On Nativism and Postcolonial Society

A native residence in the suburbs of Manila, 1899 / Wikimedia Commons

Nativism in postcolonial theory comprises the discourse of the indigenous communities of a given state. This raises the question of what makes an indigenous or native community, what is its form and how does it function. This paper analyses nativism in indigenous postcolonial states with reference to various important texts in postcolonial theory.

By Dr. Antonio L. Rappa
Professor of Sociology
Singapore University of Social Sciences


Historically, “indigenous regimes” are believed to have generated a plethora of discourses, discursive texts about unique beliefs, values and norms. The depth and complexity of these cultural regimes depended on the length of existence in time and space. No one knows for sure
when such regimes come into being or when they disappear. As a result, a certain reaching back in time to identify and perhaps even create a set of origin stories, sacred narratives that must come into play for such regimes to exist. For example, White settlers in New England had
already embarked on the road to being and becoming a native regime with the “founding of America by Christopher Columbus” if one accepts that original narrative or myth. By the turn of the 18th century, the indigenous Native American communities were themselves being forced out of their native homeland by White Anglo-Saxon New England settlers whose populations were exploding and hence “needed” more native land (i.e., land that remained unclaimed by European colonials). While some scholars of American colonialism erroneously believe that there were no killings or mass murders in these forced migrations and displacement of Native Americans, most American scholars and political scientists remain highly skeptical of the geographical and hence cultural displacement of the Native Americans since the early 17th century. Yet Alexis de Tocqueville made observations that ranged from American i.e., White magnanimity in by not letting their hunting dogs on the Natives like the Spanish Conquistadors to deprecating views of their physiognomy: the Americans of the United States do not let their dogs hunt the Indians as do the Spaniards in Mexico … the Indian race is destined for final destruction which one cannot prevent and which it is not desirable to delay … I was expecting to find the natives of America savages, but savages on whose face natured had stamped the marks of some of the proud virtues which liberty brings forth … The Indians whom I saw that evening were small in stature, their limbs, as far as one could tell under their clothes, were thin and not wiry, their skin instead of being red as is generally thought, was dark bronze and such as at first sight seemed very like that of Negroes. Their black hair fell with singular stiffness on their neck and sometimes on their shoulders. Generally their mouths were disproportionately large, and the expression on their faces ignoble and mischievous. There was however a great deal of European in their features, but one would have said that they came from the lowest mob of our great European cities. Their physiognomy told of that profound degradation which only long abuse of the benefits of civilization can give, but yet they were still savages.

Across the Atlantic Albert Memmi was writing in the 1950s about Tunisian decolonization explicating the meaning of what it was to be colonized. The colonizer being the ones who adopted the superior stance only through dominating native Africans. For him and Frantz Fanon, colonization was designed to improve native lives, to change the native penchant for simplicity, belief in pagan gods and spirits that lived in rocks and trees with a superior language, a superior culture, a superior religion and hence a superior civilization. Of course this was not true. It was to enslave the natives to make them work for the strange foreign currency and laws that they never received and did not understand. It was part of the process of colonization to perceive of the natives as simplistically as possible as a single monolithic and homogeneous group. For the colonizer the violation of the virgin native land and people (in that order because the land – from which ivory, gold, silver and animal skins – was significantly more valuable for what it produced than the natives) were traumatic variations of debasement and unheard of indignities legitimated by colonial scholars (orientalists) and certain postcolonial scholars who claimed that the natives were always fighting among themselves in various tribal wars. The presence of the European word therefore gave the native a sense of belonging, self-respect and honor that had been lost through generations of assassinations, torture, enslavement, murder and political violence that preceded First Contact with the European colonizers. Nowhere were the nativist texts that the sanctity, sacredness and virtue of the colonized. In his influential novella Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad help create the image among Europeans Congolese natives, defenceless beings roaming the jungle half naked and using sticks and wooden arrows to defend themselves as Belgian naval canon bombarded the jungle. The native had simple technology and could not defend himself making resistance futile. If all the brave African warriors were killed would it also mean to the colonial mind that future generations of natives would be the offspring of cowards, the frail, and the vanquished. Although Conrad’s novella was fictitious, King Leopold II was not. So there was some great degree of magical realism in Conrad’s maritime fiction. When Leopold II ascended the throne in 1865, he could neither confront nor challenge Prussian, French or English military power. Given the absence of resistance from among the natives, Leopold’s raped the Congo of ivory, women, children and slaves to retain any sense of dignity among his European peers [1].

America: Land of the Free and Home of the (Native American) Braves

The Old Palace of Whitehall by Hendrick Danckerts, c. 1675 / Wikimedia Commons

America was slated as a colonial penal colony for the social misfits of London. However, the Americans were relatively unwilling and almost rebelled against White Hall’s plans. This was why Australia, Malaya, and Singapore began to take on White and Non-White convicts if only to reduce the overcrowding and stress of London city life. The first 13 American colonies in New England were responsible for their own survival except when it came to taxes. The English Crown implemented a process of collecting taxes from “White Settlers” who in turn raped the lands accruing to Native Americans. Resources passed from genuine indigenous people to the White Settlers who passed it over to the King’s men. Within the course of five decades, the first American White Settler colonies began resisting tax-collection from King George but maintained their extraction of resources from the indigenous Native Americans. Therefore the imbalance of power in 16th and 17th century America illustrates the mode of survival of the Native Americans, the White Settlers and the English soldiers and sailors who were sent to protect the Crown’s interest in the new colony.

