Mini Rant: Obama and Anti-Colonialism



Murali did his undergraduate degree in molecular biology with a minor in biophysics from the National University of Singapore (NUS). He then changed direction and did his Masters in Philosophy also at NUS. Now, he is currently pursuing a PhD in Philosophy at the University of Warwick.

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80 Responses

  1. Avatar Stillwater says:

    All I can figure is that righties who use the term “anti-colonial” when describing Obama really mean “anti-imperialist”, and that he’s reluctant to expand the US Empire thru the use of military force. Or something like that. Even that idea isn’t very coherent, but we’re talking about conservatives here, so…Report

    • Avatar Snarky McSnarksnark in reply to Stillwater says:

      I think they are not so much “pro-colonial,” but rather like the association of “anti-colonialism” with radicalism in general. I think it’s just another way of implying that, given his druthers, President Obama would rather be out blowing up banks than some more “American” activity…Report

  2. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    There were various sorts of colonialism. There’s the old truism about the various colonialists: the British met savages, the Spanish and Portuguese met slaves and the French met people.

    The lasting legacy of colonialism is the procrustean borders left behind in their wake. They seem to have passed into the national ontologies of these ridiculous countries. Imperial America stupidly meddled in other nations’ wars but I don’t see America, even at its worst, attempting to establish what was done in the 18th and 19th centuries.

    The colonialists were few, the colonised many. Let’s not kid ourselves, those colonies were run with the connivance of a great many local hangers-on. They and their progeny now trouble the world with that legacy, especially in India and Pakistan, where the dead hand of the Bhutto clan and the various zamindar clans of India have mulcted their way to prosperity.

    The colonialists have left and good riddance to them all. But the zamindar class replaced them. Physician, heal thyself: it is my observation that those who bandy the word Colonialist about, using it as a club with which to beat on America, are usually the progeny of the very same collaborators with Empire who cheated their own countries out of a democratic future.Report

  3. Avatar Jeremy McLellan says:

    Putting on my overly-charitable hat for a second, anti-colonialism has been largely stripped of its good connotations (USA used to be a colony, for instance) and is now largely another way of saying someone is foreign and Marxist. The US has been demonized by a lot of anti-colonial movements, and the proxies in the Cold War were largely coming out from under the Western boot when they became Communist. Many third-world dictators (Qaddafi, Mugabe, Ahmadinejad, Chavez, Khomeini) use anti-imperialist anti-American language to distract from their human rights abuses. It’s another way of saying that Obama sympathizes with them.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jeremy McLellan says:

      Heh. Your explanation gives righties even less credit for coherent thinking than mine does, but strikes me as more accurate.Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to Jeremy McLellan says:

      You realize that Chavez is, in fact, democratically elected in elections which have been monitored and recognized as legitimate (if plagued by a number of procedural flaws) by international monitors? The fact that America doesn’t like him doesn’t make him a dictator. The last election was actually rather close, though he still has the support of a sizeable majority due to his programs benefitting the poor.

      I’m not asking you to like him, merely to recognize facts.Report

  4. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    You say he is criticised for being an “anti colonialist;” he isn’t. 21st Americans are very anti-colonial in name and (mostly) in spirit.

    There is another part of the phrase used that you are leaving out. You’ll find your answer there.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      There is another part of the phrase used that you are leaving out. You’ll find your answer there

      I’m really drawing a blank here. I usually see the word strewn into a whole list of absurdities. For example, lefties describe righties as accusing Obama of being a Kneyan, Muslim, terrorist sympathiser, anti-colonialist etc. I google search and I see a reference to a Dinesh D’souza documentary, which I didn’t bother to watch. I presume that there is something to the description. And I wonder, why does being anti-colonialist belong in there?Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Murali says:

        D’Souza is indeed the person who wrote the op-ed that got the ball rolling, but he criticism became a staple of the right wing media after Newt Gingrich stared using it in his early run for the White House, and he’s the one that popularized the phrase that is now used.

