But I’ve been getting in ‘good
trouble,’ necessary trouble ever since.
“Wizards well versed in treachery
and black magic came from the south and forced the people from the
These wizards are indeed superior in
their cunning. They know how to chew gum and walk at the same time.
So, while capturing the minds and hearts of grandmothers, the
warriors push through the land, chasing people away as they further
And then, with land and resources in tow,
the wizards decide to enslave the displaced.
“The white wizards had no use for
women and children.” So many, forced to abandon their farms,
begin walking. And walking. The grandmother is one of the women and
her young son is by her side. There are rumors about “holy”
wizards. The grandmother is in search of saviors.
So begins the family legend so entangled
with the wizards.
Unfortunately, the grandmother didn’t
understand how it was a lie in order to command her submission and
that of her son and that of her grandchildren to the white wizards.
The grandmother’s story is an old
one. It’s the legend of a rising son.
The son, then nine years old, is educated
“in their wizardry,” after the grandmother begged and
begged, the wizards accepted “him for life in their world.”
Please! And then the magic: the
grandmother is captivated by the “holy” wizards. She sees
the wizards in her son. She sees the wizards when he’s able to
enjoy prosperity and respect from the people who are without. She
sees in her son instead of light, darkness. His daughter certainly
did when, after struggling to reach him, attempts suicide. She began
to see in herself her father’s darkness and wanted to
And so the wizards, the “holy”
wizards, that is, supplanted the “conquerors” ones
wherever they could and the people sought comfort from the conquerors
with the “holy” ones. In grandmother’s story, the
suffering isn’t minimized, no. But the “message was
clear: endure and obey. For there is no other way.”
Luckily for the young female narrator of
Nervous Conditions the
wizards, the “holy” wizards, aren’t so opaque. Or
so different from the “conquerors,” their kin in kind.
Grandmother’s story, no more than
any other Western “romantic story,” is as violent as the
conquerors, for how could the generations of conquerors have achieved
so much without a narrative? The granddaughter doesn’t buy it!
Sometimes that happens too!
Was the grandmother lying?
Stanley is a murderer. His reliance on
violence in the service of his needs - for example, his need to
acquisition food as he travels in the heat of the Congo’s
jungle - results in the murder, writes Sven Lindqvist, Swedish
historian of literature, of “defenseless people on their way to
market.” Many are shot dead, “unarmed men” because
Stanley was in need of canoes.
Talk about Black lives not mattering one
In order to reach his destination and
fulfill his dream of “saving” yet another human, as he
did Livingstone, he becomes a murderer. He leaves “heaps of
corpses in his wake.” Just like the wizards over in what
becomes Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). With a wave of a capitalist’s
wand, it’s one big coating of white supremacy flowing freely
over the African savanna, desert, villages, cities. Over the minds of
the African people.
But not all. Always, not all.
In the Congo, Stanley has a boy bearer
hanged for “desertion.” The pleas of the people
surrounding the boy bounce off Stanley’s tin heart.
“Relentless” in his pursuit of Stanley’s dream,
he’s fulfilling Europe’s dream of conquering Africa. So
“he could not afford, he thought, to show the slightest sign of
weakness now.” The first Africans arriving on these US shores
would have been familiar with Stanley. All the Stanleys of the
George Floyd knew one, for sure.
And I have to say here - this isn’t
the Stanley, of the Stanley and Livingston team, taught to me by the
white nuns in grammar school. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, I
was taught that the team consisted of two good guys and loyal,
no-deserting African helpers. The Africans were happy to be
of Africa welcomed the saviors. No one said anything about the
murdering of Africans. Even a white man was happy to swing on African
Deliberately, Stanley puts “himself
in a situation in which killing was the only way out,” writes
Lindqvist. Stanley is Joseph Conrad’s model for Kurtz, the
white man in the “heart of darkness.” Or rather, is he,
“heart of darkness” in Africa?
Conrad travels to Stanley’s Africa,
arriving at Stanleyville. The writer would have read Stanley’s
In Darkest Africa published
in 1890. However, as Lindqvist suggests, “during his eight
months in Africa, Conrad found that reality differed glaringly from
the grandiose speeches he had heard before his departure.”
So on his return to London the following
year, Conrad, writes Lindqvist is “disillusioned.”
No wonder there’s no one to be
saved in Conrad’s Heart
of Darkness, except for Kurtz.
But who can save Kurtz? “The monster is Kurtz… who
resembles Stanley,” writes Lindqvist.
“When Marlow lies to Kurtz’s
“intended” at the end of Conrad’s story, he not
only does what Stanley himself did, but also what official Britain
and the general public were doing while Conrad was writing the story.
They were lying.”
And then Congo became known as Belgium’s
King Léopold II’s Congo. But that, too, was a lie.
This past June, 2020, the current king of
Belgium, King Philippe, was watching on his television as streets in
the US filled with Americans, Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and white.
They were chanting, Black lives
Contrary to Trump’s depiction of
African countries, the people in the Republic of the Congo have
televisions too. And the people of the Congo know their lives matter,
So King Philippe “regrets”
what happened in the Congo under King Léopold’s brutal
regime. No apology. Just regrets.
Ten million people murdered!
The years of brutality afflicted on the
Congolese - all the displacement of its people and the confiscation
of land and resources - all of this violence - and then the lie, the
cover up - and only a “regret”?