About seventy-five years before Alexis de Tocqueville published his two-volume Democracy in America (1835, 1840), Jean-Jacques Rousseau had raised the notion of popular sovereignty as a political ideal “to take men as they are and laws as they might be”in what he called the “general will” [2]. This political doctrine claimed that the collective will of all men cannot result in error or faulty results. Tocqueville however is more circumspect believing more in the individual than in group pressure, “When I feel the hand of power weighing down upon my brow, I take no interest in knowing who oppresses me and I am not more inclined to put my head under yoke simply because a million arms offer it to me (503)”. Tocqueville did not go far enough and failed to mention that the Americans were very well organized and would be responsible for preventing the 13 New England colonies from becoming one large British colonial prison. The Americans were as suspicious of King George as Tocqueville was skeptical of political institutions and political theory.

Because he was suspicious of the “tyranny of the majority” Tocqueville turned his support towards the American notion of the “Separation of Powers” and the “System of Checks and Balances”. These doctrines first appeared in Federalist 51. Although James Madison summed up these two doctrines for publication they were in fact first introduced by a French Baron named von Montesquieu in 1748. Since then, legions of American political scientists began teaching students that Tocqueville was more influenced by von Montesquieu than by Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s General Will although he does not make a comparison between the two. But if Tocqueville believed in liberty, justice and equality – the axiom of early American White settlers, why was he suspicious of equality? He says, “I do not find fault with equality for drawing men into the pursuit of forbidden pleasures, but for absorbing them entirely in the search for the pleasures that are permitted” (volume 2, chapter 32); yet he is also against oligopolistic tendencies associated with elitism, “What is most important for democracy is not that great fortunes should not exist, but that great fortunes should not remain in the same hands. In that way there are rich men, but they do not form a class” . According to Tocqueville, the American Revolution had produced a high degree of social equality and as such, significant degree of political power was allocated to classless America. He writes, “It is the dissimilarities and inequalities among men which give rise to the notion of honor; as such differences become less, it grows feeble; and when they disappear, it will vanish too” again raising the dangers of having or striving for equality among men. Yet Tocqueville has to be read with a pinch of salt because he tends to overestimate the egalitarian simplicity and literacy levels of the settlers and their reading habits, “There is hardly a pioneer’s hut which does not contain a few odd volumes of Shakespeare. I remember reading the feudal drama of Henry V for the first time in a log cabin”. He could not have over the course of 9-10 months visited every rural hut and homestead in the 13 colonies.

Observing American life in the New England for nine months, Alexis de Tocqueville eventually wrote a glowing report of the ways in which the White Settler natives were generating direct democracy. Therefore, American nativism was born with the creation of those first 13 colonies; it sought to gradually replace the Native American form of nativism through two main political strategies: Manifest Destiny and the Monroe Doctrine. American legal history is itself littered with perverse arguments of White racial superiority over the racial inferiority of natives. The notion of race has been deliberated, questioned and challenged for over two centuries in various legal cases. Understanding American legalism is like reading a book on nativism and racism in a fledgling democracy. For example, Joseph Conrad, Alexis de Tocqueville, Albert Memmi, Frantz Fanon, Mahatma Gandhi, Jean-Paul Sartre, Chinua Achebe, Edward W Said are some critical writers who provided us with a wide range of interpretations of the word “native” [2]. The native is both the subject and an object in colonial society. It is the subject as in a topic and focus but it also is about the subjectivization of native people. This means that the native is are subjected to positions in which their traditions and cultures are compromised, contingent and dependent on the colonial masters. The colonial masters decided the moral, economic, social, cultural and political rights of natives. The native slave is subjected to the whim and fancy of his White master. The native is also a faceless, nameless, object to be bought and sold as a colonial possession. The native is thus a thing, a commodity; common, populous and with little value. The colonial masters commoditize the native, reducing the subject from a noble and civilized person, a human being, into an object that is subhuman through the force of arms, torture, murder, export to penal colonies.

Colonialism in Africa: Land of the Beasts, Home of the Slaves

Colonialism is very much one-sided and not merely about political, economic, and social imbalances. The Dutch and Belgian colonial masters for example were highly corrupt and efficiently mismanaged their colonies. They also stole profits that were meant to be sent to the royal treasury. Cruelty, sadism, torture and sex for pleasure were some hobbies of the colonial masters as demonstrated by the work of Scully, Freedman, Cornwell and others with the “Black Peril” and the rape of Black women in South Africa in early 1900s cited as examples as tied in with corruption [3-5]. Hodges seminal 1972 article on neocolonialism as the new rape of Africa suffered from the fact that it did not go far enough in terms of its author being an African himself and secondly a Black scholar of postcolonialism in Africa. Secondly, all rapes are new and this article is exceptional in the fact that it makes the new colonialism of rape no longer about the “White colonial rape of Black Africa” but (a return perhaps to) an old “Black rape of Black Africa” during decolonization in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s [6]. The rape of Africa was violent, exhausting and demoralizing. It appears that despite the advances made by the Black African native struggles, even in post-apartheid Black Africa, were necessary but not sufficient to save Africans from the Africans themselves.