        Google Newt Gingich Anti-colonial and you’ll get thousands of links to he whole phrase.Report

  5. Avatar Ramblin' Rod says:

    It was meant as a race-baiting dog-whistle for the base. Unfortunately for the whistlers, it was too clever by half. See the intended implication was supposed to be [black Kenyans colonized by Whites] >> [local resentment towards Whites] AND [Obama’s father is black Kenyan] >> [Obama’s father resented colonialists] AND [Obama admired father] >> [Obama resenting colonialists] AND [colonialist were white] >> [Obama (secretly) resents/hates white people]

    It was something you would hear now and then from the Fox commentators but it didn’t seem to be a meme that spread very widely because I doubt that most of their intended audience really picked up on the logic chain. Most of them simply aren’t that bright.Report

  6. Avatar Shazbot5 says:

    I think “colonial” means “civilizing” to a lot of Americans. Just like it meant “civilizing” toa lot of Brits back in the day.

    I hear colonialism defended, to this day by right-leaning folk, not just as “mostly awful with an upside of bringing new technologies around the world and blending European culture with other cultures, and bringing back new cultural ideas to Europe” but as morally good on the basis that “civilization” was brought to the darkies. (They don’t say “darkies” but they mean it.) The correlate thesis I hear is that the colonizers had good intentions and the anti-colonial forces were some kind of primordial evil that hated civilization. (Of course, we know the anti-colonial forces were pissed off about the horrors the colonizers brought.)

    We see the same debate today. “They hate us for our freedoms.” “Their culture -not just the war torn circumstances they live in- is more violent and cruel than ours, essentially.” (Never mind Europe was pretty murderous for thousands of years.) “They don’t want to be helped to be civilized.” Etc.

    Racism, pure and simple.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Shazbot5 says:

      Bubububububububh D’Souza has dark skin! He can’t be a racist!Report

      • Avatar Matty in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        As I understand it there is a chance that D’Souza may actually be pro colonialist. His family were Goan catholics who formed a local elite under Portuguese rule and lost that status when India took over.Report

        • Avatar M.A. in reply to Matty says:

          In the 2nd chapter of his book What’s So Great About America, D’Souza says he thinks the problem with Africa isn’t that it was colonized but that it wasn’t colonized long enough.

          He may be of Indian ethnicity but that doesn’t preclude his being either a colonialist or a racist, or both and his words pretty much betray him on the subject.Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Shazbot5 says:

      Yup…there are people who will say that while slavery was a bad thing it was good in the long run since blacks got to live in the good USA!!! we have now. They should be happy their ancestors were kidnapped, raped,murdered and enslaved.Report

  7. Avatar zic says:

    I think it’s a term like many others that get bandied about as insults but that many of the folk so bandying don’t know how to define. Others included socialism, communism, perhaps even terms like liberal and muslim. I’m sure there are many such terms that are they also don’t understand but use as affirmation of their beliefs, including capitalist, job-creator, etc.

    And I’m equal opportunity here, guessing the same exists amongst Democratic voters; willing to admit I’m susceptible, and own terms I think mean one thing but don’t; something I run into here often. You send me to the dictionary, often. Thank you.

    To demonstrate, here’s a youtube video of interviews of Romney supporters at a campaign event, and a woman maintains Obama’s an atheist, a communist, and a muslim. When questioned, “both an atheist and muslim?” She responds, yes, all three. Vehemently. (4:20 mark). Likely these are simply derogatory terms she’s picked up from the language immersion of FOX, devoid of actual real meaning. The whole video is an example of this, though it’s obviously edited for comedic effect.Report

  8. Avatar Thomas Paine says:

    This may have been pointed out by some previous comments (but not explicitly): Obama is not accused of being against Colonialism. The claim, one that has some plausibility, is the Obama’s education, upbringing, and sympathies show much affinity to POST-COLONIALISM, which is not the same thing as being against colonialism.

    Post-Colonialism, whatever you may think of its merits, is most certainly far outside the American mainstream. And yes, a large part of that story is seeing the US as imperialist and opposing its actions on those grounds. Denying that proposition does not entail that you affirm imperial actions on the part of the US, it just means that you either deny that the US’s actions are in fact imperialist or that you affirm the actions.

    I don’t think the stories of individual nutjobs claiming all sorts of bizarre claims about Obama (btw Why can’t their be an atheist Muslim? We talk about atheist Jews all the time (and atheist Archbishops of Canterbury, etc.) do much charity to those who make claims of this sort. D’souza is not a complete moron. The hysteric reactions to people attributing conspiracy theories and racism, and evil and stupidity, to all those on the right, show little wisdom or intellectual integrity. A little bit of charity in reading your opponents goes a long way. It’s difficult to pull off for all of us, but ultimately rewarding.
    That’s my rant.Report

    • Avatar Ramblin' Rod in reply to Thomas Paine says:

      Why can’t their be an atheist Muslim? We talk about atheist Jews all the time (and atheist Archbishops of Canterbury, etc.) do much charity to those who make claims of this sort.

