Sunday, July 7, 2013

Robert K. Thomas: Colonialism: Domestic and Foreign

 Colonialism: Domestic and Foreign

Colonialism is one of the structured ways in which people come in contact, or perhaps better put, one of the ways in which people have a limited contact with each other. In this chapter I will present to you two models of colonial situations.
In the last century the colonial arrangement was the major way in which Europeans came in contact with and set up relationships with other peoples, particularly folk peoples. It is also the major way that the modern middle class in large nation-states comes in contact with regional, rural and working class groups of people. A colonial structure is only one kind of contact., but it is widespread in the modern world and I would like to submit to you two models of this kind of contact - one, I call the classic model of colonialism, and the other I'll call hidden colonialism. I don't know whether "hidden" is the beat descriptive word. I use this term because this type of colonialism is not as obvious structurally to the observer as the classic model of colonialism.

The first model, the classic model, could be seen all aver Africa and Asia, until recently. European powers set up specified legal bureaucracies to administer to colonial people; so the structure was readily observable. You could see the, persons of British administrators in an African colony, or as today in the U.S., the employees of the Bureau of Indian Affairs on an American Indian reservation. This is the classic model. The other model is less observable, but has to a large degree the same kind of effects. One "people" specifically administer the affairs of another, but in this case by institutional relationships that are pulled up out of one economic level or one "community" and placed in another one. In this model the administering "community" is part of the general overall society in which the subordinate community also exists.

Let us say that there is such a social unit. an at "normal" community with different kinds of institutional structures in it, political and economic structures, which relate this community to its total environment. In a classic colonial situation most of these institutions are placed in the hands of an outside bureaucracy of officials, or indirectly linked to them.. like the English administrators in West Africa before African freedom. There usually also evolves some kind of organ which mediates between the colonized people and the colonial power, If a community is a system of life which comes to grips with the day-to-day environment,, them a society in such a situation is certainly not a community, because this group of people (this small society) now does not come to grips with life as it is lived day to day. This is the classic colonial situation.

What I call the hidden colonial situation (and I would say that Latin America is a hidden colony as are many parts of the U.S.) has the same general effect. We can see this in the relations between the working class and the middle class in Detroit, for instance. The institutions of the middle class do the job for the working class, but this is not as obvious a process as in the classic model. In the hidden model there is great differential power between the administrated and the administrators., and institutional decisions are made through the institutions of the administrators.
I am particularly concerned with the ramifications that this kind of model has on change. And I'll suggest several things to you about change in a colonial situation. Let me take first the classic model.
To begin with, there is, in the broadest sense, the decay of the subordinate people's own institutions. That is, whatever institutions were previously present either 'become inoperative with the forms still remaining, as with certain tribal political systems in West Africa before independence, or they decay altogether These decaying or inoperative systems will change function and be used in one way or another depending on the kind of people affected.

Secondly, as the native institutions decay and are not replaced it becomes harder for people in such a community to relate to one another in and any productive manner. If the community has no jobs to do., is making no decisions about its own destiny, there is no way for one person to make any judgment about another's worth in terms of what he can contribute to the welfare of the group. Leadership or prestige which is functionally based is non-existent. This, interpersonal relations become more problematical and the stability of each personality becomes more problematical and called Into question.

The third effect of colonialism is to bring about a very high degree of social isolation. It seals off the community from relationships with other people in other communities. If even seals off the relationship with the physical environment. For instance, if the colonial power decides that a road will be built in a certain part of West Africa, and the subject people are not in on the decision making process, then in effect, they are isolated from their own physical environment, as well as being socially isolated from people they would have ordinarily come in contact with, because all such contact is siphoned through the colonial organization. Change really doesn't take place under such conditions, except In the form of internal decay.

Social scientists say that social change Is new Social experience. A community doesn't change -very much unless its people are experiencing themselves through their fellows and their environment,- grappling with and making decisions about new situations. This is how a human being changes as he moves through life. Man Is an experiencing being.
Let me pause here and differentiate two things that confused Americans when I say experience. I don't mean consumption. And Americans confuse consumption with experience. When I go fishing with friends of mine, they go out in a boat and they're going to fish. And they fish. They've got so much time between two and five to get this fishing done. They've only got three hours to do it in. They're supposed to be "recreated" at the end of those three hours so that they can go back and produce some more. They hold their ''selfs'' constant and they consume those three hours. They don't want to sit in a boat and not catch fish, because you can do that at home. That's nothing, it's non-fishing. You're out to fish, so you want to get the biggest fish. You go fishing. Incidentally, a lot of American men seem to consume their women in the same way - the sexes consume each other. So let me differentiate between experience and consumption: When a man is in situations where change is involved, he is experiencing and changing. A consuming type of activity, on the other hand, does not change the person. Thus, if the individual has not changed in some way, there has been no experience.