Vestiges of corruption continued well into the postcolonial era in Africa. For example, successive Nigerian governments have been proven to be highly corrupt by all accounts, foreign as well as local. For example, colonial north Nigeria was one of the most corrupt locations or was it merely a fiction propagated by state elites to blame the natives? Steven Pierce may have the answer to this in “the invention of corruption” [7]. Yet the colonial masters could be dead serious as well and slaves who disobeyed or ran away or rebelled were severely
punished and torture for pleasure and control. Ironically, America was first established as an English colony to export the social misfits of England’s King George. Where did they send their criminals?

“She’ll be Right, Mate”: British Colonial Australia and Her Penal Roots

Governor Arthur Phillip hoists the British flag over the new colony of New South Wales at Sydney in 1788. /  Wikimedia Commons

A BBC article titled, “Australia’s Penal Colony Roots” appeared on 26th January 2012:

New South Wales was founded by the British as a penal colony in 1788. Over the next 80 years, more than 160,000 convicts were transported to Australia from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, in lieu of being given the death penalty. Today, about 20% of Australians are descendants of convicts, including plenty of prominent citizens. According to genealogists, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s great-great-great-great-great grandmother was sentenced to be hanged when she was just 11 years old for committing robbery. When her sentence was reduced, she was sent to Australia on the second fleet, where conditions were so bad that 25% of its convicts died on the voyage. Celebrity chef Maggie Beer discovered on an episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, a family ancestry programme, that her great-great-great grandmother and great-great-great grandfather (a thief and a bigamist, respectively) met after being transported to Australia … For at least a century after convict transportation ended in 1868, the Australian colonies tried to hide their founding legacy [8]. It remains unclear where the writer discovered the facts to support the claim in the BBC article, “that about 20% of Australians are descendants of convicts”. Such a case only in specific circumstances such as in the case of Tasmania’s penal colony. Approximately 70,000 convicts were transported to Tasmania between 1803 and 1853 and significantly outnumbered the local population [9]. Several of Australia’s provinces would house penal colonies for English convicts up till 1868 when “transportation” from England stopped. Australia’s penal colonies were unique unique in the sense that the largest physical colony of English colonialism in the Asia-Pacific would become the vestibule primarily for White English convicts and their families. It seems illogical except to the supporters of biological racism for the English colonialists to set up a separate but more than equal turgid land, an island continent full of rock, bush and sand primarily for White convicts or ex-convicts who in turn kindly passed on their good fortune and luck to the unfortunate, Jew-harp playing aboriginal tribes people. Australia should have broken away from the English colonial grasp as soon as Cook was bludgeoned to death but they were too nervous and too distracted [10]. Cummings discusses the issue of new Irish and Scottish migrants to Australia. At that time, Port Phillip was a major point of entry due to its harbor but it could not take ships of all plumbing depths. Port Phillip later would separate from New South Wales in 1851, a decade after the second volume of Democracy in America was published, to form the Australian province of Victoria. Cummings notes that the Irish were a national minority in Britain; the implication was that new Irish migrants to Australia become part of the Irish “White minority” which ironically existed within the larger “White majority” of free settlers blending in without distinction. The Irish were a national minority migrating to another place where they would again be a minority albeit keeping their identity intact. The Scots on the other hand made up 11.6% of about 31,183 and the proportion never went above that approximation [11]. According to Cummings, the Irish would make up 58% of the total number of immigrants to 19th century Australia. What Cummings does not say is that the Irish and Scottish migrants made and important contribution to people who were willing to migrate to a new, exotic, and distant land. Reports from Australians already settled back then before the arrival of the Irish were not positive. Those Irish and Scottish migrants who willingly went to Australia from the West helped reduce the deficit between the bourgeoning numbers of convicts being transported at the same time and perhaps make life all around more balanced and livable. There were penal colonies in most of the Australian provinces as per Cook’s original design and intention. But not all the first Australians were convicts. During his late 18th century voyage to the South Pacific, Captain James Cook identified Australia as the potential site for solving London’s overcrowded streets, its poverty and its large population of criminals. The criminalization of White British citizens was used as a strategy to get people off the streets even for minor crimes such as stealing food or avoiding police. London was the most populous capital in the colonial world in the 18th and 19th centuries. The city was overcrowded, impoverished, unhygienic, and filthy. The rising crime rate saw record convictions and led to overcrowded prisons. Her Majesty’s government decided in 1786, almost a decade after American Independence, to establish penal colonies in Australia beginning with less than 1,000 convicts and their families. The first colony was established in New South Wales followed by Norfolk Island, Tasmania, Victoria (Port Phillip), Queensland and Western Australia. A total of 165,000 convicts were sent to Australia making them a minority of White people in a mainly White colony. Women made up about two out of every ten convicts. But the large numbers of convicts would pose a threat to the free settlers (i.e., White Australians non-convicts). At the end of the Second World War Australia had a total population of 7 million rising to about 24 million in 2017 according to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) records. But would be accurate to state that “all Australians are all descended from White convicts”? Such a statement would only be as accurate as one such as “all Australians are all descended from coal miners, farmers or railway workers”. However it is because it is in the human condition to spread bad news and the making of Australia as a White British colony in the 1800s did not make good news. The reason why the claim that all Australians are convicts cannot hold water is because we do not know who married whom and it would be too costly and too late to precisely determine the number of offspring each convict may have had. Even if we assume that most of the convicts married free settlers, then it would still be impossible to determine whether most Australian White people had at least one convict as an ancestor. This is assuming that most convicts were released into the larger population; however, this may not have been the case as some were probably too old, too sick, or perhaps too unwilling to marry. And even if they did marry or were married, these convicts may not have wanted to have children after having served their sentences. And if they had gotten married and had one or more children, we will never know if those children survived, whether they were successful in life or whether they themselves became convicts. Also, not all convicts were released depending on the circumstances of their incarceration. According to the Australian government’s website in 2017: Two more convict fleets arrived in 1790 and 1791, and the first free settlers arrived in 1793. From 1788 to 1823, the Colony of New South Wales was officially a penal colony comprised mainly of convicts, soldiers and the wives of soldiers. The early convicts were all sent to the colony, but by the mid-1800s they were also being sent directly to destinations such as Norfolk Island, Van Diemen’s Land, Port Macquarie and Moreton Bay. Twenty per cent of these first convicts were women. The majority of women convicts, and many free women seeking employment, were sent to the ‘female factories’ as unassigned women. The female factories were originally profit-making textile factories. The Parramatta Factory grew as an enclave for pregnant women and also served as an orphanage from the 1830s [12].

