The favorite term or excuse of the colonizer is that they bring “civilization” with them. Who wouldn’t want that?
What a Colonizer Wants
Civilization has various meanings solely dependent on the the group or individual using it. For the purpose of the colonizer, civilization is the mask worn as they tout their own “developed” nation. This is then brought to bear on an, almost always, minority group that is hereby decimated, while the few remaining are made to work for the colonizer; thereby making the minority dependent on the colonizer for their own survival. Colonizer refers to white people, in particular, but any person brought up in a colonized society can and do exhibit the colonizer mentality.
The colonizer comes in the guise of friendship: wishing to exchange ideas, religion and experiences. But the goal is and always has been control and power.
There are few groups left that haven’t been the victims of colonization. However, if we don’t ensure our voice is heard we may have a front row seat to the genocide of a group that wishes for nothing except to be left alone.
A Group Untouched
The Sentinelese are a group residing on North Sentinel Island near India and have lived, for the most part, in seclusion from the world. They do not have electronics, wifi, cars or various other luxuries that we feel we cannot live without. We are not necessarily wrong in our beliefs, in this industrial society there is little to no jobs that don’t require phone, internet and travel to varying degrees.
However, for the people on North Sentinel Island (note: the name Sentinelese is the name given to them, not their actual name), their lived experience does not entail hitting Starbucks for a pumpkin spice latte on their way to work. Their life is completely different from our own. Just different.
The people inhabiting the island appear to be strong and healthy. Children as well as pregnant women have been seen on the island. Why then do we feel the need to encroach on their lives?
The recent death of John Allen Chau has sparked arguments online regarding his death, who is responsible and what, if anything, should be done. His death has put a bead on the people there and now the floodgates of those crying for justice as well as those saying “let’s bring them civilization” have opened.
The Colonizer Argument
Where we err is believing our experience is better and so, we must usher them into the Western colonizer/colonized civilization. The lack of respect for their desire to be left in peace, the entitled conceit that they are primitive and don’t know enough to know what’s best for them is precisely the kind of colonizer slathered in white supremacy attitude that strips people and groups of their agency.
As far as “healthcare” goes. First, they seem healthy enough to fire arrows at people trying to come on their island. Second, a lot of so-called primitive groups knew of ways to make medicine for a variety of ailments and again, since they are healthy, we can assume they need no assistance on this. We want take away their ability to choose because we think they need help? Let’s look at, instead, what we know.
We know that, barring occasional gift dropoffs in the mid to late 1900s and the visit by a British officer in the late 1800s they have had no contact with people. We know that based on our history, (when Cortes and his people came to Mexico, thanks to the infectious diseases he brought with him the Mexican population — a thriving population of around 30 million — dropped to 3 million in just 50 years time) groups who have no contact with these types of illnesses are especially vulnerable and the effects can be catastrophic, especially for a group dependent on hunting and gathering for their meals. They won’t be able to rest in bed and order through Postmates. As such, when illnesses such as the cold and measles spread through their tiny community, with few left to get food, the likelihood of a large number of them dying goes up.
So by colonizer logic, they want to bring them healthcare by killing them? We have a hard enough time getting healthcare for every individual in our own countries, such as the US. So does the colonizer want them to have it or be dependent on it and, by extension dependent on the colonizer?
Neither is their “hostility” totally unwarranted. In the 1800s, when the British officer, Putnam, landed on the island and found an older couple and some kids, they were taken back with him. The adults passed away and the children were sent back with gifts to the island.
How would you feel if people were taken away from you, likely against their will, and two died? Would you feel safe getting to know the people further? Or would you keep your distance? If disease killed the adults, and the kids were also infected before coming back to the island it would’ve spread and also taught them that these outsiders are dangerous. Why would they allow someone to approach when it could cause the death of their loved ones?
If an intruder entered your home, even just to talk, would you defend yourself?
The island is their home. Anyone who enters is an intruder and they have the right to defend themselves just as you would. With the current rise of white supremacy — not just in the US but globally — to period pieces in film of a time more horrific for minorities than present to this island, it seems white people are nostalgic for horrors.