This is Part XVI of The Public Medievalist’s continuing series on Race, Racism and the Middle Ages, continuing our interview with Chapurukha Kusimba, Professor of Anthropology at American University. You can find the first part of our interview here.
You can find the rest of our special series on Race, Racism and the Middle Ages here.
When we left off our conversation with Professor Kusimba, we were discussing how necessary it is for people looking at Africa to study early texts about the continent. Misconceptions about early Africa are rife in our culture. Many of these misconceptions are intellectual remnants of the colonial past, a past which states that Africa is a place unknown and unknowable, full of an exotic, primitive “other”. The dirty secret is that colonialists needed Africa to have been this way in order to justify their own superiority, which in turn justified both their own role in the colonial destruction of the continent, and their ancestors’ founding of the colonial system.
And the truth of the matter is that the colonial system in Africa did not come to an end that long ago. Kenya, for example, only achieved their independence from Britain in 1963—merely 54 years ago. It is therefore unsurprising that people—colonized and colonizer—continue to struggle with the legacy of this dark period. Part of this struggle involves rewriting the outdated, racist, colonialist narratives of history. Ridding ourselves of a colonialist mindset is hard, but necessary.