There were no such privileges for non-White Asian or African convicts. If a comparison is made across all penal colonies in the British colonial era between the 18th and 19th centuries, a wide variation in the treatment of non-White convicts as compared to White convicts is discernible. Given the nature of British biological racism, divideand-rule policies and racial prejudice against non-Whites, it would be plausible to hypothesize that White convicts on the whole may have received better treatment than their non-White counterparts. What is more important than discussing the issue of whether it would be fair (it isn’t) to state that “all Australians are descendants from convicts” (which they are not) is how well did the free settlers treat the aboriginal people? For example, the racial discrimination of aboriginal people by White Australian governments is widely and well documented. Aboriginal persons were not even given the same treatment as White persons and did not receive Australian citizenship – not that it was worth much back then – even as late as 1866. This is the natural course of events that took place in Australian legal history that mimicked British biological racism. In 1925 Foreign Affairs (a quasi-academic magazine) published an article by someone named Sydney wrote about the attitudes of Australians towards “colored immigrants”, the Immigration Act 1901-20 and the “White Australia Policy” that was “supported by all political parties”[13]. Yet there are hundreds of reports of the unfair treatment of White prisoners. White people were picked off the streets of London and other cities in the colonial world and charged with petty crimes. Crimes that arose because there was no food and much poverty caused by avarice, greed and the aggrandizement of the wealthy elites in London. Despite all the theft of artifacts from the Middle East, Africa and Asia, Britannica ruled the waves of an impoverished world. Paul Kennedy referred to a concept he calls Imperial overstretch that he applied to the US [14]. The number of people consuming those resources can say the same of the British Empire where the amount of resources is outstripped and could be described as overextension denoted as the “Goldilocks problem” by Charles Kupchan [15].

Writing Racism

Portait of Alexis de Tocqueville, by Théodore Chassériau, 1850 / Palace of Versailles, Wikimedia Commons

Tocqueville was a racist long before racism and White racial superiority fell out of favor. He made clear his views of size, physical condition, and skin-color by differentiating between the (perfect or excellent) White man on one hand; and the Negro and the Indian (i.e., Native American) on the other hand whose entire existence was below par; lesser human specimens through no fault of their own as an accident of birth and fate of fortune: The first who attracts the eye, the first in enlightenment, in power and in happiness, is the white man, the European, man par excellence; below him appear the Negro and the Indian. These two unfortunate races have neither birth, nor face, nor language, nor mores in common; only their misfortunes look alike. Both occupy an equally inferior position in the country that they inhabit; both experience the effects of tyranny; and if their miseries are different, they can accuse the same author for them.

American political scientists pay scarce attention to Tocqueville’s openly racist writing on this aspect of “democracy” in America and he continues to be heralded like a God in the seminar rooms of American universities. In her brilliantly written article on nativist America, Hickman begins with two quotes that capture the essence of primordialism and racism in America in the 1900s:

My grandmother was her master’s daughter; and my mother was her master’s daughter; and I was my master’s son; so you see I haven’t got but one-eighth of the blood. Now, admitting it’s right to make a slave of a full black nigger, I want to ask gentlemen acquainted with business, whether because I owe a shilling, I ought to be made to pay a dollar?