I've tried to differentiate these two types of colonialism and how they contribute to the decay of institutions and to social isolation; how relationships become more problematical in such a structure; and how people are deprived of experience and thereby haw change becomes difficult or impossible. Put this doesn't mean that people do not learn and adapt to the colonial situation. Let's take social isolation and see what happens in what is called "economic change." "

I'll take an Indian reservation, partly because I am more familiar with that, and partly because it's the most complete classic colonial system in the world that I know about. (I do not mean. to imply that the U.S. has imperialist designs on American Indian reservations. The present structure of Indian - U.S. relationships was set up 'in the last century after the period of conscious exploitation of Indian land in a benevolent attempt to save Indian resources by making a federal bureau the trustee of Indian lands and directing this same bureaucracy to guide Indian destiny in an effort to adjust, usually by forced assimilation practices, Indian communities to their new situation. The modern result is a complete and socially destructive colonial situation. In fact, most of the systems I would call hidden colonialism seem to be historical "accidents" or the results of historical trends. The centralization of institutional power, institutional decision-making and institutional form in many large nation-states of the world seems to be the basis for the colonial relationship of the elite middle-class to working class, rural and regional groups in those states.

One of the effects of colonialism you find on Indian reservations is an inadvertent exploitation of natural resources. The U.S. government is in charge of the resources on an Indian reservation. On those reservations which have forests there are tribal sawmills which are "tribal" only in the sense that they are located on the reservation. Put the government bureaucracy actually runs them. They're supposed to. They are responsible by law and they have no choice. They aren't being "mean" to the Indians, they're just supposed to run the sawmill. If they don't run -it efficiently they are liable to lose their jobs, that's all.

The Indians who tend to have the jobs in the sawmill are the "responsible" Indians. Now, you can imagine who the responsible Indians are. They are Indians who are most like the whites and hence the most "cooperative., (This situation makes for better factionalism on many reservations, and is another outcome of this classic colonial structure.) Accordingly, this kind of structure always creates an economic elite of marginal people, or cooperative marginal people. I don't want to give you the impression that all marginal people on all Indian reservations or in all countries around the world are economic elites, they aren't. (Sometimes, if they are marginal enough, they become revolutionaries) But this is one class of people created by the classic colonial structure.

When the resources from the timber are sold the returns go into the tribal treasury. The Indians who have control of these funds, insofar as Indians on an Indian reservation have control of anything, are these marginal people. Their job is to mediate between the Indian Bureau and the, Indians, and they are the same people who work in the sawmill. They have very little power beyond that which the Bureau of Indian Affairs will give them. The raw materials from this reservation are, of course, sold outside of the reservation area. The U.S. Government usually deducts from the sales of these resources the costs of providing social services to these reservations. (If any of you are familiar with the head tax system in Africa and Asia, for instance, you can see a very close resemblance.) The remaining money goes into the tribal treasury and, in turn, is allocated to further economic activity which is first planned and then sanctioned by the government as before. What happens after a little while, what is bound to happen, is that the natural resources of this region are drained off. So, in a sense, you don't have real economic change there at all, only exploitation.

What does an Indian experience in this situation? You have to make decisions in order to experience, and few if any decisions here are taken by Indians.
Let's take another example: industry that moves into an Indian reservation. The Bureau administrators think that small industry is good for the reservations because it will create jobs and bring in money. Buildings are, built from tribal funds to lure in industry. Because of the high transportation costs wages are not high, 'hut in the minds of the administrators it is better than nothing - although mazy people refer to these industries as "sweat shops."
Unfortunately, the skills required of workers in many small industries that move into Indian country seem most easily defined by Indians as female skills. Many such small industries consciously hire Indian woven for these jobs. In other places, Indian men avoid working at these kinds of jobs or else start to work and quit soon afterward so that there is large turn over in an "undependable" labor force. Thus, Indian men are faced with the alternatives of being defined as irresponsible "slobs" by the powerful administrators who are promoting the industry, or as sissies by their own fellows that's a big choice! You can either go to work at a job that erodes you self image, while your buddies are out punching cattle - a man's job - or you can be an irresponsible "slob," not providing for your families again.

And that is what happens in most colonial situations right across the world - the community lies inert until prodded. That's what happens after a long history of not having experience, you lie inert until prodded; i.e., nobody at the bottom or even among the intermediaries act until someone at the top acts in a way to which you must respond.
And you are judged on how you respond. So it a man from the top or the intermediary group comes and asks -you whether or not you're going to work in a fishhook factory and you answer yes., then the rest of the community judges you on that reaction. They may consider you. a "White man's Indian.," for instance. And after a certain amount of time people can only respond in terms of this structure and its movements, because all the institutions, information and experience is located there.