      Jewishness is both a culture/ethnicity and a religion and therefore the concepts can be separated. Muslim only refers to religion. A better parallel to atheist Jew would be atheist Arab or Ethiopian Jew, depending on whether “Jew” refers to religion or ethnicity. So, sorry, but “atheist Muslim” is incoherent. I was raised as a Christian and now consider myself an atheist but I would never refer to myself as a Christian Atheist. I have no idea what that would even mean.

      D’souza is not a complete moron. The hysteric reactions to people attributing conspiracy theories and racism, and evil and stupidity, to all those on the right, show little wisdom or intellectual integrity.

      No. D’souza isn’t a moron. He’s an evil little fuck disseminating wild-assed lies and conspiracy theories for political purposes. Undoubtedly, he knows very well what he’s doing and that he’s lying through his teeth. Those who swallow his shit aren’t very bright, however.

      A little bit of charity in reading your opponents goes a long way. It’s difficult to pull off for all of us, but ultimately rewarding.

      That’s rich coming from someone defending a cog in the right-wing propaganda machine. Seriously. You first.

      That’s my rant.Report

    • Good rant, Mr. Paine, esp the “post-colonialism” distinction.

      The US was never much of a colonial power; that honor sits largely with Europe. It is indeed shocking to look at a map of Africa c.1900, where nearly every square inch of sub-Saharan Africa was claimed by one European power or another.

      I’m not a big Europe fan either, and find its history more shameful than not. I do think a lot of well, white Americans instinctively sympathize with the First World—rightly for Western Civilization’s cultural innovation, one that is largely responsible for the modern world’s scheme of rights and human dignity, but wrongly for the facts on the ground of most of Western Civilization’s doings with not only each other [centuries of constant internecine warfare], but even worse, its record of exploitation and inhumanity in the Third World.

      That said, while anti-colonialism is certainly worthy, there’s also a quite fashionable “post-colonial” attitude, instinctively siding with the First World’s enemies—with the Castros, Hugo Chavezes, Mugabes; against Israel and for the Palestianian terrorist regimes of Fatah and Hamas; for the unknown quantities that opposed the Shah and Hosni Mubarak, “liberation” movements that are anything but.

      “To avoid being mistaken for a sell-out, I chose my friends carefully. The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structured feminists and punk-rock performance poets…”—Dreams from My Father, p.101

      We trust he grew out of punk performance art, anyway. Of the rest, he does not say.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

        Tom, I’ll give you some props for this comment. In it, you basically concede to your interlocutors the inherent racism embedded in the term “anti-colonianism”, yet endorse it anyway. That’s refreshingly honest.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

        America was never a colonial power if you ignore all of the lands and history west of the Appalachians. And lots of the parts east of the Appalachians also.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to greginak says:

          And Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, and Hawai’i, and Guam, and the Mariana’s, and American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.Report

        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to greginak says:

          2 types of colonies: the settlement type and the exploitation type. And yes, I used the qualifier “largely” with the Philippines specifically in mind and linked the map to colonial Africa, where the US is conspicuously absent among the European colonial powers. I don’t see this quibbling leading anywhere at this point, however, so thanks for reading.

          The real point was in making a distinction between anti-colonialism [valid] and post-colonialism [kneejerk support for anti-Western types, a decidedly mixed bag].Report

          • linked the map to colonial Africa, where the US is conspicuously absent among the European colonial powers

            A) It was further away for us.
            B) By the time we decided we wanted to play that game Africa was all sewn up.

            There’s no goodness in our absence there, other than that it ultimately was to our good to not be there.

            The opposite of knee-jerk support for non-western types is knee-jerk support for the west (or at least our part of the west). Folks on either side deserve a bit o’ mocking.Report

            • I do think Americans c. 1900 were a bit resistant to the idea of formal colonies a la scramble for Africa.