This quote above appeared a year after Tocqueville published the second volume of Democracy in America (1841) two years before Karl Marx published The Communist Manifesto (1848) in German by the London-based Communist League. Tocqueville must have known
Marx’s highly controversial and polemical work and Marx may have heard of the former’s Democracy in America but neither man met even though they were both living in Paris in the mid-1800s. A brilliant second quote follows in Hickman’s article: If the old saying ‘one drop of Black blood makes you Black’ were reversed to say one drop of White blood makes you White, would the biracials still be seeking a separate classification? Was cited from a letter dated 153 years later from an African American popular magazine. For many African Americans and White Americans, biracial category refers to an ethnic group known as “Eurasian” in the old British Commonwealth [10]. Hickman plumbs the depths of American anti-nativist discourse and focuses on the “one-drop rule” meaning, “one drop of Black blood makes a person Black” hence “me: anyone with a known Black ancestor is considered Black”

In a linear legal historical discussion, Hickman continues in the American juridical tradition of listing the relevance of Plessy v. Ferguson i.e., the so-called “separate but equal” doctrine, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that minimized some of the worse effects of Plessy v. Ferguson due to Justice Earl Warren’s summation although there was no fool-proof way to police Brown v. Board. Although 58 years separate both cases, they remain landmark legal decisions in the history of nativism and hypodescent arguments. Subsequent legal wrangling would eventually emerge and erupt into the Civil Rights Act (1964), the Voting Rights Act (1965), Loving v. Virginia and the Equal Employment Opportunity Act (1972). These were successes that shamed the failures caused by previous prejudicial and race-related victories of Marbury et al. although that was not the intention of Hickman to make such a connection in her 1997 paper. She continues with a long critique of the “one drop rule” and adds that even if it was based on negative stereotype and racial fervor, it had positive outcomes for Black Americans today. She also criticizes W. E. B. Du Bois and other “one drop of White blooded” writers who claim that “one can choose one’s race”. To her credit, she effectively critiques Wright’s biracial assumptions and proposition based on a centrality of ethnicities of two major biological groups as long as the natural-born American citizens count as their ancestors as “Biracial Americans – All natural born citizens who have origins in two or more racial groups or have the majority of their origins in the original peoples of Northern Africa and the Middle East” that would include “Arabs, Iranians and Israelis”. While Hickman’s criticism is sound as she attacks Wright’s mistaking socio-political categories for biological ones, she erroneously refers to “Arabs, Iranians and Israelis” when she means to refer to Arabs, Persians, Palestinians and Israelis instead. She goes on to systematically criticize Nakashima, Zack and others while introducing her own cases in support of her larger, relatively robust argument about the weaknesses of using biological bases to construct categories of ethnic groups in state ethnic-management polices as well as the American legal tradition discussed above. Unfortunately, Hickman denies herself (and her readers) access to the real and creative possibilities evident in artificial hair color, dyes and medicines that change skin tone and the physical shape of any body part, as well as plastic surgery. Ethnicity is now even more complex with social media and the impact of celebrities who manipulate their online selves to promote products and processes that benefit and line their own pockets [16]. Ironically, Hickman’s article starts off with good intentions but concludes with self-limiting options making it difficult and almost impossible for her critics to remain circumspect or sympathetic. Nevertheless, Hickman has developed a sustained and powerful criticism of scholars who have gone soft on biological racism, what I understand as nativism, as well as illogical arguments made by Naomi Zack in Race and Mixed Race. It remains an arduous task for those who grapple with the multitude of cases as well as fighting the history of racism in America (as well as in other postcolonial states and regimes) that attribute ethnic categories to primordialism and biological racism and are often applied in many democratic states as well as states in the democratic transition.

Alterity, Othering, and the Other

Alterity by Jessica Edwards, Deviant Art

Alterity is defined as the state of being another, assuming difference and otherness. Alterification is therefore the process of making into the other which is what the colonial masters did to their colonies. Because of the nature of colonial alterification, even homogenous cultures
such as the Zulu, Igbo and other African cultures that came under the aegis of western colonization were altered into the French, Belgian or English “Other”. England was neither Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi nor Igbo so therefore it had to be English. Apart from the immoral and illogical colonial alterification of sub-Saharan Africa, the Harvard Institute of Economic Research includes the whole of sub-Saharan Africa as one of most ethnically diverse places on earth in terms of human civilization. For example, the literature on postcolonialism cites certain parts of sub-Saharan Africa with its millions of people as being made up of over 100 different ethnic groups. But to the colonial masters, they all looked the same, sounded the same and behaved in a savagely similar manner. Gone were the days of magical realism and the noble savage of JeanJacques Rousseau as part of the greater glorification of the Christian God. The Noble Savage was denigrated into a fallen idol, a used-concept of uncivilized man, an ex-symbol depicting purity and morality of non-civilized human communities. With such a loss, the colonial masters had to uncover or at least construct a new cultural mirror that would enable them to envisage themselves. In fact Edward W. Said’s Orientalism clearly attributes the beginning of (what was known as alterification but re-labeled) the process of the “orientalization” of Africa with the Napoleonic invasion of Egypt and Syria in 1789. It was through the process of orientalization claimed Said that the West could finally discover itself.