Let's look at a cattle program. Every once in a while the U.S. decides it should sponsor an economic-agriculture activity. The government gives money to the Indians whose job it is to mediate between the government and the people. If you're on an Indian tribal council, you look to the administrators to tell you how to set up a program. How else could you do it? You've never seen a cattle program. You've never run one. You've never taken action very much yourself except in terms of waiting for the colonial structure to give you cues so you can act negatively or positively. Now you have to find out how to set up a cattle program. You set up a cattle program in terms of individual loans, using a standard American model. The intermediaries run the loan board, again because they are more like white men by virtue of their association with them - not because of their experience in making decisions for this community, but just because of their association with whites inside and outside of the formal institutional context.

So they set up the loan board and then Sam Blackbird comes in and wants to get a loan - a big strappin' Sioux Indian about 32, who's worked about two years since he was fifteen and the rest of the time he's lived with his folks. Well, you're not going to give money to Sam Blackbird (To the Sioux, a young man contributes to the People by giving of his courage and his self-confidence. Any economic contribution he can make is a by-product of the playing out of his courage and his daring.)

Suppose for some unknown reason Sam Blackbird would get a loan. His kin would come over and say, "Gee, Sam, how lucky can you get. Them guys up there finally gave you some money, so let's cut out one of these big steers here and eat it." Well, what is Sam going to do? He can act like a "greedy white man," which is how many Indians perceive whites, - not be a Sioux, in other words or he can help his kin and thus default on his loan. Those are the options that the structure offers him.

Now, in fact what would happen is that. Sam Blackbird would kill the steer and default on his loan. So. if you're going to start a cattle program in this community that isn't the way to do it. But nobody in the community really knows that, because nobody has ever run a cattle program, and it's been so long since anybody ever did anything like a cattle program that there are really no analogies to call on. They would have to experiment around to find out how to run a cattle program, which they are not able to so. The administrators usually take active control of a program which is "failing" so that Indians do not even get to see what finally caused the "failure". (As a social scientist I could just make a guess, it would only be a guess, that a group of brothers could be given financial responsibility and that might work. But I don't know, its been too long since this institution has functioned and decisions have been in their hands. Africa was never in this bad shape. The Indian reservation is the most complete system of colonialism I know.)
Let me go back to the first point that I made about these two processes of change. What I've been talking about is really lack of change because the structure isolates the people from experience. Let me give you an example of how that could be different.

The University of Chicago helped the Sac and Fox Indians in Tama, Iowa, start a small industry.
At first everything seemed chaotic as the Indians grappled with this new learning experience in their own terms. I remember I went out there one time and everybody had just walked off their jobs because somebody had said something to somebody (this is a kinship society, a tribe -in which interpersonal relations are the most Important thing). But they came back the next day because they wanted their industry to succeed. All kinds of things changed at Tama - and really changed.

Before the project an Indian might work in a nearby town and maybe an uncle would come over one day and say, "Joe, I want to go into town and buy some birthday gifts for my little niece. Would you take me into town?" Joe has twenty minutes to get to work, but do you know what he does? He takes his uncle into town. He shows up the next day and the foreman says, "Where you on Monday?" And he says, "I had to take my uncle into town." And the foremen says., "Holy Mackerel,, I've got a production deadline, and you have to take your uncle to town!'' So he says, "Pick up your check, pal, you're through." And Joe's reaction is "Well, those white people are mean, everybody knows that." So he goes home and has to wait another year before he ventures out to get another job.

Well, one of the things the Sac and Fox found out working in this industry was that if you went over and asked your nephew to take you into town at the time when he was supposed to go up and work with the rest of his kinfolk, then all the other kinfolk might get mad at you for asking him to do that. And that's the way that they learned about production deadlines. And they learned it. (Tribal people can be coercive. They are not only friendly, smiling folk people. That's one side of them. They can also put pressure and social controls on you like nobody's business.)
Here is another example. One of the Indians was in the process of drawing a sketch for a tile (the kind you put under hot plates) when his uncle died. He was supposed to go into a four-day seclusion. it was two months before. Christmas, with the Christmas rush coming up. Everybody wondered what they could do: "Charlie has to go into four-day seclusion. We're going, to miss all the Christmas business." So they went to their own native places' and discussed the problem and came to a decision. They said, "Why don't we fix a little place under the door where Charlie is in seclusion so he can make those designs and slip "em under the door. He doesn't have to touch anybody." And they worked that, out so that Charlie could keep on working.
Now that's experience and change. That's facing other people in the community and your environment in terms of your own aspirations and in terms of the kind of life you're leading.