              That resistance didn’t prevent the establishment of some formal colonies, such as the Philippines and others you mentioned in a comment above . But I think that, along with the high cost and distance (which you mention) suggested that the US probably would not have gone the European route. That doesn’t make what the US did any better than England, Germany, France, or Belgium (to name a few), but what passed for anti-imperialism* was stronger here than in Europe. In 1900, a major party candidate, Bryan, championed an anti-imperialist plank (end the war in the Philippines), for example.

              *Anti-imperialism, or at least one of its dominant threads, in the US c. 1900 was strongly racist, based in part on the fear that establishing a colony over darker skinned people might mean that more darker skinned people would immigrate to the US.Report

            • I think my comment above could be read as implying TVD engaged in knee-jerk support for the west. No such implication was intended, only that there are such people out there.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Thomas Paine says:

      D’souza is not a complete moron.

      No, he’s a propagandist without a shred of regard for the truth. Complete morons are far less pernicious.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Thomas Paine says:

      Everywhere I look, D’Souza says “anti-colonialism,” but perhaps he said post-colonialism in the original article?Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to Thomas Paine says:

      Isn’t d’Souza Indian?

      Does he really want the British back running the place?Report

      • Avatar Matty in reply to KatherineMW says:

        I’ve mentioned this above but the D’Souza family come from Goa, one of the few bits of the subcontinent not colonised by the British but in this case the Portuguese and yes it is possible he sees that time as ‘the good old days’ given the higher status it granted Catholic families like his.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Thomas Paine says:

      I do think Mr. Paine is 100% right that people are identifying Obama with postcolonialsm as opposed to just being opposed to colonialism. I’m a bit confused about what they make of post-colonialism though. Have they actually read any postcolonial studies? It’s maybe outside of the mainstream in certain assumptions. It’s also really arcane, dry, difficult to read, and often a bit boring! I mean, don’t get me wrong- that’s not a terrible sin for academic writing, but most of it is academic writing about literature and culture. We’re not talking about fiery polemics here. I guess, to me, it feels like people saying, “Obama is a dangerous man because he studied under a structuralist and not a formalist!” I have this vision of a 50s VD poster asking, “Have you talked to your children about Gayatri Spivak?…”Report

  9. Hell, the Americans fought against their colonial masters and ousted them. I am open to the idea that the Americans were on the wrong side of the moral equation on that one, but I doubt Americans are prepared to accept that.

    Two comments on this, both of which are only tangential to the main point you’re making:

    1. I agree that the American colonies were on the wrong side of the moral equation in that conflict.

    2. I get annoyed when people in the US claim that because more than 200 years ago “we” were a colony that threw off the chains of our oppressors, we therefore have an affinity for the current post-colonies in the world, as if developments during the intervening 200+ years didn’t create some obvious differences between the US and the others.Report

  10. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    There’s a school of Anglo-American history that seems to have a nostalgia for the British Imperial project, headlined by the likes of Niall Ferguson and yes Dinesh D’Souza.

    While I suppose there were good colonial administrators (say Robert Townsend Farquhar or Stamford Raffles) the vast majority of these people are more concerned with the sort of “fall of the West” diatribes, I suppose.

    For the most part “Kenyan Anticolonialist” I think is intended to mean “foreign” and “non-western” (and I suppose “black nationalist”) in the scary boogieman sort of way.Report

  11. Avatar George Turner says:

    Even Kenyan Americans have said Obama scares them because they’ve seen Kenyan leaders and the dysfunction is something to behold. If they wanted to live under a Kenyan they’d have stayed home. Welcome the the world where nothing works and all we have to eat are diatribes, monologues, and class and tribal hatreds.Report

    • Avatar dhex in reply to George Turner says:

      bad governance is genetic? that’s uh very creative.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to dhex says:

        It might explain Bush43, the best part of whom ran down his momma’s leg.Report

        • Avatar Scott in reply to BlaiseP says:


          You consistently show your lack of breeding and class with such comments. You must really be a bitter unhappy person.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Scott says:

            (roars of laughter) I am exactly what I seem to be and I make no excuses for it, you silly man. And when the memorial to that incurious little Bush-man is erected in front of his library, may the pedestal be made of granite blocks, each to the exact dimensions of a military tombstone and may they be exact number of troops who died in Iraq, a war he started and left for others to finish. And may his idiocy become a curse and a byword, an object lesson to all who in their hubris would abuse their powers.