In his 2003 interview just weeks before his death, Edward W. Said reminds us that it was he who introduced the concept of “the Other”. Said was not a comedian and his statement and claim about inventing the Other (as in inventing the Other as a concept) must be taken as
seriously as his beliefs. Much as we would like to support his statement, Said only had one interpretation of “the Other”. He did not invent that concept or the process of making the Other (“Othering”). Alterity is the quality of replacing an existing regime to an altered state. Alterity used to be the label for otherness but not in exactly the same manner that was used by Husserl and later philosophers as well as modern postcolonial scholars. Neither should we hold Albert Memmi, R. K. Narayan, Gandhi, Chinua Achebe, Ranajit Guha, David Washbrook, Rosalind O’Hanlon, Gyan Prakash, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Vinayak Chaturvedi, Vivek Chibber or the entire corpus of postcolonial scholars responsible. Anne McClintock for example referred to “the post-Colonial Other” but didn’t invent it as Said flamboyantly gestured in his widely watched YouTube.com interview [17,18]. The Prussian phenomenologist Edmund Husserl made use of “the Other” in his work on intertextuality. But he did not research colonialism. Rather, it was the colonial masters

Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, French, Belgian, German, French and English who collectively and collaterally invented the subjugated, objectivized, Native Other. But it was only after decolonization and the rise of nationalism and the post-colony that we get a general sense of nativism across the globe. Of course, this paper was prepared for an English-speaking and writing an audience and hence it focuses on themes that may be of some interest to eclectic English and Americans university dons such as nativism in America.

Politics, Language and Nativism

No one really knows when nativism began in the US except that it must have been after the first colonies were settled in New England. But we know for sure that nativism always involves some form of written or verbal expression (or both) through metaphor, signs, symbols and other tropes in communication. Despite creative and original contributions in postcolonial writing most scholars make cursory references to the nature and characteristics of nativism. Fortunately, some scholars like Friedman, Shrag, and Gray are willing to stick their intellectual necks out onto the academic chopping block. For one, nativism according Norman L. Friedman is drawn from a sociology of “ethnic, racial and religious relations … [and defines it as] a deepseated American antipathy for internal “foreign” groups of various kinds (national, cultural and religious)” (1967:408) that periodically erupt as a kind of survival strategy to safeguard the domesticity of American neighborhoods. For another scholar, Peter Schrag raises very real political issues and seeks to explain the consequences of immigration policies and nativists’ attitudes. Nativists desire greater restrictions on new immigrants who bring with them a whole host of norms, values and practices that may or may not fit in with America as nativists knew it “yesterday”. One of the chapters introduces various “extensive surveys conducted between 1907 and 1910” that resulted in the Dillingham Commission’s report on the “high percentage of ‘retarded’ immigrant children in American schools, like its numbers about immigrant paupers, inmates of public asylums, and other data, coincided with a great deal of popular belief about the inferiority of the new immigrant stocks”. Schrag completes his task by emphasizing the deluge of 400,000 “new arrivals” each year and leaves the reader with a considerable distaste for that which looks, smells, and perhaps even acts foreign. His hidden polemical question is whether America needs any more migrants despite its long liberal history of embracing “tired, poor, and huddled masses”. Shrag’s work on immigration and nativism considers the fitness of new migrants where all the trump cards are held by the triumphant state in November 2017. A third scholar named Jeffrey Gray uses American federal policy on US-Mexican immigration and trade to focus on the kinds of indigenism-based murders of young Indian women from Mexico, Guatemala and other regimes from further South [18]. Barnes made an original observation about the colonial obsession with acts that serve to compress the “mobility of indigenous people” [19-22]. This has itself led to another dimension of nativism in terms of the colonial “naming of persons” [23-25]. There are of course many other writers at least since the turn of the 19th century who published equally exceptional works on nativism and nativist attitudes.

Nativism is sometimes considered innate in language and language acquisition and may be used in the transmission of culture but not in the transfer of values. However there are some scholars and policy wonks that postulate that language can be a vehicle for the transmission of cultural values. Unlike such linguists as Adler, Hardaway, Willis, Burr, and many others, I do not support the idea that languages can transmit implicit or explicit values as the material evidence to support this idea is questionable. I would prefer to depend on Richard Rorty and Mary Hesse’s argument that focus on the what I perceive as the more pressing argument about the transmission of truth-values between languages [26]. Nativism involves to a certain extent a potential explanation for the illogical or irrational fear of outsiders (foreigners or aliens) out of paranoia, personal trauma and other forms of experience in modernity especially towards foreigners – who may also be citizens of the same sovereign state – intent on settling in the native community. White flight is one response to White nativism in suburban America [27]. For purposes of this paper, “nativism has three broad dimensions: cultural, religious, and political [and] making native discourse visible from under the camouflage of European colonial dominance. It is about revealing the cracks and fissures that exist in native culture rather than suppressing or papering over them as the colonial writers had attempted” Apart from these three dimensions, nativism does not belong to any particular group or refer to any single community. Nativism occurs because of special rights for indigenous Malays in Malaysia, Singapore Chinese vs. foreign-born naturalized Chinese and New Immigrants, American Bronx (East Coast) nativism, Oakland S.F., California (West Coast) or the Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest. Nativism encompasses the entire discourse written about the native on, at, or in the location. We are not talking about Bhabha’s complex (and unnecessarily bewildering) notion of location but geographical location based on grid references taken from modern physical and urban geography when it still made common sense [28]. Nativism contains poetry, graffiti, art, anti-establishment discourses, plays, resistance movies and short films that depict fictional or nonfictional experiences. What it means to be “native” and “nativist” are central questions in postcolonial theory. Some scholars like Gyan Prakash and politicians like Donald Trump would support the notion that only nativists can write native history. I believe that anyone can write anything about anyone’s history and the real question is whether or not it is readily accepted, whether people are willing to tweet, WhatsApp, Line, WeChat, Instagram, read, watch, listen, discuss, support, condemn, criticize, comment, debate, or believe [29]. Social media remains a new vista in nativism and a platform that has not been effectively critiqued in postcolonial studies or postcolonial theory as academic disciplines.

Re-Writing the Colonial Past

Achille Mbembe, photo by Heike Huslage-Koch / Wikimedia Commons

There is a degree of disaffection among scholars about the problem of writing African histories because present circumstances seem to affect discursive historiographies of the past The disaffection arises from less than exemplary discourses that have emerged in the postcolonial age that endeavor to re-write the native past [30]. There is much room for improvement not only among scholars who contributed in the past but among the younger generation of Western educated scholars. The well-cited African scholar Achille Mbembe erroneously suggests that there is a new nativism that has become part of the predominant discourse on African post-colonialism in addition to a larger debate between the scholars who support Marxism-Leninism and their later derivatives against those who support neoliberal capitalism associated with America and the West [31]. Mbembe’s error is not at all avowedly caused by his sweeping attempt to indict the notion of his so-called “new nativism”, but in his absolute failure by defining nativism as “an ideology of difference par excellence” Kokugaku is the Japanese term for the school that studies nativism while the Subaltern School is well known for its studies of natives, nativism and counter-nativism within decolonized societies and postcolonial states and regimes across the globe and especially in South Asia. Can the subaltern still speak after the litany of criticism that has emerged around it? Should nativist scholars merely focus on simple engagements with economic data or social status and class analyses of present-day Africa, the Middle East, America and the Asia-Pacific? Giles Deleuze and Félix Guattari are one of a few remaining philosophical resources for re-writing colonialism today [32]. Postcolonial studies’ critiques of colonialism ought to sustain agencies that undermine neo-imperial discursive practices and new histories that continue to re-create the victories and achievements of empires that emerged before the 18th and 19th centuries. Postmodern scholarship is only useful as a method when it contains the seeds of self-criticism to prevent the awful return of agency to the modern neo-imperialist discourses of the West. Using Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of the rhizome can research on the postcolonial past, i.e., colonialism itself. For example, Deleuze and Guattari’s Capitalism and Schizophrenia writings (1972–1980) presents the concept of using an image like a rhizome to anticipate the complexity of multiplicities. The rhizome has no beginning or end, like a ginger plant. We then consider Crenshaw’s work on intersectionality where the daily occurrence of violence against women can be mapped out, drawn across different intersections of race, gender, and class [33]. European colonialism developed and managed complex apparatuses to sustain violence against the colonized people, the natives. Violence was the word of the day for centuries. Violence was meted out to non-White natives regardless of race, gender or social class. In the Australian case, White people were similarly subjected to these inhumane management systems that deprived human beings of their individual rights of the freedom of assembly, freedom of thought, freedom to strike and the various rights: such as the right to question authority, the right to rebel against a rogue government, and the right to safeguard oneself and one’s family unlawful action for example. When applied to determining the origins of colonialism, what Deleuze is saying is not to give up trying to search for a past or an end. When we research colonialism we should realize that the exercise of hunting for an original historical past results in the construction of a past that never existed. The same goes for the future. No, if we use his rhizome metaphor in postcolonial studies then the answer would be to be wary of false construction of the origins of colonialism that have already been constructed by the colonialists. In The King and the Making of Modern Thailand Rappa uses such discursive techniques to explain the interstitial connections within divergent compressions of resources employed by state authorities that were used and continue to be used to suppress the people, hide from the king and rape the land chor rat bang luang.

Conclusion: Democracy as the New Authoritarianism of the Future

Although democracy is not the focus of this paper, it deserves brief mention because it represents the future of neo-imperialist dogmas that intend to objectivize the consumers and the citizens of late modernity: democracy today is the new authoritarianism of tomorrow. Consumers are forced to purchase items that they do not really need to attain happiness. Clever marketing and advertising schemes bombard consumers everyday with direct and subtle images of products that they do not have while giving them the believe that they have the democratic choice to decide. It is the same as choosing between politicians, and regardless of the candidate you pick, the end result will be the same. The costs are much higher than consumers think in a neoliberal capitalist democracy. Modern consumers are thus channelled into different kinds of commercial zones that lead them to a nexus of choices that are neither authentic nor genuine. Edward W Said’s erroneous assumption in Orientalism (1978) confuses and misleads his audience. His own misunderstanding and failure to engage Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch colonialism stems from his psychological battle with the specter of his Palestinian mother’s ill-treatment by White colonial civil servants. Long before him, Alexis De Tocqueville misrepresented the Native Americans because of his racism and elitism. His paranoia over the concept of equality and his lack of acknowledgment to Baron Von Montesquieu in 1748 and indulgement in a romanticization of rural Jacksonian America has become the bible of American political scientists and colored the minds and thoughts of thousands of American students. Unless American political science halts its fetishization of
Tocqueville they will never be able to get out of their war mode to stop present and future killing of foreigners as well as Americans alike. I blame the political scientists because of their ignorance and lack of unity that has led to the election of Donald Trump who has implemented federal policies based on racism, elitism and inequalities that serve to benefit Republican America. They hope. Adam Davidson’s “Trumps Business of Corruption: What secrets will Mueller find when he investigates the President’s foreign deals?” published in the New Yorker on August 21st 2017 provides a brief journalistic analysis of the extent of the American president’s unethical behaviour [33,34]. Not surprisingly, all three of his staff members involved in corrupt foreign deals in Russia pleaded guilty in late October 2017. Thus Said was correct when he wrote that the “Arab and Islamic world as a whole is hooked into the Western market system [and] no-one needs to be reminded that oil, the region’s greatest resource, has been totally absorbed into the United States economy” (324). We all are and we can’t get out of this mess.