Let me give you another example. In the early days of the project the Indians felt they needed to organize their but are tribal people, all relatives, and nobody likes to tell anybody else what to do. They got together and decided they're going to nominate someone for chairman because they've heard that's the way to do that sort of thing. So they nominate Dan, say, who almost crawls under his chair at the thought of having to "boss" his relatives and their probable negative reaction. Everybody realized maybe that isn't going to work so well., and they decide to abandon it. Finally, they decided that the person who had worked the. most hours, in their co-operative the previous year would automatically become chairman of the board of the industry. By the nature of the case, he didn't have to volunteer, the one with the most hours just had the job. Now, I nor any other social scientist, would ever have thought. of that - never in a million years! But that is what I mean about experience and change. Under the colonial system it doesn't happen. It can't. 'Of course, the situation on an American Indian reservation is extreme, because a large part of the environment that the American Indian faces are American whites and white society. And they are pressured to adapt to this environment that they cannot experience.

Let me now return to the two elements of change, decay of institutions and social isolation. When you have peasant people caught in a colonial situation and institutions 1ecav, bigger and better intermediaries are. created to meet, the situation, more marginal men. When an urban person's institutions decay, and by urban I mean middle class, he is blocked off from coming true. It. gives him identity problem. Institutions for him are not so much where he makes decisions about jobs an:.! environment, that's true, too, but he makes decisions about himself in those institutions. But tribal people - and this is true of a lot of Africans, Asians, and American Indians - who have their native structure broken down are in bad shape, because they respond to structure, definitions outside of themselves. In Beginning God said, "You are the people who plant corn," or something of that sort. What you are is defined, given. It is defined in ritual. It is defined in interaction.

You break down the native institutions and social control and definitive cues as well and tribal people will do whatever is most pleasurable under the circumstances. If they like to drink, they'll drink themselves right into oblivion. There are whole American Indian tribes who are just. drinking themselves into oblivion. This behavior may not be the result of any particular "psychological trouble unless powerful and prestige  outsiders condemn their behavior. Then there's trouble. Negative attitudes from the outside can be as potently definitive as cues from a native structure or an administrative structure. Negative self definitions are the rule rather than the exception among American Indian groups.
Further, I would hypothesize that this is the Process usually called ''social disorganization'' by social. scientists. Social scientific literature is replete with examples of what happens to folk immigrants to large American cities. Every folk people who have ever come into and American city has gone this phase of "social disorganization" after they first come to the urban center. For a folk people who depend on cues of themselves to guide their actions, immigration and loss of the social structure can be personally demoralizing; thus the rise of' crime, etc.
However, immigrants to large American cities have traditionally been able to organize a new institutional structure after this initial period of social break down. By the use of this new institutional structure they were able to learn about the American environment, inl with this new knowledge and the social power their institutions gave them they 'were able to make a place for themselves on the American scene.

Such is not the case in the modern milieu. Recent immigrants are caught in a hidden colonial situation as the American system has centralized. Their only structure is the structure of powerlessness and the resultant lack of experience and negative self definitions that are part of the system itself.
Like many American Indian groups they find it impossible to experience and cope with their now environment, can build no new institutions, and are faced with a definition of themselves as incompetent and no way to counter, in action, these definitions. Their only option is to throw that definition back into the face of the middle class and say "To hell with you" by riots, Black Power movements and the like.

Cherokee Colonial Nation
Not only is the Inner City caught in a hidden colonial structure, but regional groups like Appalachia are fast approaching the Inner City in terms of the completeness of the colonial situation. A consciousness,, at least in America, of groups caught in a similar colonial relationship is growing; and the Poor March, a coalition of Negroes, Appalachians, Mexican-Americans and American Indians is evidence of this consciousness.

Classic colonialism, except in the case of American Indians, is a fast disappearing social phenomenon, but hidden colonialism as a type of contact seems to be increasing in the world. Faster, perhaps in the U.S. because this country is the most advanced in the technologically sense, but a world wide phenomenon nevertheless.

Further, one could, by stretching this type of analysis, look at student unrest in this theoretical framework. Certainly, this generation of students have had a radically different social experience than the rest of the societies of which they are a part. And if they are not a historic, separate community they, at least, feel themselves to have a different and special outlook and culture. They have a generational cohesion and sense of community as well. Their lives are administered by people they feel a separateness from. They are powerless and feel they cannot accept a definition of themselves as transitory and temporary. But unlike the modern folk people who are caught in a hidden colonial situation they, by virtue of their socialization in middle class families, understand their total environment much better and many seem to reject it.

I hope I do not seem so pretentious as to be trying to explain the whole world through one simple theoretical framework, or such a bad scientist that I am "cramming" selective data into a simple explanation and ignoring all other data. However, it does seem that there is a commonality of human response where one is powerless and at the same time pressured to adjust to outside demands in a situation not of one's own makings, where one is unable or unwilling to concede to the demands so that the only possible reaction is to take over a negative self definition or reject the demands out of hand,

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