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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 5/31/22

A Diaspora of Black Resistance: Reading Caroline Elkin's Legacy of Violence

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Message Dr. Lenore Daniels

"Know it, and go on..."

Toni Morrison, Beloved

Violence travels. Flattering labels to deceive the put upon, the invaded. It's a gift ! It's for your benefit! Its carriers, in the meantime, know better. By the time the first whipping occurs, or the first rape, or outright lynching, before the first kidnapped child screams, it's clear that the "civilizing mission," already awash in ideas about freedom and liberalism for the invaders, is but a million knees on the necks of black people. It's conquest and enslavement, exploitation and repression. It's Western history.

It's that history some Americans no longer want to know. In this case, Britain arrives among dark-skinned people who possess languages and traditions far older than that of the Anglo culture and traditions. It builds an empire of capitalism on the backs of these people. Even in this country, the US, where the Native Americans, here before the Anglo, were the indigenous people invaded. Africans and their descendants, too, here already, albeit reluctantly, forced into chains, whipped into submission to labor in countless fields, building industries of cotton and tobacco for a rising American Empire.

How well did it go for the millions of Africans, Asians, and Irish? How was "legalized lawlessness," the term used by historian Caroline Elkins in The Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire, the rule rather than the exception, carried out by countless emissaries, merchants, officers and soldiers? Just how well was Britain's ideas about "civilization" and "liberalism" received by those who were blindsided by the travelers baring the gift of a "civilizing mission"?

Well, we know. Of those Americans working to excise this brutal history of conquest and enslavement cloaked in the rhetoric of a nation bringing another people "civilization", there's the fear of an idea about "replacement." Whites will be replaced by black people. People of color. The exertion of energy to propagate a ridiculous notion when evolution shows the dark-skinned were on Earth first. Oh, but, in an evangelical narrative, evolution , is a conspiracy theory! The indigenous lived for centuries on Turtle Island! Africans were here in the 1600s.


Violence not only travels but also circulates among the uninformed, among the cowardly standing behind their whips, chains, AR-15s. As a tool of the British Empire, "legalized" violence becomes a weapon to engage "in a bloodless battle" with its subjects. " Legalized lawlessness," writes Elkins, empowers the little island nation to rule over older and larger nations with impunity. Violence is the "British Empire's midwife," as Elkins points out, "endemic to the structures and systems of British rule." "Legalized lawlessness" was a justification for the employment of white violence, systemic violence, endemic to a host of repressive policies and tactics. And the colonized is forced by law to cooperated with his or her own subjugation.

Coercion was a necessity if the British Empire expected to "domesticate" its subjects. Constant vigilance of the subjects by the subjects themselves demoralized many, overwhelmed by the threat of violence. The threat of a severed limb or death was certainly a deterrent to resistance. The empire depended on this response to "legalized lawlessness." "Violence enacted on bodies, minds, souls, cultures, landscapes, communities, or histories was attributed to the beneficial values of "the civilizing mission developmentalists dogma."

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Activist, writer, American Modern Literature, Cultural Theory, PhD.

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