Children of Colonialism

Not everything about my Anglo-Indian heritage has sat well with me, and some aspects of the culture have left me feeling a little disappointed. One of the greatest challenges about belonging to this community has been coming to terms with their attitudes towards race. So where did this racism originate? Was it an Indian feature or was it something Indians and Anglo-Indians learned together during the British occupation of India?

My questions were answered when I concluded that both the British and the Indians, shared a common deep, dark secret. During their raddled history, they were both intrinsically racist, and these attitudes were so deep-rooted that centuries later, I felt their effect.

It might appear inconceivable to some that a dark-skinned child could experience racism in a dark-skinned country, such as India. I am here to tell you that they can ─ and they still do. Just watch an Indian movie, and it will not be long before you realize that the heroes and heroines are more likely to be light-skinned.

Either naturally light-skinned or with the use of white-face makeup. Sadly, you will also realize that the villains will mostly always be dark-skinned: an ugly, dark-skinned mother-in-law stereotype; a troublesome drunken neighbour or a soothsayer. Even Bollywood, it seems, echoes the covert message of “white is nice”.

In previous times, however, such as during the British Raj, these attitudes were much, much worse. To add fuel to the fire, the mid 1800’s gave rise to a new set of theories that purported white British supremacy. With this, they became locked in their theories of race, of inferiority and superiority, of the origin of the species, and natural selection, popularized by Charles Darwin.

From this period on, they harboured views that would have otherwise been lost on their hosts. If not for the fact that their hosts themselves held views of hierarchy and superiority, based on a caste system. In India, supremacy and subservience ruled, all in the name of the gods and the prospect of a continuum of better re-incarnations.

The British and the Indians were an ironic duo, polarized by racism, who once upon a time superficially laid aside their differences for need and greed.

Of course, the average person, swept up in the nostalgia of Imperialism, would have failed to fully appreciate the magnitude of the elitist ideals imposed on them through colonialism. That is why it is good to study history, for it is in history that we see and understand the bigger picture. In the present our vision is skewed, it is narrow and one-dimensional. At any given time, we cannot perceive everything that is influencing our lives, our communities, and our nations. But when we look back in time, the past becomes multi-visual and multi-dimensional. So it is that in hindsight we must ponder our mystified pasts.

Most people are not brave enough to examine their own histories, honestly. They choose instead to view their past through rose-coloured glasses. This is particularly true of the romantic notions most Anglo-Indians held and still hold about their British Masters. They consider events from inside the bubble. This will no doubt give a misconstrued impression about oneself.

When studying our history, we need to study it from both inside and outside the bubble. From inside the bubble, colonialism worked well for the Anglo-Indians. They received an education, they experienced upward mobility and they were comforted in the fact that their British fathers were in control of their destiny.

Outside the bubble, a terrible enemy was emerging that would affect not just the Anglo-Indian but every non-white citizen of the world. The enemy that I refer to is Social Darwinism, where the lesser must give way to the greater, the weaker to the stronger and the poorer to the richer.

Charles Darwin, a clergyman turned agnostic turned atheist, discovered that within nature there was a system of hierarchy that ensured only the fittest survived. While this may appear to be true in nature, human beings would identify a stronger person preying on a weaker person as an unkind and a sadistic bully.

That is because human beings possess something animals do not, they possess compassion and ethics. However, little compassion or ethics were extended toward those perceived as lesser humans during the period of Colonialism. While on the surface, Darwin openly condemned racism in the form of slavery, he sanctioned Colonialism, which is just another form of slavery.

Before Darwin discovered fossils, barnacles, corals, or the prolific Chiloe tree, he discovered the savage brute. Shocked by a random encounter with black people, he referred to them as miserable individuals, brutes, and savages. From this, Darwin concluded that man was not a created being but evolved from lesser creatures, such as chimpanzees. Prior to this, of course, the predominant theory in Western Culture was that man was created by God, in the image of God, and that all men were equal.

In the book of Genesis, God made male and female. He called them Human (Adam). He made them from Adama (the Earth). Adam in turn called his wife Eve and differentiated himself from her, so there was a male human and a female human. Darwin’s theory did away with a flat human race created in the image of God and made man into a hierarchy of humans, some better and others worse.

