context, the fact that Europeans have done it is significant.)

Those foolish Africans, rising up against foreigners. Don't they understand that the foreigners are there to benefit them? Don't they understand the civilization, culture, and prosperity the foreigners bring? These questions might sound silly today, but one hundred years ago, to an Anglo-Saxon ear, they most certainly did not. The "white man's burden" meant that white Anglo-Saxons, including Europeans and Americans just happened to be the best and the brightest. After all, Anglo-Saxons ruled over 22% of the globe. And the Anglo-Saxons brought the blessings of civilization to all the backwaters of the world, where filthy, stupid dark people lived. In other words, Anglo-Saxons suffered from a Messiah complex. Unfortunately, unlike my Messiah, the Anglo-Saxons were willing to inaugurate their reign with bloodshed.

Why should South Africans have anti-foreign sentiment? Are they just irrational xenophobes? Really, that's a despicable thing to say. Like hundreds of other localities, South Africa was dominated by British rule. Those of us who live in America (whence the majority of English-speaking Wikipedians hail) don't often understand it, but people in other countries often have long, long memories. The past is not always just forgiven and forgotten. There are regions where 100% of the residents have been touched by the death and violence of conquest in the last few generations. What does it feel like to know that your father, grandfather, and three of their brothers were all killed when the Europeans were dominating? What does it feel like to have helped raise your own orphaned siblings after lethal injustice? I don't know how these things feel, but many people in formerly dominated countries do.

Thankfully today the British and most Europeans are enlightened. In the 20th century, imperialism mysteriously slowed down, although it did not entirely come to an end. Many dominated countries obtained their independence, sometimes through resistance, sometimes just through the apparent benevolence of their subjugators. The imperialistic Europeans have backed off. But mysteriously, sometimes the maimed and wounded survivors are still not happy. Sometimes we see anti-foreign sentiment. It's completely unjustified and irrational, of course; everyone knows we're more enlightened today than we were back when we were imperialistic. You know, half a century ago, when your father was a child?

I think it's somewhat telling that Wikipedia doesn't even include an article on Anglo-Saxonism. Bias, indeed. Not an overt bias, not a bias most of the readers are aware. But a bias of omission.

Does Anglo-Saxonism still exist today? Surely we see how racist the "White Man's Burden" idea was, don't we? Hmm ... "If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see farther into the future." -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, defending the use of cruise missiles against Iraq, February 1998. Hmm.

For more about imperialism and its legacy, I heartily recommend the following books. They are all part of a series called the Uncle Eric Books. You can Google for these books and find them easily. I've also seen them for sale at every single homeschool book fair I have ever been to. The author's name is Richard Maybury. The books I suggest on this subject are:

Whatever Happened to Justice? [Doesn't concern imperialism directly, but this establishes the base perspective for the other books.]
Ancient Rome: How it Affects You Today
The Thousand Year War in the Mideast: How it Affects You Today
World War I: The Rest of the Story, and How it Affects You Today
World War II: The Rest of the Story, and How it Affects You Today

4 comments:

Keri said...

I am presently reading "Ancient Rome." I am curious if you homeschool?

jdavidb said...

Yes, Keri, we are enthusiastic homeschoolers, although at this point in time our children are younger than what most people consider "school age." My wife was 100% homeschooled. I was public schooled, and while I received a good education academically, the result was an extreme bias in favor of believing that existing government solutions are right and that solving problems with government is right. I don't want that for my children!!

siener said...

Hi, I'm from South Africa and I came across this post of you by chance. I am having a bit of trouble understanding the point you are trying to make.

Local black South Africans attacked foreigners from elsewhere in Africa - mostly people from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Nigeria. There were no people of European decent involved in either side of the conflict.

Where does the whole Anglo-Saxonism fit into this?

jdavidb said...

You're right, seiner. I didn't understand who the victims were when I read the original news story.

Many of the points I made hold true; they just weren't relevant to the story that set me off writing that day.