  1. Mesquita BB (2007) Leopold II and the Selectorate: An Account in Contrast to a Racial Explanation. Historical Social Research 4: 203-221.
  2. Cohen J (2001) Taking People as They Are? Philosophy and Public Affairs 4:363-386.
  3. Scully P (1995) Rape, Race, and Colonial Culture: The Sexual Politics of Identity in the Nineteenth-Century Cape Colony, South Africa. American Historical Review 100: 335-359.
  4. Freedman EB (2013) Redefining Rape Harvard University Press; and, Gareth Cornwell.
  5. Cornwell G (1996) George Webb Hardy’s The Black Peril and the Social Meaning of ‘Black Peril’ in Early Twentieth-Century South Africa. Journal of Southern African Studies 22: 441-453.
  6. Hodges NE (2015) Neocolonialism: The New Rape of Africa. The Black Scholar 3: 12-23.
  7. Pierce S (2016) The Invention of Corruption: Political Malpractice and Selective Prosecution in Colonial Northern Nigeria. Journal of West African History 2: 1-28.
  8. Suemedha Sood (2012) Australia’s Penal Colony Roots BBC January 26th.
  9. Madley SB (2008) From Terror to Genocide: Britain’s Tasmanian Penal Colony and Australia’s History Wars. Journal of British Studies 47: 77-106.
  10. Rappa AL (2015) The Apotheosis of Captain Cook and the Murder by Two Marines paper presented to the Social Science Conference. Honolulu Hawaii.
  11. Cumming C (1993) Scottish National Identity in an Australian Colony. Scottish Historical Review 193: 22-38.
  12. http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/convicts-and-thebritish-colonies
  13. Sydney (1925) The White Australia Policy. Foreign Affairs 4 1: 7-111.
  14. Florig D (2010) Hegemonic Overreach vs. Imperial Overstretch. Review of International Studies 4: 1103-1119.
  15. Richard Rosecrance (1995) Overextension, Vulnerability, and Conflict: The “Goldilocks Problem” in International Strategy (A Review Essay) Int Security 19: 145-163.
  16. Christine BH (1997) The Devil and the One Drop Rule: Racial Categories, African Americans, and the U.S. Census. Mich Law Rev 95: 1161-1265.
  17. Ahmed HA (2014) Post-colonialism Literature the Concept of self and the other in Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians: An Analytical Approach. Lang Teach Res 5: 95-105.
  18. Karin B (1995) African-Language Literature and Postcolonial Criticism Res Afr Lit 26: 3-30.
  19. Teresa AB (1992) The Fight for Control of African Women’s Mobility in Colonial Zimbabwe, 1900-1939. Signs 17: 586-608.
  20. Karen S (1970) Social Climbers: Changing Patterns of Mobility among the Indians of Colonial Peru. Hispanic Am Hist Rev 50: 645-664.
  21. Penny E (2006) The Tyranny of Proximity: Power and Mobility in Colonial Cambodia, 1863-1954. J Southeast Asian Stud 37: 421-443.
  22. Bas VL, Peter F (2016) Economic Mobility in a Colonial and Postcolonial Economy: Indonesia. J Interdiscip Hist 47: 171-191.
  23. Ihechukwu Madubuike (1974) Structure and Meaning in Igbo Names. State University of New York at Buffalo, New York.
  24. Jerome SH, JoAnn J (1996) Slave Names and Naming in Barbados, 1650-1830. Will Mary Quar 53: 685-728.
  25. Mary MS (1996) The Importance of Proper Names: Language and ‘National’ Identity in Colonial Karoland. Am Ethnol 23: 447-475.
  26. Richard R, Mary H (1987) Unfamiliar Noises. Proc Aristot Soc 61: 283-311.
  27. William HF(1980) Black In-Migration, White Flight, and the Changing Economic Base of the Central City. Am J Sociol 85: 1396-1417.
  28. Bhabha H (1994) Location of Culture. Routledge, London.
  29. Charles VR (2016) Royal Tourists, Colonial Subjects and the Making of a British World, 1860-1911. Manchester University Press.
  30. Stephen E (2002) Writing Histories of Contemporary Africa. J Afr Hist 43: 1-26.
  31. Achille M (2001) Ways of Seeing: Beyond the New Nativism. Introduction Afr Stud Rev 44: 1-14.
  32. Simone B, Paul P (2010) Deleuze and the Postcolonial. Edinburgh University Press.
  33. Kimberle C (1991) Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color. Stanford Law Rev 43: 1241-1299.
  34. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/08/21/trumps-business-of-corruption.

Originally published by  Social Crimonology 6:1 (2018), republished by OMICS International under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.