In his view, the Victorian Englishman, who was a superior human, would no doubt occupy the top spot, and the miserable savage would occupy the bottom. Darwin also believed men were superior to women because women were less intelligent than men.[1]

He judged the native communities he encountered purely on materialism, which is not a factor in determining success or failure. He showed little consideration for their culture, social structure, history, or their survival in some of the harshest environments. He further suggested that the savages were destined to become extinct through natural selection and would eventually die off. It is no wonder his theories became so popular, they were the perfect solution to resolve race and land issues in the 1800’s. His theories also provided the ultimate license to conquer, subjugate, dominate, and exploit the resources of the non-white people.

Shame on him for creating such suffering in the world!

My criticism of Darwin is harsh, I know.  After all, he was not the first person to explore the natural sciences. There were others before him and there were others during his lifetime. Who remembers Alfred Wallace, the man who co-founded these theories? We all only remember Darwin, because he was the most successful and the most influential person to introduce such theories.

In regard to his theories, others have also raised the issue of animal suffering.[2] If some animals are destined to become extinct, then why not just let them? Why intervene in their suffering and prolong the inevitable? As an animal lover I find the slightest hint or suggestion of cruelty to animals abhorrent. If we go to the Bible, we find animals were created by God, and how beautiful they are. They are mobile art objects, decorated palettes of skin, hide, fins, feathers, and fur–perfect examples of beauty, hundreds, and thousands of them, each unique.

Adam was given the commission to not only take care of the earth, he was told to care for the animals. The further people stray from God, the more they destroy the earth and inflict unnecessary suffering on animals. This is my opinion.

Of course, Darwin predicted many things that should have taken place if his theories were correct. Contrary to his predictions, the savages did not die out, the New Zealand Maoris, like their rats, did not die out, and the Australian Aborigines did not die out. Despite efforts by the Australian Government to totally eradicate its native population, even as late as the 1960’s, the Aborigines survived.

During this time, Australia was still in the throes of its “White Australia Policy”, the last utopian dream for an all-white sanctuary. Get rid of those annoying blacks forever! Australia was the place, and this was the time, where the white race could finally rest and be, well, “white” and enjoy the benefits of being at the top of the human tree of life. It was their destiny. So, what if the land they possessed belonged to someone else? That was a mere technicality, especially if the original owners were sub-human.

The Asians they could keep out, the Aborigines they would breed out, and then the land could be all theirs. Like it was in the beginning when the ships landed, when the country was declared uninhabited, Terra Nullius. During the same period, the Aborigines were supposed to be wiped out, their population increased significantly. This is not so different from the attempt by Hitler to eradicate the Jews, which was also unsuccessful. So, what can we learn from all this hate and genocide?

That is not our decision as to who stays and who goes, that decision lies in the hands of someone greater than all of us.

The White Australia policy was in its death throes when I arrived here, hence the taxi driver’s exhilaration when he figured out my country of origin. Not that I was aware of any intolerant policies towards me; I just remember being quite different and having people stare at me. Good stares and bad stares, mostly good, Australians are not inherently racist! But when I did experience racism it was not a stranger to me. I had experienced it in India, and for that matter, I had experienced it in my own family.

It is now over 151 years since Darwin published his theories on natural selection. I know that because it was exactly 100 years before I was born. The only significant difference between the various groups of people is still materialism. Some have, some have not, and the greedy want more. For all Darwin said about God or the absence thereof, some of his last words were, “Oh, Lord…Oh my God!”[3] Ironically, if you ever decide to visit this atheist’s grave, you will have to go to Church, for his remains can be found in Westminster Abbey.

Like the ethnocentric Darwin, my Anglo-Indian community liked to judge on outward appearances. Fair-skinned, slim-nosed children were viewed as having better prospects. In some ambiguous way, these attributes were also seen as making them more intelligent and moral. Of course, I did not possess any attributes that would suggest a successful future, but as you read through my story, you will realize the fittest do not always survive and the smartest do not always succeed. I am glad that I have proved Darwin wrong and, in every instance, I have beaten the odds.

Most might not see a distinct correlation between Darwin and Colonialism, but I do. Others see huge benefits that native populations received because of Colonialism. But I am more concerned as to whether there were any benefits to the Children of Colonialism. Were they the victors or the victims? I think they were neither and yet they were both. My grand-parents and parents enjoyed the most prestigious lifestyle, but they died paupers. That is because the benefits only lasted while they lived under Colonialism. When the Colonizers moved on the benefits stopped. The only real benefit the Anglo-Indians gained from the British as I see it, was education, and it was that education that ensured their success wherever they went.

© Cheryl Mason 2012.


[1] (Adrian Desmond & James Moore 1991)

[2] (John Brooke & Geoffrey Cantor 1998)

[3] (Adrian Desmond & James Moore 1991)

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: