Latin America: An Institutional and Cultural Survey

Discourse on Colonialism- Aimé Césaire

Entry Question

Beyond the “three gs” of la conquista española presented by Khan Academy, what other intentions and gains the conquistadores had?

Use the chatbox to answer.

Discourse on Colonialism

Poet, playwright, political theorist, and politician Aimé Césaire was born June 26, 1913, in Basse-Pointe, Martinique in the French Caribbean.

He is the author of Discourse on Colonialism (Monthly Review Press, 1950), a book of essays which has become a classic text of Francophone political literature and helped establish the literary and ideological movement  of Negritude, a term Césaire defined as “the simple recognition of the fact that one is black, the acceptance of this fact and of our destiny as blacks, of our history and culture.”

“We lived in an atmosphere of rejection, and we developed an inferiority complex. I have always thought that the black man was searching for his identity. And it has seemed to me that if what we want is to establish this identity, then we must have a concrete consciousness of what we are- that is,  of the first fact of our lives: that we are black; that we were black and have a history, a history  that contains certain cultural elements of great value; and that Negroes were not, as you put it, born yesterday, because there have been beautiful and important black civilizations.”


Robin D. G. Kelley on Césaire 

What are the central ideas of this writer, thinker, or artist?

Main argument: Europe is a “decadent,” “stricken,” “dying” civilization and that is “morally, spiritually indefensible.” (31-32)

“To agree on what it is not [colonialism]: neither evangelization, nor a philanthropic enterprise, nor a desire to push back the frontiers of ignorance, disease, and tyranny, nor a project undertaken for the greater glory of God, nor an attempt to extend the rule of law. ”

Analyze one specific section by your chosen author that best communicates what you identified in the question above.

“I find that hypocrisy is of recent date; that neither Cortez discovering Mexico from the top of the great teocalli, nor Pizzaro before Cuzco (much less Marco Polo before Cambuluc), claims that he is the harbinger of a superior order; that they kill; that they plunder; that they have helmets, lances, cupidities; that the slavering apologists came later; that the chief culprit in this domain is Christian pedantry, which laid down the dishonest equations Christianity = civilization, paganism = savagery, from which there could I not but ensue abominable colonialist and racist consequences, whose victims were to be the Indians, the Yellow peoples, and the Negroes.”

Césaire distinguishes two historical stages, one that is about showing military power (la conquista) which is unapologetically violent and sadist. The second overlapped stage, colonization, or the establishment of colonial society, requires the imposition of ideology (intellectual production; reasoning; equations; apologies; laws; codes) and the eradication of native cultures and languages and eventually those of the enslaved (we can circle back to Césaire’s interview here).

Two examples: the encomienda and the casta systems (see video 5:55 on).

Pose a critical question about the text to the group.

Rejecting the equation colonialism/Christianity = civilization, Césaire proposes a new equation that says “colonization = thingification” (42). What do you understand by that? Can you think of contemporary forms of colonization?

Use the chatbox to answer.


“Between colonizer and colonized there is room only for forced labor, intimidation, pressure, the police, taxation, theft, rape, compulsory crops, contempt, mistrust, arrogance, self-complacency, swinishness, brainless elites, degraded masses.

No human contact, but relations of domination and submission which turn the colonizing man into a classroom monitor, an army sergeant, a prison guard, a slave driver, and the indigenous man into an instrument of production.” (42)

One thought on “Discourse on Colonialism- Aimé Césaire”

  1. The central idea of the writer is Europe is a place that is the direct descendant of colonialism it is not evangelic it is people who are suffocated by power and when wanting more they pillage civilization for resources and to establish dominance.
    The conquistadors were eager to gain control over the land and its people put a crown in front of them for them to worship it with unwavering faith utilizing the encomienda system putting the people in the land to work mining, working on plantations, sex work the list goes on.
    Colonization=Thignifcaton works to a certain degree but there will always be a form of doubt within the people being colonized as to why they are doing this, is it out of fear, respect, or both. contemporary from of colonization could be indoctrination, you essentially force people to believe that this idea is absolute and that can never be changed to benefit anyone other than those who are already in power.
    My question is that if colonization=Thignification while also being that colonizaion=indoctrination would indoctrination=thignification and because of this wouldn’t this be an unbreakable form of colonization.
    The relationship between those colonized and the colonizer will forever be master and servent without room for change or growth equally.

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