I get extremely agitated when Portuguese academics express the need to apologize for, and attempt to undo the damage done during the colonial period, especially that of the slave trade that was conducted in part by them. It is not that there is no need to recognize that this slave trade, and other heinous practices under colonialism took place. There is such a need. An example of this need for recognition is the rather disingenuous manner in which in the course of a competition searching for the 7 wonders of the Portuguese architectural world, the history of slavery linked to a number of Portuguese architectural marvels was omitted. But this recognition does not necessarily imply the need for an apology. Even if it does, the fact of apology carries its own baggage; baggage that can further complicate relations between the colonizer and the formerly colonized.
This easy equation between white and black is also deeply problematic because the historical situation is not so cut and dry. When
None of this is to suggest that the Portuguese are wickedly manipulating statements to re-inscribe a racial dimension to post-colonial relations. On the contrary, the urge to apologize comes from the more conscientious segments of Portuguese society, who are appalled by attempts to forget or ignore the barbarities committed in colonial times. However what they fail to realize is that given that the postcolonial world is already configured by certain practices established by the dominant powers of the world, their apology only goes to further complicate and worsen postcolonial relations.
What might these practices established by dominant global players be? Take for example the fact that when we speak of slavery we very often only speak of and imagine slavery in the
The reason for this bias is owing to the Anglo-American leadership of the debate. This stress leads to the whole imaginary that is created particularly for the
As I stated before, there is a need for us to not ignore or forget the cruelties of colonialism. However this whole business of apologies seems to generate as many problems as it does benefits. For one it is similar to the whole idea of righting historical wrongs. When one tries to do that, one invariably gets into a larger mess than one started with in the first place. Have a look at the wars in the Balkans, the Basque demand, the Hindutva demand. Secondly, the apologies generate as indicated above a whole new system of relations between peoples and countries. The recognition of culpability generates the demand by African (and other
The field of postcolonial relations is a mine-field. In the case of
(Published in the Gomantak Times, 14 Oct 2009)