Power of Labor
Liberal Racism = Education for WarNew York Regents Exam Pushes
Apologies for Imperialism
MAY 17 – A scandal erupted this week over vile apologies for imperialism in the New York State Regents exam on global history and geography given last January. On Monday, the New York Daily News (15 May) published an exclusive reporting on black students and educators in Bushwick who are up in arms over exam questions asking students to read outright apologies for colonial rule and then “state two ways British imperialism would benefit Africans.”
colonial conquerer Cecil Rhodes stands astride Africa in 1892 cartoon
from British magazine Punch. From preparatory materials for January
2006 Regents exam.
There have been innumerable outraged protests over the institutionalized discrimination of high-stakes standardized testing, and racism in the New York schools. Here we have a blatant example of the way in which the educational system pushes imperialist ideology. This is not an isolated incident but part of an international trend. It reflects the current political climate in the United States and elsewhere, in which justifications for empire have become fashionable.
This is education for imperialist war, and it must be fought tooth and nail. It goes hand in hand with the arrests last year of two Muslim high school girls who were dragged from their homes, transported hundreds of miles to be held in immigration jails without charges, because some police-state officials considered the young women “would-be suicide bombers.” We call on the United Federation of Teachers and all teachers, parents and others to denounce the racist Regents exams.
The readings on the Regents, from Frederick Lugard, an official of the British East Africa Company who helped colonize Uganda, talked of the colonizers’ “desire of civilized administration,” and claimed that “Europe is in Africa for the mutual benefit of her own industrial classes, and of the native races in their progress to a higher plane.” It praised the colonial masters for “endeavouring…to teach the native races to conduct their own affairs with justice and humanity.” What racist filth!
Colonialist ad for
aristocrats to winter in Uganda.
This is nothing but the age-old justification for the colonial conquest and rape of Africa and Asia, Europe’s supposed “civilizing mission,” the “White Man’s Burden,” as colonial apologist Rudyard Kipling put it. Brian Favors, who teaches at Bushwick Community School, compared the test question to “asking a Jewish child to state two ways the Holocaust benefited Jews.” One student was so upset with the question that she complained to an exam proctor; she then ran out of time and never finished the exam’s final essay (on the same theme).
Initially caught off-guard, the authorities have pulled together to defend the colonialist exam. A Daily News (17 May) editorial declares, “No offense, history exam is fine.” How so? They argue that “Based on this document [the Lugard pieces] and according to this document, students were asked to cite several ways in which imperialism benefited Africa” (emphasis in original). And the exam included a selection criticizing imperialism from African independence leader Kwame Nkrumah. “Nowhere is there a promulgation of racism,” they claim.
Dead wrong. We read the exam, and the teachers scoring and rating guide. First of all, it’s not just a matter of a single question. There are three lengthy selections praising imperialism. No, this is not the White Citizens Council, the Nazi Party or Colonel Blimp taking over the educational system – it is liberal racism. The test wants students to weigh both sides of the question, you see. The essay is to discuss imperialism from the point of view of the imperialist power, and from the view of the colonized people. But from the standpoint of working people and the oppressed, there are no “two sides” to imperialism.
What’s next? Are the Regents going to have readings next year from Confederate rulers and abolitionists and then debate the “pros and cons” of slavery? Will they have students read excerpts from Hitler’s Mein Kampf and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and then tell students to write essays on anti-Semitism the Holocaust from the point of view of Jewish victims and the tsarist or Nazi perpetrators, based on their documents? You can imagine the uproar if anyone proposed this. But if it has to do with Africa, and the holocaust of slavery which slaughtered millions of black people, the administrators who run the capitalist education system figure they can get away with “even-handed” racism.
Kenyans rounded up by British army during 1948-52 “Mau Mau” rebellion when independence fighters were labeled “terrorists” by colonial rulers. Regents exams tells students to “state two ways British imperialism would benefit Africans.”
Last year there was a similar case in France. The National Assembly passed a law praising French colonial rule in Africa. The law of 23 February 2005 mandated “educational programs recognizing in particular the positive role of the French presence overseas, notably in North Africa.” This obscene law was voted not only by the conservative government but also most of the “socialist” opposition. Only months later when youths of African and North African origin revolted last fall against police terror in the working-class and immigrant suburbs was there an outcry over the apology for colonial rule.
The French example makes clear that what was behind this sudden drive to “reevaluate” colonialism is the capitalist rulers’ need to justify imperialist war. The February 2005 law was passed to defend France’s dirty war of torture and indiscriminate bombing in Algeria, to make it a crime to “defame” the mercenary colonial troops who fought for the French. Now French troops are again policing the Ivory Coast and propping up tinpot dictators in West and Central Africa. And the educational system is to provide the ideological justification.
the case of the New York Regents exam, the key is the emphatic
not use an example of imperialism from United States
history in your answer.”
The teachers’ guide explicitly says there can be no reference to the
“acquisition of the Philippines as a result of the Spanish American
which millions of Filipinos were killed. On the other hand, imperialism
an education as a positive effect” in India would be an acceptable
So, too, would be references to the “enrichment of life (art, music)
introduction to other cultures,” and the “spread of Christianity to
But there will be no reference in school tests to Vietnam, or Iraq and
U.S. Marines slaughtered over 600 men, women and children at Mount Dajo (above) on
Philippines island of Jolo, March 1906. President Theodore Roosevelt congratulated
General Wood on “the brilliant feat of arms.” Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos were
killed in the U.S. conquest of the islands. But the New York State Board of Regents
banned any mention of “an example of imperialism from United States history,” and
specifically anything concerning the U.S.’ “acquisition of the Philippines,” in student
essays on the subject of imperialism in January 2006 Regents exam.
The answer to this blatant apology for empire and imperialist war will not be found in educational reform. Certainly, class-conscious teachers should do their best to counteract the ideological poisoning of their students’ minds. It is necessary to fight the racist discrimination of high-stakes standardized testing. Marxists oppose the escalating privatization and corporate control of “public” education. We call to kick the military recruiters out of the schools where they prowl the halls looking for cannon fodder for their imperialist war machines. We advocate abolition of the New York state Board of Regents and of the NYC Department of Education and for teacher-student-worker-parent control of the schools.
But as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels pointed out over a century and a half ago, in The German Ideology (1847): “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas; i.e., the class, which is the ruling material forces of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.” To defeat the apologies for war it is necessary to defeat the imperialist war they justify; to sweep racist ideology into the dustbin of history it is necessary to bring down the imperialist system that spawns it.
At the present time, the racist offensive is directed particularly against immigrants. As in World War II when virulent anti-Japanese racism accompanied the locking up of tens of thousands of people of Japanese ancestry in concentration camps, today anti-immigrant racism accompanies the marauding of fascist vigilantes like the Minutemen and preparations for locking up immigrants in concentration camps. In addition to the existing “facilities,” Halliburton has the contracts to build new camps for hundreds of thousands more.
The Trotskyists of the Internationalist Group fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants, and for labor to defend immigrants against racist attacks. We call on working people and oppressed minorities to break with the partner parties of U.S. capitalism, Democrats and Republicans alike (and their shills like the Greens and Working Families Party), and to join the struggle to build a revolutionary workers party. As Karl Marx wrote in the first volume of Capital: “The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalized the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production.” It will take international socialist revolution to put an end to the holocaust of capitalist imperialism and along with it the despicable ideological justification of oppression. n
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