Yes, it was regrettable! It was like a
one-two punch of fascism and capitalism in that from 1908 to 1960 the
infamous Léopold controlled the country’s people and its
resources as a means of preserving what the wizard brought to Africa
- white supremacy. For who owns the wealth of the Congo?
King Philippe writes that the violence
and brutality so honored buy the Europeans as a necessity in the
Congo weighs “still on our collective memory.”
Whose collective memory?
He concludes, “I would like to
express my deepest regrets for the wounds of the past, the pain of
today, which is rekindled by the discrimination all too present in
The Guardian notes, “the
looting of the Congo has never stopped.” According to Martin
Fayulu, a member of the “respected opposition” in the
Republic of the Congo (DRC), the resources have been stolen. “Our
people remain in misery; we are ruled by dictators and the thieves.
The international powers say they need to be pragmatic. And look
where we are.”
The legacy of the brutal regime is that
the Congo was in “deep poverty [and suffering from] widespread
violence, and disease, despite its natural wealth.” The death
of George Floyd “has rekindled anti-racism protests in
Belgium.” The protesters want an end to lies and the grand
blanketing narrative that conceals the structurally chiseled white
supremacy on chips running our computers in the West. The protests
are prompting the federal parliament to establish a “‘truth
and reconciliation’ commission to ‘come clean’
about the country’s colonial past.”
In the meantime, the statues of Léopold
are coming down with the bare hands of the Congolese.
“Mistah Kurtz - he dead.” Not
And Sven Lindqvist is a traveler of sorts
to Africa too. From Stockholm University, he travels through what was
Léopold’s Congo, “in a searching examination of
Europe’s dark history in Africa and the origins of genocide.”
The result is his non-fiction account of the horror of European
conquest in “Exterminate
All the Brutes.”
Neither Stanley nor Conrad is far out of
his vision. In fact, he follows them, hearing the echoing voice of
the priest, Father Bihler, who was “convinced that the blacks
had to be exterminated,” writes Lindqvist. The “holy”
wizard didn’t see anything wrong in the pogrom of
In my Catholic school education, the nuns
and priest talked about civilization
in Africa. Here, in the US, on the Southside of Chicago, we Black
children were being civilized, too.
Civilizing the brutes like Conrad’s
Kurtz. But Léopold didn’t seem to bother, for the
mission of the priest, Bihler, was to see to the extermination of the
“whole people” over the age of fourteen years old,
according to a letter from Lord Grey to his wife. Conrad’s
Kurtz, writes Lindqvist, takes up the task.
Narrative matter. Culture teaches.
Conrad is writing
Heart of Darkness while
Kipling was writing, “The White Man’s Burden.”
Kurtz is surrounded in “a cloud of Kiplingesque rhetoric.”
Cultural inheritance, passed down as education. And it’s all
Kurtz takes up the tasks - ”exterminate
all the brutes.”
“Mistah Kurtz - he dead.” Not
For Léopold, the Black people
didn’t matter, but rubber and ivory did!
“King Léopold II of
Belgium,” Walter Rodney once wrote, “made at least $20
million from rubber and ivory.” He continues, “it’s
no wonder that the total wealth produced in the Congo in any given
year during the colonial period, more than one-third went out in the
form of profits for big business and salaries for their expatriate
“The Portuguese and Belgian
colonial regimes were the most brazen in directly rounding up
Africans to go and work for private capitalists under conditions
equivalent to slavery.”
Even Europeans disapproved of King
Léopold’s brutality. His anti-slavery rhetoric
“introduced into Congo forced labor and modern slavery.”
Léopold’s regime tortured
and murdered. And maimed.
As Lindqvist explains, the Belgians
talked about the chicotte - a
“raw hippo hide that for whatever reasoning needed to be used
on humans, adults and children, Black lives. And another brute, true
brute, an E. J. Glave, wrote about how it takes just a few blows to
“bring on blood.”
How do we exterminate this mentality?
The Congolese “yells abominably;
then quiets down and is a mere groaning, quivering body till the
operation is over.”
Women and children beaten, too.
A hundred blows from the chicotte
either kills or breaks the
The looting is so much easier then, isn’t
Léopold likes for the hands to be
cut off. The Congolese are “requisitioned for labor, rubber and
ivory…” “without payment,” of course.
Refusing isn’t an option. Refusing
leads to the burning down of villages and the murdering of children.
And the cutting off of hands.
Lindqvist wonders, how many hands
provided the profits that built the monuments of Léopold and
to Léopold? “The Arcades du Cinquantenaire, the Palais
de Laeken, the Châteaud’ Ardennes. “Few people
today remember how many amputated hands these monuments cost.”
These severed hands, writes Lindqvist,
represent the “Belgian idea of the most effectual methods of
promoting the civilization of the Congo.”
How the cover up lingers to normalize the
looting of the Congo!
But the Congolese today, their young
generations today, aren’t buying the lying narrative the
wizards “conquerors” or “holy.”
The British Empire, with too many
“skeletons” in its cupboard, did little to interfere with
Léopold in the Congo. The British Empire, with its
expansionist campaign, was at its peak, writes Lindqvist, when
Germany thought to create Lebensraum
Hitler looked to the British Empire. And
then in the 20th Century, Hitler looked to the US - to the
imperialist American Empire and its violence at home against Blacks,
Indigenous, and Latinx and its violence against people of color
around the world.
Because back home, in 1889, already
there’s another George lynched. George Meadows at Pratt Mines
in Jefferson County, Alabama.
So the Struggle continues. Everywhere.
Black lives Matter!