            As for myself, I’m sitting here, listening to some music, the sun shining bright through my windows. I am loved by a clever woman, my children are grown and have become successful and I made and ate a delicious breakfast burrito and followed it up with two cups of good coffee. I have a job I love, it is 75 degrees Fahrenheit, my balcony door is open and I defy anyone to say I am either unhappy or bitter. I will not be schoolmarmed by you, Scott, least of all by you.Report

            • Avatar DRS in reply to BlaiseP says:

              “The breakfast burrito is the most important burrito of the day.” Words to live by. Be careful, though: I got thumped recently for being vulgur because I used a sexual analogy in a comment. I expect that same thumper to be around here soon or I’ll think he’s a hypocrite. (Which isn’t to say I don’t agree with you – it’s a great comment at 8:57)Report

            • Avatar Scott in reply to BlaiseP says:

              Good, make sure you stay on your meds. As for schoolmarming you I don’t think anyone could help you have any class. As for bush’s legacy it will certainly be better than Barry’s.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Scott says:

                I do have to stay on my meds. I’m bipolar. Right now, things are okay but I might have to switch drugs again, a prospect I dread. After a while, my preferred drug, lithium won’t work for me. But I hate lithium, too, all those blood draws and the concomitant liver issues. I have to live with bipolarity.

                But I take small comforts where I can. Pulling your chain is one such comfort, heh heh. Now just you run ‘long and find someone else to bother.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to BlaiseP says:

              Blaise, listen to Scott: how dare you be disrespectful to a president of the United States? (It’s 10 AM Sunday, and I don’t expect to have a better laugh all week.)Report

    • Avatar Morat20 in reply to George Turner says:

      I’m beginning to believe you are a stellar example of performance art.Report

  12. Avatar Dan Miller says:

    There’s obviously a race angle, but I think there’s also the fact that “anti-colonialism” as a term is commonly associated with academia, and hence the stereotype of liberal professors apologizing for America etc.Report

    • An unfair stereotype? No wonder our kids sneer at their heritage with that smug Jon Stewartian certainty. This sounds like a typical day at the LoOG:

      “Zinn’s big book is quite unworthy of… fame and influence. A People’s History is bad history, albeit gilded with virtuous intentions. Zinn reduces the past to a Manichean fable and makes no serious attempt to address the biggest question a leftist can ask about U.S. history: why have most Americans accepted the legitimacy of the capitalist republic in which they live?”

      His failure is grounded in a premise better suited to a conspiracy-monger’s Web site than to a work of scholarship. According to Zinn, “99 percent” of Americans share a “commonality” that is profoundly at odds with the interests of their rulers. And knowledge of that awesome fact is “exactly what the governments of the United States, and the wealthy elite allied to them-from the Founding Fathers to now-have tried their best to prevent.”

      History for Zinn is thus a painful narrative about ordinary folks who keep struggling to achieve equality, democracy, and a tolerant society, yet somehow are always defeated by a tiny band of rulers whose wiles match their greed. He describes the American Revolution as a clever device to defeat “potential rebellions and create a consensus of popular support for the rule of a new, privileged leadership.” His Civil War was another elaborate confidence game. Soldiers who fought to preserve the Union got duped by “an aura of moral crusade” against slavery that “worked effectively to dim class resentments against the rich and powerful, and turn much of the anger against ‘the enemy.’”

      Etc. Michael Kazin, FTR, is quite a gentleperson of the left. Fortunately, some people still have limits.

  13. Avatar DRS says:

    I think it’s a knee-jerk thing, with wonderful comic overtones. “If Obama is anti-anything, then I’m for it!!!!!”Report

  14. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    I am open-minded enough to consider the possibility that colonialism could have been a good thing

    For someone from Singapore, is this even an open question?Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      To be clear, I don’t mean that colonialism as such was a good thing at the time, but that many countries, Singapore being one of the best examples, are better off now for having been colonized in the past.Report

  15. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    I’ve always taken “anti-colonialism” to mean opposition to the export of western culture to the rest of the world. I remember reading some excerpts from Obama’s books that gave some support to this claim—frustration with his half-brother for not being more interested in his African heritage, and shame at his grandfather for conforming to the culture of the British colonizers—but I haven’t read them in full context, so that could be misleading.Report